People sit and block the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City as they protest the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer under investigation in the death of Eric Garner on December 3, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – State and local officials in the United States should address racial discrimination and police abuse in the criminal justice system that sparked widespread demonstrations last year, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015.

“Protests across the US in 2014 reflected well-justified outrage at years of racial discrimination in the justice system and police brutality,” said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, US program co-director at Human Rights Watch. “Federal, state, and local governments should work with marginalized communities to fix the system.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

The US government achieved some notable improvements on rights issues, Human Rights Watch said. President Barack Obama’s decision to suspend the deportation of certain unauthorized migrants will prevent the breakup of many families with US citizen or permanent resident children. However, the plan does not address other abusive practices against migrants, including the detention of families and summary deportations. Congressional action is still needed to reform a system that leaves many migrants vulnerable to abuse.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee declassified the 499-page summary of its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program. However, the US has not prosecuted any US officials responsible for authorizing and carrying out abuses under the program, including torture.

Meanwhile, the government has failed to reform mass surveillance practices that violate the privacy rights of millions of people around the world and have been hampering the work of journalists and lawyers working on a wide array of issues. Despite transfer of a number of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to other countries at the end of 2014, the US continues to hold the vast majority of the 122 men detained there without charge or trial.