The UN torture watchdog has lambasted the United States for police brutality and harsh prison conditions. A report said the country needed to improve in order to comply with a treaty it signed in 1987.
In its first review of the United States in eight years, a report by the UN Committee Against Torture slammed the nation's record on Friday.
"The committee is concerned about numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups," the committee said in its report, published days after the country was shaken by a grand jury decision to not indict a white police officer who fatally shot six times a black, unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri over the summer.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Friday, Alessio Bruni, one of the panel's chief investigators, lamented "racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities." He said "there are numerous areas in which certain things should be changed for the United States to comply fully with the convention."
Police brutality, racism
The UN committee consists of 10 independent experts who look into the records of all 156 UN member countries which have ratified the treaty against torture and all "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The treaty took effect in 1987 and it was ratified by the United States that same year.
Bruni voiced "deep concern at the frequent and recurring police shootings in fatal pursuit of unarmed black individuals."
The panel said it was "concerned about numerous, consistent reports that police have used electrical discharge weapons against unarmed individuals who resist arrest or fail to comply immediately with commands, suspects fleeing minor crime scenes or even minors" and called on the US to review its use of electric taser guns, which US authorities claim are non-lethal, but which activists say have killed over 500 people.
Friday's report urged the US to "promptly, effectively and impartially" investigate all cases of police brutality and excessive use of force and to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure compensation for victims.
The jury decision to let the cop off the hook, announced early this week, sparked protests and riots
Though the US delegation present in Geneva pointed to a number of ongoing investigations into police misconduct and hundreds of prosecutions of police officers for brutality, top panel member Jens Modvig said, "We have certain concerns about whether investigations are ... thoroughly completed and whether punishment of law-enforcement when they have crossed the line are effectively put in place."
Prison torture, Guantanamo and systemic failures
Though efforts were praised to end a number of systemic failures installed during George Bush's so-called "War on Terror" which allowed the use of torture on detainees, it criticized harsh prison conditions that still exist in the 21st century and decried "excruciating pain and prolonged suffering" for prisoners during "botched executions" as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.
It criticized US authorities for failing to fully investigate allegations of torture for prisoners held abroad, specifically the 148 inmates still being held at Guantanamo Bay detention center - which President Obama has vowed to shut down since taking office in 2008 - in "a draconian system of secrecy surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain."
"There have been investigations, but very few have ended in guilty verdicts," Bruni pointed out.
The report was published less than a week after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who shot dead Michael Brown, a black, unarmed teenager in a predominantly black suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, in August - an incident that sparked protests around the country over police brutality and discrimination in the US criminal justice system.
"This report - along with the voices of Americans protesting around the country this week - is a wake-up call for police who think they can act with impunity," Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Reuters news agency.
sb/jr (AFP, Reuters, AP)