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US to Face Litany of Complaints at UN Human Rights Council
NEW YORK - Human rights groups
are telling the United Nations that the United States is failing to
hold corporations, including private government contractors,
accountable for human rights abuses ranging from human trafficking to
These and a plethora of other charges have been triggered by the U.N.'s formal process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for reviewing the human rights records of 192 U.N. member states by the U.N. Human Rights Council, scheduled for November, when the U.S. human rights performance will be reviewed for the first time.
The UPR was established when the Human Rights Council was created in 2006 by the U.N. General Assembly. Numerous human rights groups have responded to the U.S. State Department's invitation to members of the U.S. public to present their concerns about human rights in the U.S.
Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defence Committee, has attended the predecessor U.N. Commission on Human Rights and now the Council for more than two decades, as a delegate of the U.S. government, Amnesty International, or other NGOs.
"The Universal Periodic Review process is a welcome step forward, in that it subjects all states to regular review of their human rights records, in addition to the work done by other mechanisms such as the treaty bodies and special rapporteurs, as well as the Council's own retained ability to make recommendations regarding acute situations of gross and systematic violations," he told IPS.
The problem, he said, is that "the process is far too slow, too limited in scope and authority, and still suffers from the inevitable politics that must be diminished if human rights implementation on the ground is to advance."
"The U.S. government, in particular, should be the first to offer leadership and ensure authentic and full compliance with human rights law. But instead of setting this example, the United States all too often continues to seek refuge for itself and its allies in double standards," he added.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Programme of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), struck a more hopeful note, telling IPS, "We hope this process will help bring U.S. policies in line with international human rights standards by shining a light on domestic human rights issues and holding state, local and federal government accountable to our human rights obligations."
Specifically, the ACLU is urging President Barack Obama to "issue a new executive order to revitalise the Inter-Agency Working Group on Human Rights, to coordinate the efforts of federal agencies and departments to respect and implement human rights obligations as U.S. domestic policy."
He also urged "the creation of a national human rights institution in the form of an expanded U.S. Civil and Human Rights Commission, and effective coordination between federal bodies and existing state and local agencies charged with monitoring and enforcing civil and human rights laws."
One coalition of groups includes the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Earth Rights International, the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Western Shoshone Defence Project.
These organisations cite numerous examples where private companies have been accused of serious human rights abuses, including human trafficking of Nepali labourers by Kellogg Brown & Root; nonconsensual medical experimentation by Pfizer; extrajudicial killings and torture committed by private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan; complicity in war crimes by Chiquita; and violations of the indigenous peoples' rights to health, land, and culture by private mining companies in Nevada.
The Federation of American Scientists asked the State Department to address those cases where a resolution of alleged human rights violations has been barred by the government's use of the state secrets privilege.
Steven Aftergood, director of the group's Government Secrecy Project, told IPS, "There are innocent individuals who have been swept up in U.S. government counterterrorism operations, wrongly detained, 'rendered' surreptitiously to foreign countries, subjected to extreme physical and mental stress, or otherwise wronged."
He added, "In some cases, like those of persons such as Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri, efforts to seek legal remedies have been blocked by the government's invocation of the state secrets privilege. As a result, the alleged abuses committed in such cases remain unresolved, and there is no way for the affected individuals to be made whole."
Another prominent human rights advocacy group, Human Rights First, focused its report on refugee protection and immigration detention, counter-terrorism policies, and hate crimes and discrimination.
The group said, "Despite its leadership in protecting victims of persecution around the world, the U.S. has fallen short on its commitment to treat refugees who seek asylum in the United States in accordance with the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)."
It said, "The U.S. should change its laws and regulations to provide asylum seekers who are detained on arrival with prompt immigration court custody hearings, eliminate the one-year asylum filing deadline, and ensure refugees are not improperly excluded from protection or returned to persecution after interdiction at sea."
Regarding counterterrorism policies, the group notes that the U.S. continues to hold more than 800 detainees in military facilities at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan without charge or trial.
It says many detainees are being held in violation of international law, and that Washington has also failed to provide adequate information about detainees reportedly abused in a "black site" in Afghanistan.