Two months after withdrawing from the United Nations treaty to create a permanent
international war crimes court, the administration of United States President
George W. Bush is trying to sideline a new treaty to prevent torture, according
to several human rights groups.
The draft Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture is due to be considered for adoption by a key UN committee Wednesday, but Washington has introduced a resolution to create a special working group to discuss it further, according to a draft letter from the U.S. mission at the UN obtained Monday by OneWorld.
Rights groups claim that the resolution is an attempt to prevent the Protocol's adoption, even though the U.S. would not be bound by its terms if it declined to sign it.
"This fits a pattern we've seen for some time under the Bush administration,"
said Rory Mungoven, global advocacy director for New York-based Human
Rights Watch. "Yet again the Bush administration is on a collision course
with its allies over an important new mechanism to protect human rights."
Among those backing Washington in the effort to derail the treaty are several states on the administration's terrorism list, including Cuba, Iran, and Libya. China and India, along with the U.S., also object to the Protocol because they consider it potentially too intrusive.
The draft Optional Protocol, the subject of negotiations by the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva for the past decade, is designed to supplement and strengthen the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the U.S. has already ratified.
Put forward by Costa Rica and backed by the European Union and many Latin
American, Caribbean, and African governments, the Protocol would create an international
body of experts attached to the UN's Committee Against Torture that would be mandated
to visit detention centers to monitor the treatment of prisoners and ensure that
they are not subjected to torture.
As an Optional Protocol, only states which ratified it would be required to permit such visits, so it would not directly affect countries outside its scope.
The draft also provides that visits by the experts would have to be arranged in advance with national or local authorities, and its reports could be made public only with their permission.
A majority of members of the UN Human Rights Commission voted to approve the draft in March, but it must now be approved by the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which is scheduled to take it up Wednesday. If approved there, it will be referred to the UN General Assembly, the last step before it becomes available for signature.
Despite the safeguards included in the draft, the U.S., which lost its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission last year, has objected to the draft on the grounds that it is too intrusive, that it may not be suited to a federal system like that of the U.S., and that it may be too expensive for the UN system to afford.
It has asked ECOSOC members to adopt its own resolution which recommends that the General Assembly "convene an open-ended...working group...with the mandate to continue considering the draft optional protocol, taking into account concern expressed about the current text and the process connected with it, and to report to the General Assembly when the working group has completed its further consideration of the draft optional protocol."
But rights groups argue that the U.S. resolution, if adopted, would be the "kiss of death" for the treaty, even in its present, watered-down form. "By sending this treaty for more negotiations, the United States would be playing into the hands of countries such as Cuba and Iran, which want to block international scrutiny of human rights," Mungoven said, calling the move "extremely destructive."
The groups also believe Washington's reasons for opposing its adoption now
are specious, particularly given all of the protections--including allowances
for federal systems, and against capricious or politically motivated inspections--contained
in the draft text.
"The realization of the Optional Protocol is being jeopardized by a few states...who
do not support the text and wish to continue negotiations in order to water down
its provisions, thereby destroying its effectiveness as a preventive instrument,"
charged the Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture.
Copyright 2002 OneWorld.net