Published on Wednesday, July 12, 2006 by OneWorld.net
Prisons at Center of Damning Report on U.S. Human Rights
by Haider Rizvi
UNITED NATIONS - Rights advocacy groups in the United States are calling for the United Nations to take note of the gross human rights violations being committed in their country.
A coalition of human and civil rights organizations Monday sent a 465-page report to a key United Nations committee, which details ongoing abuses of human rights across the United States.
The "shadow report" comes at a time when the Geneva-based UN Committee on Human Rights is about to complete its findings on human rights abuses in the United States.
The UN inquiry into the United States' human rights conduct is part of a review process that takes place every four years for countries that have ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, also known as the "International Bill of Rights."
As a signatory to the treaty, the U.S. government is bound to respond to the Committee's questions on human rights. The official U.S. response to the UN inquiry is due next week.
Rights groups say the Bush administration is expected to defend its human rights record, as it did in the past in response to the UN findings on torture, which called in February for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
"It's time for the United States to own up to its responsibility and acknowledge its patterns of human rights violations," says Tonya McClary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker human rights group, which is part of the coalition that prepared the report for the UN.
The report documents various forms of human rights abuses in the United States, which include police brutality, abuse of immigrants, racial discrimination, and the use of torture in prisons.
"Prisons are one of the largest growth industries in the United States," according to the AFSC. With only five percent of the world's population, the U.S. holds about 25 percent of the world's prison population.
"The principle offender is the prison system," says McClary, who co-authored the report, entitled, "In the Shadows of the War on Terror: Persistent Police Brutality and Abuse in the United States."
"Because prisons are a closed system, operating in secrecy, the public does not comprehend the extreme forms of abuse, violence, and racism practiced daily behind bars."
The report, which is a rebuttal to the official U.S. response to the UN committee, documents many cases of unjustified police shootings, use of excessive force, extraction of coerced confessions, rape, strip searches, and racial and gender profiling.
Immigrants face sexual and physical abuse when they are detained at the borders and airports and immigration laws fail to respect their right to due process, according to the authors of the "shadow report."
In the report, the rights groups also explain how racism was associated with the authorities' failure to protect the victims of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom are still deprived of the right to participate in the rebuilding process and access to basic facilities.
Questioning the judicial practices and prison conditions in the United States, the report cites several cases of human rights violations such as the sentencing of children to life without parole, shackling pregnant female prisoners, limitation on prisoners' access to courts, lack of healthcare, and rape and discrimination against minorities.
In a statement, the coalition accused the U.S. State Department of trying to sidestep the UN process on the question of ongoing human rights abuses in the United States and described its behavior as "a systematic pattern" of ignoring international human rights obligations.
"Far from being out of the ordinary," says McClary, "or an aberration--which is the image painted by the Bush administration--prison abuse and the use of torture in the United States is frighteningly widespread."
The human rights violations, as pointed out in the report, also refer to the use of electric stun belts, grenades, and guns; tethers; waist and leg chains; air tasers; and restraint hoods, belts, and beds.
Prisoners, according to the report's findings, can be held in long-term solitary confinement and extreme isolation in severely confined spaces with little or no daily contact for days, weeks, months, or even years. Sexual assault of female prisoners is common.
The report submitted to the UN Committee represented the views of more than 140 U.S.-based groups and 32 prominent individual activists.
The groups likely to testify before the UN Committee include the American Civil Liberties Union, Global Rights, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the International Women's Rights Action Watch, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Center for Reproductive Rights and Justice Now.
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