Published on Monday, May 15, 2000 by Reuters
The United Nations Rebukes The US Over Brutality in Prisons
by Elif Kaban
GENEVA - May 15 - The United Nations publicly rebuked the United States Monday over brutality in its prisons and called for an end to chain gangs and to the use of electro-shock belts for restraining inmates.

The U.N. Committee against Torture said it was concerned about breaches of the international convention against torture in the United States, citing the alleged sexual assault of female prisoners by law enforcement officers and the holding of minors in adult jails.

This is the first time the United States, the world's most vocal defender of human rights, has been put in the dock before the Geneva-based body alongside the usual suspects such as China.

``The committee expresses its concern about the number of cases of police ill-treatment of civilians and ill-treatment in prisons. Much of this ill-treatment by police and prison guards seems to be based upon discrimination,'' the report said.

The committee's 10 independent experts urged the United States to abolish the use of electro-shock stun belts and restraint chairs on uncooperative inmates.

``The committee recommends that the state party abolish electro-shock stun belts and restraint chairs as methods of restraining those in custody. Their use almost invariably leads to breaches of...the convention,'' they said. The report also expressed concern about what it said was the excessively harsh regime in so-called super-maximum prisons, including the practice of putting inmates in chain gangs, especially in public.

The U.N. forum's two-day examination of the United States' record follows the fatal police shootings of unarmed blacks in New York and Los Angeles.

London-based rights group Amnesty International charged in a 46-page report last week that practices in overcrowded U.S. prisons -- whose total population recently hit two million inmates -- facilitated torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Amnesty called for a halt to police beatings and the shooting of unarmed suspects.

Washington says torture is prohibited by law in the United States and categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority, but admits its record is not perfect.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh, presenting his government's report on its compliance since ratifying the convention in 1994, said last week that instances of police abuse, excessive use of force and even brutality, the death of prisoners in custody, sexual abuse of inmates and jail overcrowding were causes for concern.

The U.S. report was almost five years overdue, the committee said, and urged Washington to submit its next periodic report by November 2001.

The U.N. body oversees compliance by 119 states that have ratified the torture pact, but it has no power to impose sanctions.