Great News! A Victory for U.S. and UN and US!
Friday, Oct. 22, 1999: The U.S. State Department issued an official U.S. Government report on denials of human rights in the U.S., in U.S. possessions and in U.S. actions in other countries. The report will be discussed by the UN members of the UN Committee Against Torture, experts from all continents, in Geneva in front of the world press in six languages in 2000.
This is the first time in the history of the world that the richest and most powerful nation has obeyed its treaty commitment to make an official report on egregious violations of basic human rights by its own military, its immigration service, its national police and FBI, and by its state and local sheriffs, police departments, and prison guards.
Now it is our job: to get a copy of the Report; to read it; to demand that every government agency charged with violating human rights take immediate steps to change its policies, to re-train or fire its offending officers.
It is also our job to see what is missing and to supply this information so it will be included when the U.S. must dialogue with the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva about this Report.
The U.S. Report was prepared by the State and Justice Departments with the Interagency Working Group convened by Pres. Clinton under his Executive Order 13107 issued Dec. 10, 1998 to start to carry out the commitments the U.S. made when the President signed, and the Senate ratified, three UN human rights treaties:
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (10/94)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (10/94)
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (9/92)
[Convention and Covenant here simply mean Treaty.]
The Convention Against Torture define torture and degrading treatment or punishment broadly:
“… ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for obtaining from him … a confession, punishing him for an act … or intimidating or coercing him … when such pain is inflicted by … a public official …” The U.S. also undertook “to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [less than] … torture … when … committed by … [such] a public official.” (Art. 16.1)
This reporting process under the Treaties works!
Many countries (32 out of 38) have changed their policies after 2 meetings with the UN Committees (and notice by the international media and the public).
- Counting the number of people with AIDS led to action — not enough or soon enough, but much more than before.
- When Pres. Roosevelt said that “One-third of the nation is ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed,” Congress did pass laws and appropriate money to provide some jobs and some housing and some money.
What did the U.S. include in its report and how can we help the government begin to make the changes obviously required?
It did include the District Court decision against practices at Pelican Bay.
It did include charges of mistreatment of juveniles by the INS.
It did include charges of police misconduct by the LA PD and problems in jails.
Much is missing from the First Report!
Many problems are not addressed, including charges against for-profit prisons and actions by private companies with government contracts who subject workers to degrading treatment.
Also, the Report is 150 pages long and has no index or page numbers on the Internet copy. That means it is hard to find the problem that worries you, and it is impossible to write an article giving the page number of the problem when you do find it.
In addition, the U.S. Government is printing very few copies of the Report because it is on Internet. We all know that most prisoners’ families and relatives of immigrants whose rights have been denied do not have access to Internet.
So please write a letter to: Charles Brown, Director, Office of Strategic Planning, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20520 and urge him to print enough copies of the Report for people without Internet, and to make an Index, and to put the page numbers on the Internet copy.
The First Report is on the Internet at http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/torture_index.html
The First Report opens up many channels for work against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:
- Asking for Congressional hearings on problems that are reported as continuing
- Asking for hearings at the state and county and city levels on problems in the Report
- Filing class action suits on continuing severe problems
- Proposing that state and federal judicial councils hold continuing education sessions on the First Report and on the three ratified treaties
- Proposing that state and federal bar associations hold continuing education sessions
- Entering into discussions among many NGOs to work with the UN Economic and Social Council on ways to improve U.S. compliance with all of the treaty requirements
Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute on Sept. 29, 1999 submitted its book of Issue Sheets to the U.S. Interagency Working Group for inclusion in the U.S. report under the Convention Against Torture, with copies to Pres. Clinton; First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton; Congressman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee; Dr. Mary Francis Berry, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Prof. Mort Sklar, Dir., World Organization Against Torture, and Joseph Uehlein, AFL-CIO Dir., Strategic Campaigns.
We will submit our Issue Sheets to the UN Committee Against Torture. The Committees will use our Issue Sheets, and reports from other Nongovernmental Organizations, to formulate questions for the U.S. Government representatives about the US Report.
We need your help in collecting more facts on violations of rights listed in the treaty that the U.S. Government did not put in its reports.
- information on the training of law enforcement, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and all involved in custody, interrogation or treatment of anyone subjected to arrest or detention. (Art. 10.1)
- charges of failures of government officials to make prompt and impartial investigations when there was reasonable ground to believe that an illegal act had been committed. (Art. 12)
- charges of denial of the the right to complain about illegal treatment and to have the case promptly and impartially examined by competent authorities, and to be protected against intimidation. (Art. 13)
Please send us facts on violations of these provisions that we can use in preparing our next Issue Sheets. We need facts about specific cases, figures, problems, and reports. Please send them to: Ann Fagan Ginger, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, use our contact form, or FAX (510) 848-6008 or Box 673, Berkeley, CA 94701-0673. We will of course acknowledge that you are the source of the information unless you request otherwise.
We will keep updating this Media Alert as we study the First U.S. Report.