NEW YORK - U.S. officials declined to attend key meetings on human rights issues Tuesday, citing legal battles over President Donald Trump's executive orders aimed at banning refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority countries, authorities said.
The hearings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) were planned to question U.S. officials on the impact of Trump's orders, which have been stalled in the courts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a participant.
The IACHR, part of the Organization of American States, is a leading human rights organization that has tackled issues of torture, killings and disappearances in North, Central and South America for nearly 60 years.
At the hearings, Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program, called the absence of a U.S. delegation "an unprecedented show of disrespect to the international community."
"Refusing to engage with the commission is an isolationist policy that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them," said Dakwar in a statement. "This is another worrying sign that the Trump administration is not only launching an assault on human rights at home but is also trying to undermine international bodies charged with holding abusive governments accountable."
A U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States has "tremendous respect" for the IACHR but had told the rights group it could not attend Tuesday's hearings in Washington.
"It is not appropriate for the United States to participate in these hearings while litigation on these matters is ongoing in U.S. courts," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.
Trump issued a revised travel ban on March 6, temporarily banning refugees and travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, citing national security. But the order has been partially halted by two federal judges, the latest legal blows to the administration's efforts to restrict travel to the United States.
The order seeks to bar citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, and to block refugees from entering the country for 120 days.
An earlier ban issued by Trump in January, which included Iraq among the Muslim-majority nations, caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests in major U.S. cities.
The IACHR hearings also were intended to discuss U.S. policies affecting migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, the ACLU said.