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UN Committee Criticizes US Human Rights Record

  • Lisa Schlein

The U.N. Human Rights Committee says the United States should abolish any alleged secret detention facilities and give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to anyone held in connection with armed conflict.

Australian human rights expert Ivan Shearer said the committee is concerned by, what he called, "credible and uncontested" information that the United States has been detaining people in secret places for months and years on end.

"The delegation did not admit that such places existed, but we have said, because we have reliable information that there are such places, we have called upon the United States to cease these practices," he said.

The U.S. delegation said it was very disappointed with the Committee's findings, and said the committee went beyond the scope of its mandate. It said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not govern conduct or installations outside a country's territory. Therefore, it said, anything dealing with U.S military or U.S. military installations abroad is governed by other domestic and international laws.

The State Department's deputy director of war crimes issues, Sandra Hodgkinson, rejected the committee's observations.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross does have access to various battlefield locations, not just in Guantanamo Bay, to meet with prisoners and detainees," she said. "I am not going to comment in depth at all on any intelligence operations. That is not something we would normally talk about at any time. However, the United States does grant access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and we take very seriously their role in applicable locations and we will continue to do that."

The U.N. Committee also expressed concern about Washington's possible use of interrogation techniques, such as prolonged stress positions and isolation, sensory deprivation, hooding, sleep and food deprivation. It said it welcomed assurances that these forms of torture are no longer authorized.

The committee urged the United States to conduct prompt and independent investigations into all allegations of suspicious deaths and torture. It said the United States should make sure that no one detained in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere should be sent to a third country where he might be tortured.

The United States has denied that it practices torture, and said it does not send any detainee to a country where it has not received assurances that the person will be treated humanely. U.S. officials also have promised full investigations into any allegations of improper behavior toward detainees.

The U.S. delegation accused the committee of holding the United States up to a higher standard than countries with no civil and political rights. For example, it noted that recommendations on North Korea were about half the length of that on the United States.

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