TORTURE, STATE EXECUTIONS AND ILLEGAL IMPRISONMENT! – the US human rights record

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In the Americas many human rights have been recognised in law, if not always in practice, over the past 50 years, says the annual Amnesty International world report for 2010.

While claiming ‘slow progress’ in the Americas, the report continues: ‘The year began, however, with a sharp reminder of how fragile these hard won rights can be.’

By the end of the year, more than 1,050,000 people displaced by the disaster were still living in tents in makeshift camps, denied their rights to adequate shelter and vulnerable to attack.

The dramatic increase in rapes was a clear indictment of the failure of the authorities to ensure the security of women and girls living in the camps.

‘Haiti was a potent symbol of what the lack of political will to prioritise the protection of rights can mean for ordinary people…’

On the USA, the report says: ‘Forty-six people were executed during the year, and reports of excessive use of force and cruel prison conditions continued.

‘Scores of men remained in indefinite military detention in Guantánamo as President Obama’s one-year deadline for closure of the facility there came and went.

‘Military commission proceedings were conducted in a handful of cases, and the only Guantánamo detainee so far transferred to the US mainland for prosecution in a federal court was tried and convicted.

‘Hundreds of people remained held in US military custody in the US detention facility on the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

‘The US authorities blocked efforts to secure accountability and remedy for crimes under international law committed against detainees previously subjected to the USA’s secret detention and rendition programme.

International scrutiny

‘In November, the USA’s human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review.

‘The US delegation stated that the USA would conduct a “considered, interagency examination of all 228 recommendations” that came out of the process and would provide a formal response in March 2011.

Detentions at Guantánamo

‘On 22 January, President Obama’s one-year deadline for closure of the Guantánamo detention facility passed with 198 detainees still held in the base, about half of them Yemeni nationals.

‘By the end of the year, there were still 174 men held there, including three who had been convicted under a military commission system which failed to meet international fair trial standards. . . .

‘On 22 January, the Guantánamo Review Task Force issued its final report of an interagency review – ordered as part of President Obama’s executive order of 22 January 2009 – of the cases of 240 Guantánamo detainees.

‘The Task Force concluded that 48 detainees could neither be prosecuted nor released by the USA.

‘It also revealed that 36 detainees had been referred for possible prosecution, either in a federal court or by military commission, and approved the transfer or release of 126 detainees “subject to appropriate security measures”.

‘The 126 included 29 Yemeni nationals. A further 30 Yemenis were approved for “conditional” detention, a designation which meant they could not be released from Guantánamo unless the “security situation improves in Yemen”; or “an appropriate rehabilitation program becomes available”; or “an appropriate third-country resettlement option becomes available”.

Trials of Guantánamo detainees

‘In April, the Pentagon released the rules governing military commission proceedings.

‘The new manual confirmed that the US administration – like its predecessor – reserved the right to continue to detain individuals indefinitely even if they were acquitted by military commission.

‘Two Guantánamo detainees were convicted by military commission during the year, bringing to five the total number of people convicted by military commission since 2001, three of whom had pleaded guilty…

‘By the end of the year, there was still only one Guantánamo detainee who had been transferred to the US mainland for prosecution in a federal court…

US detentions in Afghanistan

‘Hundreds of detainees were held in the newly constructed US Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP) on the Bagram air base in Afghanistan; the DFIP replaced the Bagram Theater Internment Facility in late 2009.

‘For example, about 900 detainees were being held in the DFIP in September. Most of them were Afghan nationals, taken into custody by coalition forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

‘The US authorities stated that the DFIP would eventually be transferred to the control of the Afghan authorities “for incarceration of criminal defendants and convicts”, and that “transitioning operations” would begin in January 2011…

‘Litigation continued in the USA on the question of whether detainees held at Bagram should have access to the US courts to be able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

‘In May, the US Court of Appeals overturned a 2009 ruling by a District Court judge that three Bagram detainees – who were not Afghan nationals and were taken into custody outside Afghanistan – could file habeas corpus petitions in his court.

‘After the Court of Appeals refused to reconsider its decision in July 2010, US lawyers for the detainees returned to the District Court to pursue the litigation, which was continuing at the end of the year.

‘Amnesty International and other organisations wrote to the US Secretary of Defense in June raising concerns about allegations that detainees held in a screening facility at Bagram air base had been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme temperatures…

‘There were calls for the USA to investigate how much US officials knew about the torture or other ill-treatment of detainees held by the Iraqi security forces after new evidence emerged in files released by the Wikileaks organisation in October. (See Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen entries.)

Excessive use of force

‘Fifty-five people died after being struck by police Tasers, bringing to at least 450 the number of such deaths since 2001.

‘Most of the deceased were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat when they were shocked, in some cases multiple times. The cases continued to raise concern about the safety and appropriate use of such weapons.

‘The deaths of two Mexican nationals at the hands of US Customs and Border Patrol police led to calls for a review of the agency’s practices.

‘In May, 32-year-old Anastacio Hernández suffered respiratory failure, and later died, when US Border police reportedly hit him with batons and shocked him with a Taser as they tried to deport him to Mexico.

‘In June, 15-year-old Sergio Hernández Güereca died after being shot in the head by a US Border Patrol agent.

‘A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) news release said the officer opened fire after being surrounded by individuals throwing rocks.

‘However, video footage showed that the boy had run back into Mexico when the officer fired his gun several times across the border, striking Sergio Hernández from a distance. An investigation by the US authorities was continuing at the end of the year.

‘In July, six New Orleans police officers were charged in connection with the police shooting of unarmed civilians on the city’s Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

‘The charges, stemming from a federal investigation, included civil rights violations and conspiracy to cover up the incident, in which a 17-year-old boy and a man with learning difficulties died.

Prison conditions

‘There were complaints of cruel conditions for prisoners held in long-term isolation in super-maximum security units. Complaints included ill-treatment of prisoners held in the federal system under Special Administrative Measures.

Unfair trials

‘In June, a new appeal was filed in the case of Gerardo Hernández, one of five men convicted in 2001 of acting as intelligence agents for Cuba and related charges.

‘The appeal was based, in part, on evidence that the US government had secretly paid journalists to write prejudicial articles in the media at the time of trial, thereby undermining the defendants’ due process rights.

‘In October, Amnesty International sent a report to the Attorney General outlining the organisation’s concerns in the case.

Right to health – maternal mortality

‘Hundreds of women continued to die from preventable pregnancy-related complications. Wide disparities persisted in access to good quality health care based on race, ethnicity, immigration or indigenous status, geographical location and income.

‘There were calls for federal and state governments to take all necessary steps to improve maternal health care and outcomes, and eliminate disparities.

‘A law was passed in March that would expand health care coverage by 2014 to more than 30 million people in the USA who were uninsured. A number of legal challenges to the legislation were pending in US courts at the end of the year.

Children’s rights

‘On 17 May, the US Supreme Court ruled that the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime on a perpetrator who was under 18 at the time of the crime violated the constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.

‘The majority noted that support for this conclusion came in the fact that the USA was the “only Nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile non-homicide offenders”…

Migrants’ rights

‘Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, expressed concern about a sweeping immigration law passed in Arizona in April.

‘It was feared that the law, which required Arizona police to hand over to the immigration authorities individuals who could not provide immediate proof of their status, would increase “racial profiling”. Key provisions of the law were later put on hold, pending a federal lawsuit.

‘Scores of Mexican and Central American irregular migrants crossing into the USA through the desert border regions died of exposure and exhaustion.’