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'Shadow' human rights report to accuse United States of violating international human rights treaties

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Thursday July 6, 2006

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A scathing report submitted to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee and copied to RAW STORY by a coalition of 142 U.S. non-governmental organizations alleges serious human rights violations by the United States.

The report, which will be delivered to the UN Human Rights Committee July 10, alleges that the US violated the right to life and non-discrimination statutes of international human rights treaties to which the US is a signatory – citing evacuations based on income and property levels in New Orleans after Katrina, alleged abuse at California prisons and the incarceration of children in adult jails.

It also chides the US for capital punishment, which it says “allows for individuals to be sentenced to death, even if they did not kill, intend to kill, or even contemplate that another human being would die as a result of their actions.”

The “shadow report,” as non-governmental rebuttals to state presentations are called, was leaked to RAW STORY early Wednesday. Its authors believed the 456-page document is a blistering indictment of U.S. violations of the 1992 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Representatives of the State Department and other federal agencies are expected to appear in Geneva in July to answer questions from the UN committee. Department of State Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs John Bellinger is scheduled to appear on behalf of the United States. Bellinger was not immediately available for comment.

According to Cindy Soohoo, Director of Bringing Human Rights Home for the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, shadow reports provide a window into what the Committee would otherwise not be privy to.

"The Committee welcomes shadow reports because they provide information about country conditions that the Committee does not have access to,” SooHoo said Wednesday. “The shadow reports often provide information that challenge or supplement a country's report. This allows the Committee to probe behind countries' official accounts.”

The UN Human Rights Committee meets twice a year and reviews state sponsored reports every four years. The government report is then examined against a “shadow report,” a non-governmental report done usually by not-for profit groups of the parent country. Since 1994, the U.S. has failed to honor its treaty obligations and has failed to produce any type of report for the routine review, breaking its international obligation for the last seven years.

The shadow report provided to the Committee for review later this month by the coalition addresses areas of immediate concern, citing as examples over 100 instances of alleged human rights violations and covering areas ranging from immigration to Katrina, alleged election-based racism and the criminalization of dissent.

Alleged Katrina human rights violations

Part of the shadow report deals specifically with how minorities were treated prior to, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, the storm that literally drowned New Orleans last year and took over a thousand lives.

The report alleges the U.S. violated the right to life and principle of non-discrimination statues of the ICCPR treaty. For example, it cites evacuation plans that disregarded the poor and infirm and allegedly focused evacuations based on property ownership and income levels, drastically damaging the African American community in New Orleans.

Monique Harden, Co-Director & Attorney, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and a member of the shadow report coalition, said Katrina failures violated the treaty as well as basic human rights.

"Katrina exposed the fact that our US government failed to protect lives,” Harden said. “Ten months after the storm, our government is failing to protect the right to return to Gulf Coast residents who need housing and a comprehensive rebuilding. We strongly believe that by bringing international pressure through the ICCPR hearings, our government will realize the importance of protecting the human rights of our families and neighbors in the gulf region.”

According the US Human Rights Campaign, New Orleans residents were seemingly stripped of their citizenship status and described as refugees, denying them the rights of displaced persons status.

Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network Ajamu Baraka says government neglect was directly responsible for loss of life and issues surrounding displaced persons.

Examples, he said, included “failure of the government to prevent the unnecessary loss of life by shoring up the levee system in New Orleans to withstand a category three hurricane and above. This failure resulted in the loss of over 1,500 lives.”

“As a result of government negligence and failure to establish an effective evacuation plan that would have addressed more than 100,000 people in New Orleans who were transit dependent, the government has re-traumatized individuals by providing inconsistent assistance and by cutting off housing assistance to thousands of displaced persons who still lack permanent housing,” Baraka added.

Internationally displaced persons are those who have been forced from their homes because of domestic strife, natural disasters and other external events. UN principles list those with displaced persons status as having basic human rights to shelter, medical treatment, right to life, liberty, security and protection during their displacement.

Yet according to a March, 2006 report by Oxfam, 750,000 households remain displaced, roughly a year since Katrina ravaged the area the area.

The irony, Soohoo says, is that the U.S. State Department has “recognized that these principles should be applied to [displaced persons] in other countries, and they have been adopted by USAID Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons policy,” but doesn’t apply the same standard domestically.

In Katrina-battered New Orleans, the report describes the April 2006 election in Orleans Parish, where tens of thousands of African American voters displaced by the storm were denied access to facilities and equipment. The report criticizes the US for failing to take appropriate measures and actions to accommodate the displaced residents of New Orleans and allegedly denying them the right to vote.

US treatment of prisoners

The report also tackles US prisons. It cites California as an example of gross mistreatment of prisoners, alleging abuse, neglect, discrimination and denial of due process for violations of international treaties and U.S. legislation such as the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

“California, home to approximately 10 percent of the nation’s prison population, is an example of the gravity of human rights concerns facing imprisoned populations,” the report says. “The mistreatment of inmates incarcerated in California prisons has resulted in a spectrum of abuses that particularly impact marginalized populations including transgender persons, women, the elderly, youth, the disabled, and the mentally ill. Prisoners… are subjected to violence based on their gender and racial identities, economic status, age and sexual orientation.”

According to the report, U.S. legislation such as the Prison Litigation Reform Act effectively prevents many prisoners from seeking redress in federal court. These laws prevent prisoners from having access to courts and drastically reduces the ability of courts to remedy human rights violations.

The report recounts cases of rape of prisoners by prison guards, abusing female prisoners who are pregnant and minority prisoners specifically, and cites examples of horrific cases that have gone unaddressed.

"We are hoping to build on the U.N. Committee Against Torture's strong findings criticizing the widespread use of excessive and often deadly force by police and corrections officers, including the abuse of TASERs, the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in prisons and by law enforcement officers, the appalling conditions of confinement in U.S. prisons, and the impunity enjoyed by those who violate basic civil and human rights of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system,” New York City civil rights attorney Andrea Ritchie, who also authored the shadow report police brutality section, says.

“The U.S. government may not be willing to answer to us at home, but it has to answer to the U.N,” she added.

Report makes other charges

The report extensively covers several other key areas, including children’s rights to special protection, citing cases where children as young as 10 are forced into adult criminal proceedings and are incarcerated in adult penitentiaries.

“More than 9,000 children are housed in adult prisons and jails and more than 4,000 children per year enter the adult system,” it says.

U.S. death penalty cases are another violation of the right to life provision, the groups say. The report specifically cites as an example the felony-murder rule, which “allows for individuals to be sentenced to death, even if they did not kill, intend to kill, or even contemplate that another human being would die as a result of their actions.”

Immigrants’ legal rights are also raised.

“Immigrants are routinely denied access to counsel, both when federal agents do not inform immigrants of their right to counsel and when immigrants are not allowed access to counsel in the cases of expedited removal of immigrants crossing the southern border,” the report says.

Immigrants who are permanent residents often lose their right to family integrity when family members are deported, the groups say. Such occurrences are increasing due to the expansion of deportable offenses and the limitations on discretionary relief.

Among cases of immigrant abuse, trafficking of women and children are perhaps the most serious of the alleged violations cited.

Human rights panel has little power

Last May, after hearings held by the U.N.'s Committee Against Torture -- an international review process similar to the human rights hearing that will be held in late July -- the Committee Against Torture demanded that the U.S. close the prison at Guantanamo. The U.N. Human Rights Committee is expected to release its findings July 28.

But while the U.N. Human Rights Committee has the ability to apply international political pressure, there is nothing else that the body can do, short of intervention. Ultimately, each country must hold its own leadership accountable is the sentiment shared across the board by many of the coalition members and legal scholars providing guidance.

“The U.S. has an international legal obligation to respect human rights, both domestically and abroad, and to comply” with the treaty, Soohoo said.

“Enforcement depends on political pressure from the international community, but perhaps more importantly from the American people demanding that the U.S. live up to its human rights obligations,” Soohoo added. “That's why it is so significant that a historic number of domestic organizations are participating in the U.N. review. They will ensure that the Committee's conclusions and recommendations don't sit on a shelf.”

Correction: The first version of this article had an incorrect headline. The headline has been corrected.


 

 
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