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Torture and ill treatment: will the US correct its many mistakes?

November 18, 2014

Last week, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) reviewed the United States (US) in Geneva. The CAT is a United Nations (UN) human rights body composed of independent experts. They are in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention Against Torture and give recommendations for UN Member States to fully implement this convention.

WILPF’s Human Rights programme was there to monitor and report on this review.

Is the US trying to hide torture in Guantanamo?

The Committee first questioned the ethics of forced feeding – referred to as “enteral feeding” by the US delegation – of detainees who were on hunger strike. The delegation replied that through such a practice, they did not deliberately seek to harm the detainees’ health but rather to preserve their lives.

Experts then asked why the US authorities have refused to disclose videotapes of this appalling practice. The delegation replied that these videos contain confidential information, and disclosing them would turn Guantanamo detainees into objects of curiosity.

Additionally, the CAT denounced the fact that the US authorities did not allow the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to conduct interviews with detainees at the detention facility in Guantanamo, supposedly owing to security concerns. This limited the efficiency of his work.

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Excessive use of force by police forces

Experts of the CAT expressed great concern over the increasing militarisation of U.S. police forces and their excessive use of force, in particular against African American communities and people of colour.

The US delegation explained that the transfer of military equipment to civil law enforcement officials was made upon the demand of police forces themselves. However, the committee reiterated several times its concern on the use of inappropriate weapons against US citizens, as was the case between protesters and police forces recently during the confrontations in Ferguson, Missouri. They urged the US to ensure accountability for any excessive use of force by the police.

Michael Brown’s parents and others came all the way from Ferguson, Missouri, to attend this review in Geneva. They held a silent protest in order to denounce the recent racial tensions in Ferguson and the lack of action from the US authorities to hold accountable those responsible for Brown’s murder.

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What to do now?

We, in particular our US Section, will monitor the implementation of the recommendations. The concluding observations of the Committee will be published shortly. These concerns and recommendations are an essential advocacy tool to combat the use of torture and ill treatment by the US authorities, and to protect and promote human rights over all. It will also be very important to refer back to these recommendations when other human rights bodies review the country.

From sexual violence in the military to solitary confinement, including practices of border patrol officials, suspicious interrogation techniques and many more, CAT’s experts denounced a great variety of issues regarding the practice of torture by the US authorities, including beyond the geographical limits of the U.S. territory.

However, most answers from the U.S. delegation were disappointing and avoided the questions posed. Therefore, civil society actors will have to multiply their efforts to promote the implementation of the CAT recommendations on the ground in order to ensure that the U.S. corrects and never repeats its mistakes.

Very soon, the Human Rights programme, together with the US Section, will start advocacy preparation for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the US, to be held on 11 May 2015. This is a general review of the human rights record of the US.

We will keep you updated on further outcomes of this UPR process and the review by the CAT, so stay in touch and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe to our newsletter, so that you get the latest news directly in your inbox.

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