Closing the Gap: The Federal Role in Respecting & Ensuring Human Rights
at the State and Local Level

a joint report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute and
the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies.


Click here for complete report (PDF)

September 23, 2013 

Dear IAOHRA Colleagues:


We are pleased to share with you Closing the Gap: The Federal Role in Respecting & Ensuring Human Rights at the State and Local Level, a joint report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute and the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies. This report was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee earlier this month as part of the review of U.S. Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty the U.S. ratified in 1992.


This Report Documents the Need for Federal Support for State and Local Agencies

Closing the Gapdraws global attention to the fact that while state and local agencies and officials play a critical role in human rights implementation, they lack the resources and funding to achieve their full potential to promote and protect human rights locally.  


The report highlights over a dozen state and local initiatives from across the country that strengthen U.S. compliance with international human rights standards in the areas of employment and housing, as well as initiatives to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and national origin. Innovative efforts to document, monitor and report on, local compliance with international standards are also included. The examples in the report are drawn from local agencies in Berkeley, Eugene, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle, and state agencies in Michigan, Illinois, Washington and Pennsylvania. A number of initiatives involving state and local elected officials are also described.


While celebrating state and local efforts, Closing the Gap emphasizes that the lack of federal support for state and local human rights implementation has led to myriad gaps in human rights protections. The state and local human rights initiatives that do exist are ad-hoc, patchwork and vulnerable to elimination. The report documents the impact of resource constraints on IAOHRA member agencies and highlights key steps the federal government must take to ensure that state and local actors have the capacity and tools to monitor and implement international human rights. At a minimum, this includes federal support in the form of training and education on human rights standards and strategies, funding and dedicated staff.  The report also calls for the U.S. establish institutionalized, transparent and effective federal mechanism to coordinate with state and local officials in efforts to foster compliance with international human rights.


The Report is Part of a National Movement to Ensure Dignity, Equality and Opportunity by Strengthening Human Rights Protections in the United States

As noted above, Closing the Gap was submitted to the U.N. as part of a review of U.S. compliance with the ICCPR, which will take place at the U.N. in Geneva on October 17th and 18th. As part of the review, a delegation of U.S. government officials will be in Geneva to answer the Human Rights Committee's questions on the U.S.' human rights record. The Committee has specifically asked the United States to discuss exactly what steps the federal government is taking to support your agencies' efforts to promote and protect human rights and to address a wide range of human rights concerns, including in the arenas of criminal justice, voting, housing and employment. At the conclusion of the review, the Committee drafts recommendations for addressing gaps in law, policy and practice, which offer a roadmap for federal, state, and local governments to strengthen human rights protections and also assess the nation's progress.


We believe that Closing the Gap will play a valuable role in informing the review and U.S. policy moving forward. Indeed, this report is one of many shadow reports submitted by U.S. civil society as part of a national effort to strengthen U.S. human rights accountability and guarantee equality, dignity and opportunity for all within the United States.


A broad array of national, international and local organizations are participating in the review and calling on the U.S. to reaffirm and strengthen its long-standing commitment to human rights by taking concrete steps at the federal level to implement and monitor compliance with international human rights standards at home.  Across the country, on September 23, many U.S. civil and human rights and social justice organizations are also participating in a national day of action to raise awareness of the ICCPR and underscore the importance of human rights in ensuring equality and non-discrimination for all. We are excited to share that local governments, too, are participating in this process. The San Francisco Department on the Status of Women has submitted its own shadow report on gender discrimination in the workplace - this is the first time a local agency has submitted a shadow report to the Human Rights Committee - and is also participating in the day of action.


Additional Copies of the Report and Other Human Rights Resources

We hope that you find this report useful to your work, and to demonstrating the valuable role that IAOHRA members play in respecting and ensuring human rights. We shared some copies of Closing the Gap at the recent IAOHRA Conference in Denver but we would be happy to provide you with additional hard copies. If you are interested in receiving a copy and/or exploring opportunities to use human rights in your jurisdiction, please email The report can be downloaded from the Human Rights Institute Website here, as well. We welcome your feedback on the report and its recommendations.


More on the ICCPR review can be found here, on the U.S. Human Rights Network's website. At the conclusion of the review, the Human Rights Institute will share the Human Rights Committee's recommendations with you. Finally, we want to remind you that additional resources on using human rights locally are available on IAOHRA's website by clicking here.



All the best,



JoAnn Kamuf Ward                                    Jean Kelleher
Associate Director                                     President
Human Rights in the US Project                    International Association of

Columbia Law School                                  Official Human Rights Agencies

Human Rights Institute