By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer-
The United Nations Committee Against Torture recently released its findings calling on the United States government to completely investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed Black youth; and to ensure that weapons such as tasers are used sparingly.
Panel member, Alessio Bruni said the committee recommended complaints regarding use of force by police officers must be investigated promptly, effectively, and impartially by an independent mechanism. He noted that reports of “police violence” against Blacks and Latinos in Chicago, Illinois were alarming.
The UN committee held its review of the U.S. human rights record on preventing torture, its first since 2006. The committee also stressed that the U.S. must correct the “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as rapes of inmates, and the extensive use of “solitary confinement.”
Americans are more aware and have taken a greater interest in human rights issues, according to Rebecca Landy, Human Rights Outreach Coordinator at the U.S. Human Rights Network. She explained to The Final Call why 70 people and organizations traveled to Geneva, Switzerland from November 11 to 13 to appear before the UN committee.
“It was very inspiring to see people come from across the U.S.; and to see the reaction from the delegation from the State Department, who obviously did not expect to see so many people gathering in Geneva to challenge the administration’s human rights record,” Ms. Landy said.
The advocacy work that took place in Geneva this month worked to bring attention to the U.S. non-compliance with the terms of the CAT, was just one of a number of efforts over the past decade to highlight the dismal human rights record of the U.S. explained Ajamu Baraka, a former executive director of the UNHRN.
“Yet, with all of the shadow reports, resources expended traveling to Geneva, meeting with U.S. government officials, we still see little progress toward a serious effort to address ongoing human rights abuses in the U.S. and to bring human rights laws and practices in line with international norms,” Mr. Baraka said.
He added that the original strategy for intensifying exposure of abuses and human rights advocacy in the international arena was “to expose the myth of the U.S. as a supporter of human rights” internationally and domestically.
The U.S. delegation led by Ambassador Keith Harper reported that 20 investigations had been opened since 2009 into systemic police abuses and more than 330 police officers had been prosecuted for brutality.
The committee said it “regretted” the lack of statistical data available on allegations of police brutality and the lack of information on the result of the investigations undertaken in respect of those allegations.
The U.S. signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) 30 years ago under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. To date 155 nations have adopted the convention that mandates nations to submit regular reports every four years to the CAT on how rights are being implemented under Article 1: “Any act of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed.”
The CAT is a 10-member committee of human rights experts that meets in April/May and November of each year in Geneva. Members are elected to four-year terms by the UN General Assembly.
Mr. Harper explained to the committee that “torture violates United States and international law as well as human dignity.” It is “contrary to the founding documents of our country, and the fundamental values of our people.”
The committee noted that “insufficient” safeguards have been brought to the attention of the U.S. as detained persons do not enjoy in practice all the fundamental legal safeguards “from the very outset of deprivation of liberty.”
The CAT noted its “serious concerns at the widespread prevalence of sexual violence, including rape, in prisons, jails and other places of detention by staff and other inmates.” There is also concern that “958 inmates died while in custody of local jails in 2012, an eight percent increase from the 889 deaths in 2010.”
“Going to Geneva–to the UN–taking our human rights issues to the international community develops our self-reliance, but we are still taking baby steps,” Jihad Abdulmumit, national chairman of the Jericho Movement, an organization that fights for the recognition that political prisoners exist inside of the U.S. He said the appearance at the CAT by the parents of Michael Brown, Jr. was “a necessary part to the puzzle” concerning police misconduct.
The committee requested that the U.S. government release follow-up information on remedies and redress to victims included in the committee’s present observations.
The U.S. is invited to submit its follow up report by November 28, 2015.