US Human Rights Record Criticized In UN Report

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UN human rights committee raises concerns over torture, Guantánamo Bay, drone strikes, the death penalty and NSA data collection

The UN has delivered a withering verdict on the US’s human rights record, raising concerns on a series of issues including torture, drone strikes, the failure to close Guantánamo Bay and the NSA‘s bulk collection of personal data.

The report was delivered by the UN’s human rights committee in an assessment of how the US is complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], which has been in force since the mid 1970s.

The committee, which is chaired by the British law professor Sir Nigel Rodley, catalogued a string of human rights concerns, notably on the mass surveillance exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

It said the collection of the contents of communications from US-based companies under the Prism program had an adverse impact on the right to privacy. It added that the legal oversight of such programs had largely been kept secret and failed to protect the rights of those affected.

The UN committee urged the US to overhaul its surveillance activities to ensure they complied with US law and conformed to US obligations under the ICCPR.

The comments come as the Obama administration sets out how it proposes to end the mass collection of Americans’ phone call data and make the searching of records held by telephone companies subject to a court order.

In its 11-page report, the committee also criticised the US for failing to prosecute senior members of its armed forces and private contractors involved in torture and targeted killings.

It noted that only a “meagre number” of criminal charges had been brought against low-level operatives. It also expressed concern that all investigations into enforced disappearances and torture conducted under the CIA’s rendition programme were closed in 2012, and that the details of the programme remained secret, creating barriers to accountability and redress for victims.

The US is urged to “ensure that all cases of unlawful killing, torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, or enforced disappearance are effectively, independently and impartially investigated, that perpetrators, including, in particular, persons in command positions, are prosecuted and sanctioned”.

The committee was also scathing about Washington’s legal justification for targeted killings using drones. The US claims such strikes, which have killed dozens of insurgents and civilians, are an act of self-defence as part of armed conflicts with al-Qaida and the Taliban. The committee criticised such justifications as too broad, and said it was unclear what precautionary measures were taken to avoid civilian deaths.

It urged the US to review the legal justification for drone strikes and said they should be subject to independent oversight.

The committee chides Obama for his failure to fulfil a commitment to close Guantánamo Bay. It notes that many detainees have been held there, and in military prisons in Afghanistan, for more than a decade without charge or trial. It call on the US to speed up the transfer of detainees and ensure that any criminal cases are dealt with by the US justice system rather than a military commission.

The committee also expressed alarm about the continued use of the death penalty in a 16 states, the “still high number” number of fatal shootings by certain police forces, notably in Chicago and the high proportion of black people in the country’s jails.

  • il corvo

    How then does the US’s Nobel Peace Prize Winner respond to charges of Human Rights violation charges? Why he does it like any other man of honor who has been accused of something that he has accused Syria and Russia of, he say Nothing. I guess he feels like he is beyond reproach, beyond having to justify or respond to these charges. Bush did the same thing when it came to accusations, he said nothing. Have American Presidents become Emperors, are they above international law? Do laws only apply to countries that America, because they have the most deadly and largest stash of weapons, accuses of human rights violations? When the fox guarding the hen house begins killing the chickens whose to blame? If we were to listen to the US it would be the chickens that are at fault. The victims of our drone killing, illegal detention, executions, and mass spying are the real culprits so lets give this man of peace his moment of silence.

  • DoubleCheck

    Obama and his administration possess the same values as the greedy corporatists, banksters, and militarists that own them. To them human rights and quality of life is only an inconvenience stupidly preached by “radicals” and “terrorists.”

  • DHFabian

    It’s the American people who aren’t interested in human rights, and we need only look at our domestic policies to see this. The US was one of the few countries to refuse to ratify the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights because we do reject the very idea of universal human rights. We pick and choose which rights (if any) apply to particular groups of people, and even “progressives” have have entirely comfortable with disregarding the human rights of certain groups. For example, food and shelter — and for those who can’t provide for themselves — are listed as fundamental human rights. This generation disagreed. In a country that shipped out a massive portion of our working class jobs, this generation decided that those who are not of current use to employers/the corporate state do NOT have these basic human rights.

  • DHFabian

    “To them human rights and quality of life is only an inconvenience…” We can’t point fingers, since this generation – including “progressives” – have this same philosophy. The overall quality of life in the US was rated at #1 in 1980. It has since fallen to (the last I saw) #34, primarily as a result of our social policies (specifically, Clinton’s welfare “reform”), which have successfully pulled much of the working class into permanent poverty. Progressives have been 100% comfortable with denying the most basic human rights – food and shelter – to those who have been pushed out of our shrinking job market. In short, this generation doesn’t regard our “surplus population” (the poor) as deserving of basic human rights as defined by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • DHFabian

    We the People took it upon ourselves to pick and choose who deserves fundamental human rights protections, and which human rights suit us. The blame rests with us, not the government. The fact that we don’t believe that certain groups of people (i.e., the poor, prisoners) are entitled to basic human rights protections enables us to self-righteously point fingers. We have to accept personal responsibility for the politics and policies we chose, allowed and (at least implicitly) support.

  • DoubleCheck

    Who are you calling progressive? There are many who debase the term.

  • DoubleCheck

    That’s silly. The ones with power make the determination, as well as the propaganda.

  • DoubleCheck

    You sound like a disinformation agent propagandizing the blame of the oligarchs to everyone else.