U.S. Human Rights Record Strongly Condemned by Leading International Body

July 28, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Echoes Call to Hold U.S. Responsible

NEW YORK — A United Nations human rights body today expressed grave concerns over the United States' human rights policies. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the recommendations and urged the U.S. government to take immediate and vigorous steps to implement them on the state and federal level.

"The United States should be ashamed of its dismal human rights record," said Ann Beeson, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "America must act now to remedy these ongoing human rights abuses and regain its position as a beacon of freedom throughout the world."

The recommendations come at the conclusion of a three-week session of the U.N. Human Rights Committee (HRC) and after two days of meetings on July 17 and 18 with a high level U.S. delegation that answered questions about the United States' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The recommendations were extensive, giving written strength to the heated oral questioning heard in Geneva on a wide range of human rights issues. Among other recommendations, the HRC:

  • called for the immediate end to secret detention and closure of all secret detention facilities;
  • criticized the lack of impartial investigations and accountability for torture, and recommended more monitoring and guidance to military personnel and contractors, including commanders;
  • called for an end to illegal rendition to torture and a remedy for its victims, including Khaled El-Masri, and held that diplomatic assurances provide inadequate protection;
  • criticized the lack of due process protections for detainees under the Material Witness statute;
  • expressed concern about the privacy impact of expanded surveillance by the National Security Agency and under the Patriot Act;
  • criticized the prevalence of racial profiling and racial disparities in prosecutions and sentencing in the criminal justice system, and called for an end to such practices;
  • acknowledged the disadvantages suffered by poor people and African Americans in rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina and in reconstruction efforts, and called on the U.S. to increase its efforts to provide equal access to housing, education and healthcare;
  • noted with concern the increased militarization of the southwest border, particularly the deployment of National Guard troops;
  • acknowledged persistent discrimination against women workers;
  • called for limits on the use of male guards in women's correctional facilities, and an end to the practice of shackling detained women during childbirth;
  • demanded an end to the practice of sentencing children to life without parole, which it held was a violation of the Covenant, and called for a review of all sentences currently being served;
  • noted the significant racial implications of denying the right to vote to five million Americans due to felony convictions, and called on the U.S. to ensure that states restore voting rights to citizens post-incarceration;
  • criticized the U.S. position that the Covenant does not apply to any U.S. action outside of U.S. borders.

"I'm pleased that the Human Rights Committee has acknowledged my suffering and called on the U.S. to provide a remedy," said Khaled El-Masri, an ACLU client and victim of illegal rendition.

The HRC's review of the United States was based on the official U.S. report that was submitted last October, more than seven years after it was due. The United States' appearance before the committee was its second since it ratified the treaty in 1992 and the first since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the beginning of the "global war on terror."

Earlier this month the ACLU sent a delegation to the proceedings to present the ACLU "Shadow Report," to testify and to observe the proceedings. The ACLU also co-hosted a special panel: Voices of Victims: Human Stories of U.S. Human Rights Violations, which included three ACLU clients - El-Masri; Jessica Gonzales (victim of failure to protect from domestic violence); and Father Roy Bourgeois (victim of surveillance). Video clips of the panel are available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/26167prs20060718.html

The HRC is the second major international body in less than three months to criticize the United States' human rights policies, particularly after 9/11. Last May, the U.N. Committee Against Torture issued a critical report and recommendations regarding the United States' failure to uphold its obligations under the Convention Against Torture. The Committee Against Torture was the first U.N. human rights body to call upon the U.S. government to shut down Guantánamo and to reconsider its actions and policies in the so-called war on terror. More information is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/25608prs20060519.html

The ACLU's Shadow Report to the HRC, Dimming the Beacon of Freedom: U.S. Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is available online at www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/25924pub20060620.html

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