Global Policy Forum

UN Human Rights Body to Scrutinise US Abuses


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
September 20, 2005

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, scheduled to meet in Geneva next month, has written to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) calling for any available evidence of human rights abuses by the United States -- particularly in the aftermath of its global war on terrorism.

The 18-member committee, comprising of independent human rights experts, will take up "issues of specific concerns relating to the effect of measures taken (by the administration of President George W. Bush) in the fight against terrorism following the events of 11 September 2001," the day the United States was subject to terrorist attacks.

The primary focus will be "on the implications of the USA Patriot Act on nationals and non-nationals, as well as problems relating to the legal status and treatment of persons detained in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Iraq and other places of detention outside the USA."

The U.S. Congress adopted the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 in order to provide "appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism." But virtually all human rights organisations, both domestic and international, have criticised the Act as seriously threatening civil liberties and freedoms in the United States. "The USA Patriot Act was destined to foster abuses, as it weakened the system of checks and balances on law enforcement while setting aside due process safeguards under the law," says Jumana Musa, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA.

Alarmingly, Musa added, the Patriot Act has inspired a proliferation of copycat laws worldwide, prompting abuses that the United States has officially pledged to counter. "The boast that the United States is now the world's only superpower has a grim undertow in the area of human rights; no one can tell Washington what to do or not do, no matter how egregious its cruelties," says Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy.

"Most governments deserve to be censured by a human rights committee. The United States, far from being an exception, is among the most culpable -- in particular because of its large-scale foreign policy efforts pursued under the rubric of a 'war on terrorism' over the last four years," Solomon told IPS. The rhetorical use of "human rights" as a political football has mired its transcendent importance in the muck of self-serving hypocrisies based on the tacit precept that might makes right, he added.

"The character of the Bush administration is such that the U.S. delegation to the United Nations will -- in practice -- indignantly refuse to recognise a single standard of human rights whenever such a standard would put the U.S. record in a negative light," said Solomon, author of the recently-released book 'War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.'

The U.S.-based Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute at the University of California in Berkeley has detailed some 180 alleged human rights violations by the United States, including 11 types of violations of individual rights and 19 types of violations of government duties. These violations include enforcement of the Patriot Act, and also allegations of killings, torture, detentions and other "inhuman treatment" in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Last July, the Berkeley City Council submitted to the Human Rights Committee a report prepared by the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, titled "Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 9/11". In June, four independent experts of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights expressed "deep regrets" that "the Government of the United States has still not invited us to visit those persons arrested, detained or tried on grounds of alleged terrorism or other violations in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Guantanamo Bay naval base".

The Bush administration has also turned down a similar request from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and a joint request by the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on torture and health. "Such requests were based on information, from reliable sources, of serious allegations of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, arbitrary detention, violations of their right to health and their due process rights," the four experts said in a statement released in June.

They also said that many of the allegations have come to light through declassified government documents. "The purpose of the visit would be to examine objectively the allegations first-hand and ascertain whether international human rights standards that are applicable in these particular circumstances are being upheld with respect to those detained persons," the experts added.

When the Human Rights Committee meets in Geneva from Oct. 17 to Nov. 3, it is expected to discuss the submissions made by the Bush administration. These submissions include Washington's periodic reports on how it has helped enforce the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee was established to specifically monitor the implementation of the Covenant and the Protocols to the Covenant in the territory of States parties. The committee convenes three times a year for sessions of three weeks' duration. Under article 40 of the Covenant, States parties must submit reports every five years on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognised in the Covenant and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights.

The United States will be appearing before the committee for the first time in the post-Sep. 11 period.

Although only members of the committee and representatives of the relevant state party may take part in the dialogue, NGOs are encouraged to submit written information or reports to the committee. Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy pointed out that for a long time, officials in Washington have been dismissive of the human rights pretensions of regimes that clearly are human rights violators, while much of what Washington does to violate human rights is "coated with a veneer of righteousness".

A multi-track monologue discourse from Washington -- in tandem with tremendous economic, political, diplomatic and military power -- can be bought to bear on the United Nations, he said. "A superpower that is striving to remake the 60-year-old world body in its own image can hardly be expected to submit to institutional scrutiny of its actual human rights record. The self-designated role of Uncle Sam at the United Nations is to preach and teach without reflecting or learning," he argued.

A harsh truth is that a pronounced form of jingoism is at the core of the Bush administrations approach to the United Nations, Solomon added. "Human rights violations come in many shapes, styles and sizes. The United States, like many other countries, has a government well-practiced at dodging accountability and proclaiming its own virtues," he said.

"But the U.S. record, as assessed by independent organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is reprehensible," Solomon noted.

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