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Human Rights Watch Statement to the Human Rights Committee

During its Consideration of the Second and Third Periodic Reports of the United States

During its consideration of the Second and Third Periodic Reports of the United States, Human Rights Watch would like to draw the Committee’s attention to three subjects: treatment of detainees, rendition to torture and diplomatic assurances, and the death penalty and life without parole sentencing of child offenders.

I. Treatment of Detainees

We would like to raise our deep and abiding concerns about the U.S. policy of detaining individuals picked up in the so-called global “war on terror” in secret overseas prisons, and at Guantanamo Bay in conditions amounting to indefinite detention.

As recently as April 2006, the U.S. government has admitted to holding alleged terrorist suspects in secret overseas prisons. The United States has said that that incommunicado detention and denial of ICRC access are not prohibited under the laws of armed conflict. Human Rights Watch hopes that this Committee challenges the U.S. on this legal position. While the U.S. is wrong on its interpretation of the laws of war, it is also true that many of the individuals in the custody of the United States were picked up far from any battlezone, and therefore they are protected by the ICCPR without consideration of the law of armed conflict.

In addition, in 2006, documents released because of court actions reveal that out of the 460 individuals held at Guantánamo, only about half were accused of ever taking part in hostilities in Afghanistan. Instead, many were foreign nationals turned over by Pakistan for cash bounties rather than any apparent involvement with terror groups. These facts simply highlight what Human Rights Watch and other groups have stated all along, that such individuals should be either tried for war crimes or other criminal offenses, or released. They should no longer be held in indefinite detention.

Finally, the U.S. is failing to hold accountable personnel responsible for detainee abuse. An April 2006 Human Rights Watch report documents that only about 90 military personnel—fewer than fifteen percent of the more than 600 U.S. personnel implicated in detainee abuse cases—are known to have been court-martialed. Approximately forty of these individuals have been sentenced to prison time, but of the hundreds of personnel implicated in detainee abuse, only about ten people have been sentenced to a year or more in prison.

II. Rendition to Torture and Diplomatic Assurances

Human Rights Watch hopes that this Committee directly challenges the United States position that Article 7 of the ICCPR does not apply when an individual is arrested and detained outside the jurisdiction of the United States. It is the clear purpose and intent of the ICCPR to prohibit states party from sending individuals under their power or effective control to countries where they will be subjected to torture.

In addition, Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned that the U.S. continues to seek so-called diplomatic assurances, which do not and cannot prevent torture. Despite numerous examples in which diplomatic assurances were secured and individuals were subjected to torture anyway, the United States continues to rely on them. Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to challenge the U.S.’s assertion that diplomatic assurances protect individuals from torture and abuse. The Committee may wish to question Section 208.18(c) of the U.S. Federal Regulations, which allow the U.S. Secretary of State to secure diplomatic assurances from a government that a person subject to return would not be tortured.

III. The Death Penalty and Life without Parole Sentencing of Child Offenders

Human Rights Watch advocates for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States based on the inherently cruel and inhuman nature of this punishment. In the interim, under Article 6 of the ICCPR, states must ensure that their administration of the death penalty comports with their international human rights obligations. One such obligation requires that death-eligible offenses be limited to the most serious crimes--those which involve murder. Yet, nine states and the federal government allow defendants to be sentenced to death for crimes that do not involve murder.

Finally, we would like to emphasize that every day in the United States, children convicted of serious crimes risk being sent to prison for the rest of their lives. In forty-two states and under federal law, children who are too young to legally buy cigarettes, vote, or in some cases even drive, are being tried for crimes as adults, and if convicted they can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. According to research by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, there are at least 2,225 youth offenders serving LWOP in U.S prisons. Each year, a larger percentage of youth offenders convicted of serious offenses are receiving the sentence. We hope that the Committee will urge the United States to end its widespread and regular practice of sentencing youth offenders to life without the possibility of parole.

Thank you Madam Chairperson.

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