Torture, racism, drones & unlawful killings: UN Human Rights Committee releases report on US government
March 28, 2014
The United Nations Human Rights Committee completed its review of the United States’ compliance with a major human rights treaty. It takes issue with the government’s interpretation that the treaty only applies to persons when they are inside the country and also expresses concern with drones, racism, gun violence, excessive use of force by police, Guantanamo, NSA surveillance, mandatory detention of immigrants and impunity for those who commit torture and unlawful killings.
It is the Obama administration’sposition that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US is a signatory, does not impose any “human rights obligations on American military and intelligence forces when they operate abroad.”The treaty covers “individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction” so the committee refused to accept this position.
It expressed concern about the “limited number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of members of the Armed Forces and other agents of the US government, including private contractors, for unlawful killings in its international operations and the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in US custody, including outside its territory, as part of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” program.”
“The Committee notes with concern that all reported investigations into enforced disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that had been committed in the context of the CIA secret rendition, interrogation and detention programmes were closed in 2012 leading only to a meager number of criminal charges brought against low-level operatives,” the Committee added.
Torture victims, in general, are unable to claim compensation from the US government and its officials “due to the application of broad doctrines of legal privilege and immunity.” The US lacks legislation prohibiting all forms of torture.
The review drew attention to “targeted killings” in “extraterritorial counterterrorism operations” with drones and criticized the “lack of transparency regarding the criteria for drone strikes.” It questioned the government’s “very broad approach to the definition and the geographical scope of an armed conflict, including the end of hostilities, the unclear interpretation of what constitutes an ‘imminent threat’ and who is a combatant or civilian taking a direct part in hostilities.”
On the continued detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the review lamented the fact that President Barack Obama’s administration has no timeline for the closure of the prison.
NSA surveillance was highlighted the body of secret law that has developed, which makes it possible for the government to systematically violate privacy rights. It expressed concern that non-US citizens receive “limited protection against excessive surveillance.”
This review acknowledged the “practice of racial profiling and surveillance by law enforcement officials targeting certain ethnic minorities and the surveillance of Muslims undertaken” by the FBI and New York Police Department in the “absence of any suspicion of any wrongdoing.”
When it comes to indigenous people, “insufficient measures,” the committee said, are being taken to protect sacred areas from “desecration, contamination and destruction as a result of urbanization, extractive industries, industrial development, tourism and toxic contamination.”
The committee noted the significant racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty. African-Americans are disproportionately affected and this is “exacerbated” by a rule that discrimination can only be proven on a case-by-case basis. Plus, a high number of individuals are wrongly sentenced to death and untested lethal drugs are being used to execute people.
It also called attention to the “high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces” like the Chicago Police Department and continued reports of excessive use force by law enforcement including “deadly use of tasers, which has a disparate impact on African-Americans.”
Also, as highlighted in the report’s findings, high numbers of “gun-related deaths and injuries” and the “disparate impact of gun violence on minorities, women and children” persist. There is a steady trend of “criminalization” of homeless people, who engage in “everyday activities, such as eating, sleeping or sitting in particular areas, etc.” Students in schools are being increasingly criminalized by administrators seeking to “tackle disciplinary issues” in schools.
In the criminal justice system, juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole for homicides and adults can be sentenced to life without parole for “non-homicide related sentences.” A number of states” exclude 16 and 17 year olds from juvenile court jurisdictions and thus juveniles continue to be tried in adult courts and to be incarcerated in adult institutions.”
Solitary confinement continues to be practiced in US prisons. “Juveniles and persons with mental disabilities under certain circumstances” may be subject to “prolonged solitary confinement” (which often amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment or torture).
Immigrants, the review found, are subject to “mandatory detention” in violation of the treaty. The “mandatory nature of deportation” is extremely troubling. It also is problematic that undocumented immigrants and children are excluded from the Affordable Care Act.
There also is “widespread use of non-consensual psychiatric medication, electroshock and other restrictive and coercive practices in mental health services.”
The Committee would like to see the US government “disclose the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal basis for specific attacks, the process of target identification and the circumstances in which drones are used,” which has been a top priority of human rights organizations in the country. The Obama administration has vigorously resisted this call.
Like numerous human rights groups, it urged the US to transfer detainees “designated for transfer” to countries, including Yemen. Provide detainees with a fair trial or immediate release and “end the system of administrative detention without charge or trial.” It suggested the US “ensure that any criminal cases against detainees held in Guantánamo and military facilities in Afghanistan are dealt with within the criminal justice system rather than military commissions.”
Furthermore, it recommended a federal moratorium on the death penalty, reforming surveillance so it does not violate privacy, impose strict limits on solitary confinement, enact legislation to prohibit torture. And, to address impunity, the recommendation that “command responsibility” be incorporated into criminal law was made, along with a call to “declassify and make public the report of the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence into the CIA secret detention program.