Oct 19, 2023 - News

Crackdown on homeless population is a human rights violation, advocates tell UN

A man in a suit speaks at a podium

David Peery speaking at the United Nations in Geneva. Image: Courtesy of David Peery

As Miami Beach commissioners were passing an ordinance Wednesday authorizing police to arrest people sleeping outside if they refuse to go to a shelter, homeless advocates were in Geneva, Switzerland, arguing that such laws are human rights violations.

What's happening: Representatives from the U.S. State Department periodically meet with the United Nations Human Rights Committee to give updates on our country's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty the U.S. ratified in 1992.

  • At the meeting this week in Geneva, American homeless advocates attended to contend that laws criminalizing homelessness violate terms of the treaty.

Why it matters: Miami-area laws, including the Miami Beach ordinance, were cited as examples of human rights violations.

Context: A report by the National Homelessness Law Center and the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic contends that laws targeting the homeless, including bans on camping and loitering, violate rights to life, liberty, and "to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" outlined in the treaty.

Zoom in: The report cites Miami Beach's ordinance, which passed Wednesday, plus the city's 2017 hiring of a special prosecutor for "nuisance" crimes.

What they're saying: David Peery, executive director of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, tells Axios that he brought up Miami's new law in public remarks to the UN committee.

  • "Because Miami Beach prohibits shelters to operate within its city boundaries, this ordinance will result in the human rights abuses of mass deportations or arrests of the city's homeless population for the 'crime' of being poor," he says.

The other side: In its own report to the UN, the U.S. State Department wrote that "actions to address conditions such as homelessness and poverty do not fall within the scope of the inherent right to life and the obligations of States Parties under the ICCPR."

  • Miami Beach officials did not respond to our request for comment through a city spokesperson.

The big picture: About 70 U.S.-based groups submitted reports to the UN committee, detailing problems like gun violence and voter suppression, which they say also involve human rights violations.

What's next: On Nov. 3, the Human Rights Committee is expected to issue "concluding observations" with its concerns about treaty violations, plus recommendations for policies the U.S. should implement, Siya Hegde, an attorney with the National Homelessness Law Center, tells Axios.

  • Organizations will use those "to push for stronger implementation of the international standards under the ICCPR, at the federal, state and local levels," she says.
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