Advocates Urge Accountability for U.S. Abuse of Power and Hurricane Katrina’s Human Rights Crisis

March 16, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Human Rights Network today urged the U.N. Human Rights Committee to hold the U.S. government accountable for flagrant and repeated violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“Locally, nationally and globally, the United States has repeatedly failed in its responsibility to uphold basic human rights,” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. “We are appealing to the international arbiters to hold the U.S. accountable to basic human rights standards.”

The organizations convened two panels of experts and victims to discuss racial discrimination and human rights violations exposed by the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government’s abuse of power, specifically specifically illegal electronic surveillance and the torture and abuse of people detained in the war on terror. The panels ran in conjunction with the 86th session of the U.N. Human Rights Committee.

The Committee was established to monitor the implementation of the ICCPR, a treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1992. It is composed of 18 independent experts with recognized competence in the field of human rights. The Committee meets three times a year for sessions of three weeks’ duration, normally in March at United Nations headquarters in New York and in July and November at the United Nations Office in Geneva. The advocates urged the Committee to include questions raised at today’s sessions when they review the U.S. report to the body in Geneva in July.

The first panel discussion presented evidence of racial discrimination and human rights that came to light in the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, including the effects on communities of color, immigrant workers, families and children.

“If the fundamental rights of displaced people apply in countries far less able to cope with such disasters, they certainly apply here,” said Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director of U.S. Human Rights Network. “We must not compound the plight of the displaced by letting them fend for themselves once the dust has settled. If we accept that it will take years to rebuild New Orleans, we must also accept that it will take no less time to rebuild the lives of the displaced.”

Abuse of Power: Torture and Surveillance in America was the theme of the second panel which covered testimony and evidence of the erosion of the rule of law and rights protections as exhibited by the administration’s torture, detention and spying policies.

“Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks the U.S. government has invoked national security and abused executive powers to violate internationally recognized human rights, including the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” said Jamil Dakwar, an attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Working Group. “If the U.S. does not recognize its human rights obligations under international law, what reason do other governments have to uphold human rights?”

Last October, the U.S. submitted its second and third periodic reports to the U.N. Human Rights Committee which oversees the implementation of the Covenant by the 152 signatory member states. The U.S. report was seven years overdue and did not include information on U.S. conformity with the Covenant overseas; the government claimed the treaty does not apply beyond U.S. soil and therefore is not applicable to U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The full review session of the U.S. report by the 18 members of the Human Rights Committee will take place next July in Geneva. Meanwhile, at the end of its New York session the Committee will publish a list of questions and issues to be considered at the meeting in Geneva with representatives of the U.S. government.

The U.S. Human Rights Network is a coalition of more than 170 organizations and 300 individuals working on the full spectrum of human rights issues. Formed to promote U.S. adherence to universal human rights standards by building links between organizations across the nation, the Network strives to promote a human rights culture that puts those directly affected by human rights violations in a central leadership role. The Network also works to connect the U.S. human rights movement with the broader U.S. social justice movement and human rights movements around the world.

The ACLU’s new Human Rights Working Group is dedicated to holding the U.S. government accountable to universally recognized human rights principles. The Human Rights Working Group is charged with incorporating international human rights strategies into ACLU advocacy on issues relating to national security, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights and racial justice.

Information about the ACLU’s work on post-Katrina issues, including recently released photographs of the Orleans Parish Prison, is available online at:

Information about government surveillance is available online at:

Documents received by the ACLU that detail torture and abuse of detainees are available online at:

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