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U.S. Cited for Human Rights Violations

On May 15, 2001, at a human rights conference in Geneva, the United States was denounced for its inhumane and discriminatory practices. Amnesty International and the U.N. Committee Against Torture cited the U.S. for oppressive tactics by both public law enforcement and prison agencies.

Of particular importance to Amnesty International was the impunity with which two unarmed black men were gunned down by police in Los Angeles and New York. In a 46-page report they demanded an end to the brutalizing and shooting of defenseless suspects by police.

A Committee report cited specific abuses in U.S. prisons. In their own words, "The committee recommends that the state party abolish electro-shock stun belts and restraint chairs as methods of restraining those in custody. Their use almost invariably leads to breaches of ... the convention." Also listed were the excessive severity of super-max prisons and the dehumanizing effect of chain gangs, especially in public.

In addition, the conference expressed a strong regard for the safety of female prisoners from sexual assault by guards and the practice of holding minors in adult jail facilities. According to the conference report, "The committee expresses its concern about the number of cases of police ill-treatment of civilians and ill-treatment in prisons. Much of this ill-treatment by police and prison guards seems to be based upon discrimination."

This is new territory for the U.S., whose officials consider it a champion of human rights. Harold Hongju Koh, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. representative at the conference, agrees that the issues discussed were of great importance and admits that the U.S. record is less than perfect. Amnesty International noted that U.S. prisons, with a current population of two million prisoners, are overcrowded and conducive to various forms of torture and abuse.

The torture pact, ratified in 1994 by 119 states including the U.S., is headed by the U.N. However, the group has no authority to officially impose sanctions. Neither has the U.S. ratified many of the international treaties that prohibit torture. Noting that the U.S. response to committee activity was nearly five years late, the U.N. body urged Washington to be more prompt with its next response due in November 2001.

Source: Reuters

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