New York City Bar Association Urges Congress to Press Trump Administration on International Human Rights

In a letter to Congressional leaders, the New York City Bar Association expresses concerns regarding the Trump Administration’s handling of human rights issues and international engagement during its first 100 days in office. 

“The approach taken by the new administration raises questions about the future protection of rights at home and abroad which, in turn, may contribute to international instability and threaten domestic security,” the letter states. “We urge you and your colleagues to take concrete actions to promote human rights, to uphold the highest standards of human dignity in the laws and policies of the United States, and to demand the same of executive branch officials.” 

The City Bar’s letter notes that the executive branch has been subject to congressional directives that “require the promotion of human rights” to be a “principal goal” of U.S. foreign policy. “Especially in light of that longstanding congressional mandate, we are troubled by the Trump administration’s notable lack of engagement thus far with respect to human rights principles, international institutions, and diplomacy—all of which are bedrock sources of U.S. moral authority on the world stage,” the letter states. 

In the letter, the City Bar flags Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision not to participate in the launch of the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which Congress has required the State Department to prepare annually. For human rights defenders, “Secretary Tillerson’s silence was deafening,” states the letter. “Taken together with an accumulating list of sympathetic comments by Trump administration officials about authoritarian leaders with well-documented and extensive records of human rights violations, the administration is sending signals the United States should not send about the level of priority it attaches to human rights violations around the world.” 

The letter opposes proposed cuts to U.S. financial assistance to international organizations and other international spending outlined in the Trump administration’s recent budget request for fiscal year 2018, stating, “The administration’s proposed reductions, which amount to billions of dollars, would be devastating to human rights promotion, humanitarian aid projects, peacekeeping, and health initiatives around the world.” 

The City Bar credits the members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, who have objected to the administration’s approach to international human rights, including Senators Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio and Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen, Mac Thornberry, Harold Rogers, and Ed Royce. “Dignity, equality, and fundamental rights are not partisan issues, and we are encouraged by congressional leaders who have demonstrated their willingness to put these values ahead of partisan politics. Congress provides a vital check on executive authority and has an obligation to provide vigorous oversight and to insist that the executive branch protect U.S. interests and adhere to U.S. values and legal commitments,” states the letter. 

The City Bar urges congressional leaders to take three steps. “First, we urge the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification of core international human rights treaties that provide a baseline of protections in alignment with existing U.S. law, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women…. Second, we urge you to conduct robust oversight to ensure that the United States adheres to its own obligations to guarantee human rights…. Finally, we encourage you to support full cooperation and engagement with the United Nations and other international institutions and human rights mechanisms.” 

The letter is addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. It was drafted by the City Bar’s International Human Rights Committee and signed by its President, John S. Kiernan. 

The letter can be read here:


With the arrival of the 100-day mark for the Trump Administration, the City Bar is releasing a compilation of the transition memos it has sent to the Administration offering policy recommendations on a wide range of domestic and international issues. Authored by 20 City Bar committees over a four-month period and distributed to transition-team members, elected officials and members of the administration, topics covered include health care, criminal justice reform, infrastructure, national security and international affairs. The compilation can be viewed here: 

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association ( was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.