UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations Friday harshly criticized the United States’ record on a wide range of issues, including lack of accountability for torture, immigration detention, and abusive criminal justice practices such as solitary confinement and excessive use of force by law enforcement.
The ‘Concluding Observations’ from the UN Committee Against Torture committee come after this month’s hearings reviewing US compliance with a major human rights treaty, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the US ratified in 1994. It was this first such review since 2006.
The report took the Obama administration to task about the lack of consequences for the officials responsible for torture during the Bush administration and failing to provide redress for victims. It also called for the swift release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program with minimal redactions, which the White House and senators have been fighting over. In addition, the report urged an end to unfair military commissions and indefinite detention at Guantanamo as well as a halt to the force feedings there.
‘The Obama administration needs to match its rhetoric with actions by supporting full accountability for torture,’ said American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Programme Director Jamil Dakwar, who attended the two-day review in Geneva. ‘As a start, that means allowing the release of the Senate’s torture report summary without redactions that would defeat report’s primary purpose, which is to expose the full extent of government abuse. It also means ensuring a top-to-bottom criminal investigation of the torture that occurred.’
On criminal justice issues, the committee criticized the extensive use of solitary confinement in the United States and called for extensive reforms including banning its use for certain categories of prisoners, such as juveniles and pregnant women. The report also found that too often, police in the U.S. are unaccountable for pervasive racial profiling and use of excessive and lethal force, especially against people of colour. Along the same lines, the report decried the growing militarization of policing, spurred by federal programs funding military equipment for local police.
The panel voiced concern over the ‘frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.’ ‘We recommend that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism,’ said panel member Alessio Bruni, noting ‘reported current police violence in Chicago especially against African-Americans and Latino young people’.
The U.S. delegation reported that 20 investigations had been opened since 2009 into systematic police abuses and that more than 330 police officers had been prosecuted for brutality. ‘We have certain concerns about whether investigations are thoroughly completed and whether punishment of law enforcement (officers) when they have crossed the line are effectively put in place,’ committee member Jens Modvig told reporters.
Rights activists welcomed the findings and called for reforms.
‘This report - along with the voices of Americans protesting around the country this week – is a wake-up call for police who think they can act with impunity,’ said Dakwar. ‘It’s time for systemic policing reforms and effective oversight that make sure law enforcement agencies treat all citizens with equal respect and hold officers accountable when they cross the line.’ On immigration and border issues, the report expressed grave concern over the expansion of expedited deportation processes without adequate protection for asylum seekers, as well as the blanket U.S. policy of detaining families and young children, many of whom have fled violence. It recommended expanding community-based alternatives to immigration detention and also taking steps to prevent sexual assault in detention centers. ‘The committee is right to demand that immigrants and especially people seeking asylum must have fair hearings and access to legal representation to ensure that they are not returned to dangerous situations,’ Dakwar said. ‘Immigration detention should be the last resort, and certainly