Skip to main content

The U.N. Human Rights Committee has issued a strongly worded critique of the U.S. government’s rights record at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urges the United States to adopt the committee’s recommendations, which reflect a growing international consensus that the U.S. is violating basic human rights norms.

The committee called upon the U.S. to immediately abolish all secret detention facilities; ensure that all detainees at Guantanamo Bay are provided a fair opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention; and hold accountable all persons – including contract employees and senior military officers – responsible for abuse and torture in Guantanamo, Afghanistan or Iraq. It also criticized U.S. domestic policies on asylum-seekers and prisoners.

“The U.N. committee clearly rejected the Bush administration’s claim that it isn’t violating the U.N. treaty on civil and political rights when it acts beyond its own borders,” said Alison Parker, acting director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. “If U.S. agents deliver detainees to countries where they face torture or keep people in secret prisons, they are violating fundamental human rights.”

The committee sharply criticized the Bush administration’s view that its human rights treaty obligations do not apply to persons detained outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and that actions taken by CIA and civilian contractors were not proper subjects of inquiry.

The committee also criticized the U.S. for turning away legitimate asylum-seekers if they had been forced, even under threat of violence, to provide “material support” to armed rebels defined by the U.S. as terrorist groups. The committee also expressed its disapproval of the post-September 11 round-ups and prolonged detention in the United States of immigrants and persons suspected of ties to terrorism. And it emphasized the problems of racial profiling and excessive use of force by police officers.

Human Rights Watch noted the committee’s finding that sentencing child offenders to life without parole violates U.S. treaty obligations. The body unequivocally instructed the United States to ensure that no juvenile offender receives the sentence. This recommendation was issued against a backdrop of misstatements to the committee by the United States regarding the extent to which children in the U.S. are subjected to this sentence, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Bush administration claimed that only the worst child offenders are sentenced to life without parole, and only in ‘exceptional circumstances’, but that is simply not true,” Parker said. “The U.N. committee has confirmed that the U.S. is violating its legal obligations whenever a child offender is given life without parole.”

The committee criticized U.S. practices in dozens of additional areas, including:

• The U.S. refusal to acknowledge that certain interrogation techniques – including prolonged stress positions and isolation, 20-hour interrogations, and exposure to extreme heat and cold – constitute violations of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It ordered the U.S. to immediately end the use of those techniques;

• Provisions of the Detainee Treatment Act, which prevent detainees at Guantanamo from seeking review of their treatment or conditions before a court;

• The overbroad definition of terrorism in U.S. immigration laws;

• The U.S. refusal to respond to credible reports that persons have been transferred by the United States to countries where they experienced gross violations of the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;

• The way in which the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on ethnic minorities and low-income populations;

• The disenfranchisement of millions U.S. citizens because they have been convicted of a felony, even though they have fully served their sentence or have been released on parole.

The Human Rights Committee is the U.N. body of experts responsible for monitoring countries’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a human rights treaty ratified by the United States in 1992. Its comments and responses to state party reports are authoritative interpretations of obligations under the treaty. As is its regular practice, the committee considered U.S. compliance with the treaty following submission of a report by the U.S. That report, which was required under the treaty, was submitted seven years after it was due. A U.S. delegation participated in the committee’s meeting to examine the report on July 17 and 18, and responded to questions.

Today’s conclusions reflect the committee’s final word on the late U.S. report, its oral testimony and its written responses submitted to the committee last week in Geneva.

To view Human Rights Watch’s March 2006 statement to the Human Rights Committee, please visit this page

To view Human Rights Watch’s June 2006 written submission to the Human Rights Committee, please visit this page.

To view Human Rights Watch’s July 2006 response to questions asked by the
Human Rights Committee, please visit this page

To view Human Rights Watch’s July 2006 statement to the Human Rights Committee, please visit this page.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country