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UN Watchdog Condemns Police Brutality in US

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A police officer stands in a row of police cars parked in Times Square in New York.

FILE - A police officer stands in a row of police cars parked in Times Square in New York.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture has condemned reported police brutality and excessive use of force in the United States, especially against minority groups.

The 10-member watchdog committee's report, released Friday, urged U.S. authorities to crack down on perpetrators and punish those suspected of torture or ill treatment.

The Committee Against Torture did not examine the August killing of Michael Brown, the black teenager shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. While calling Brown’s death a tragedy, the panel said it could not comment on the case because it had to respect the judicial decision that exonerated the officer, Darren Wilson.

Committee member Alessio Bruni, however, told VOA the panel had serious concerns about reports of the excessive use of force and police brutality, as well as the profiling of certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and homosexuals in the U.S.

"We express concern at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people, and deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings of fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals," said Bruni.

Lack of information

Committee member Jens Modvig said U.S. officials had not provided data on such incidents and how they were investigated and prosecuted.

"We have reports of widespread extensive use of force by the police, and this gives rise to concern, of course, and also that some vulnerable groups, including ethnic groups, blacks, have been particularly targeted by this force," he said. "And for this reason, the committee feels that there's a need for investigation and prosecution of all cases of police brutality and excessive use of force."

The committee also condemned police use of tasers that resulted in the recent deaths of two people in Florida and Illinois, and it said it was troubled by the recent botched executions in Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio, which caused prisoners pain and prolonged suffering.

The experts also decried the prolonged detention of prisoners on death row as a breach of the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. They noted that a U.S. judge recently found that detention on death row for decades violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The committee condemned the extensive use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, as well as at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, citing harmful psychological and physical effects.

Guantanamo detentions

Committee members expressed deep concern that the U.S. continues to hold many people without charge at Guantanamo. They criticized the authorities' failure to investigate allegations of torture and ill treatment in this facility, as well as in other places where terrorism suspects are held in U.S. custody.

Modvig said the U.S. delegation that appeared for the review expressed concerns of its own.

"The delegation started by quoting President [Barack] Obama that torture had been done and that lines had been crossed, but there is now a process of making up with the past," said Modvig. "Of course, the committee takes an interest in how is this done and is it done in a sufficient way, and like Mr. Bruni said, we have certain concerns about whether investigations are fully, thoroughly completed and whether punishment of law enforcement when they have crossed the line is actually, effectively put in place."

Although the committee voiced serious concerns regarding the treatment of illegal immigrants, it said things were developing in the right direction with recent measures taken by Obama. This referred to an executive order to allow nearly 5 million undocumented migrants to temporarily remain legally in the United States.

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