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Friday, March 14, 2014 - 06.02 GMT

US under heavy criticism at UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva
Issues include Guantánamo, racial inequality and drones


The US came under sharp criticism at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva yesterday (March 13) for a long list of human rights from detention without charge at Guantánamo, drone strikes and NSA surveillance, to the death penalty, rampant gun violence and endemic racial inequality.

This criticism came at the start of a two-day grilling of the US delegation by the committee’s 18 experts, who made clear their deep concerns about the US record across a raft of human rights issues. Many related to faultlines as old as America itself, such as guns and race, The Guardian, UK reported.

Commenting on more recent issues, the experts raised questions about the National Security Agency’s surveillance of digital communications in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. This week’s dispute between the CIA and US senators over calls for declassification and release of the 6,300-page report into the Bush administration’s use of torture techniques and rendition matters were also raised.

The committee is charged with upholding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a UN treaty that the US ratified in 1992.

The Guardian report stated that “the US is clearly sensitive to suggestions that it fails to live up to the human rights obligations enshrined in the convention – as signalled by the large size of its delegation to Geneva this week. And as an act of public shaming, Thursday’s encounter was frequently uncomfortable for the US”.

Walter Kälin, a Swiss international human rights lawyer who sits on the committee, attacked the US government’s refusal to recognise the convention’s mandate over its actions beyond its own borders..... “This world is an unsafe place,” Kälin said. “Will it not become even more dangerous if any state would be willing to claim that international law does not prevent them from committing human rights violations abroad?”

Strong criticism also came on the large number of persons on death row in the US. Pointing out the disproportional representation of African Americans on death rows, he added: “Discrimination is bad, but it is absolutely unacceptable when it leads to death.”

On the issue of guns Kälin pointed to another “staggering figure” – that there are 470,000 crimes committed with firearms each year, including about 11,000 homicides.

Among other issues that came under strong criticism at the Committee were;

• the proliferation of stand-your-ground gun laws
• enduring racial disparities in the justice system, including large numbers of black prisoners serving longer sentences than whites;
• mistreatment of mentally-ill and juvenile prisoners;
• segregation in schools;
• high levels of homelessness and criminalization of homeless people;
• racial profiling by police, including the mass surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York police department.

The head of the US delegation, Mary McLeod, a senior official in the State Department, insisted that the country was “continually striving to improve”. She said: “While we are certainly not perfect, our network of federal, state and local institutions provide checks on government … Since the founding of our country, in every generation there have been Americans who sought to realize our constitution’s promise of equal opportunity and justice for all.”

Read the Guardian article at:





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Last modified: March 14, 2014.

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