US to Face Litany of Complaints at UN Human Rights Council

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

US to Face Litany of Complaints at UN Human Rights Council

by
William Fisher

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
murder.

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.

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