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U.N. slams U.S. for torture, NSA spying

U.N. human rights report urges U.S. to bring alleged torturers to justice, establish better NSA oversight

A wide-ranging United Nations report released Thursday strongly criticizes the United States for a host of human rights concerns — from jailing the homeless and sentencing juveniles to life sentences to drone warfare and spying by the National Security Agency.

While the U.N. praised some steps the U.S. government has taken, like curbing human trafficking and a 2009 ban on Central Intelligence Agency torture and secret detention, the report’s authors found the U.S. wanting on 25 human rights issues.

“The U.S. is adept at demanding human rights change from other governments while failing to meet international standards itself,” said José Luis Díaz, Amnesty International’s representative at the U.N.

He welcomed the U.N.’s recommendations on torture transparency and calls for ending the death penalty nationwide as well as limiting the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. 

The U.S. “must implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee without delay,” said Díaz.

Regarding the use of torture, reforming interrogation techniques does not go far enough, according to the U.N’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It called for an investigation and prosecution of members of the “armed forces and other agents of the U.S. government” allegedly involved in torturing detainees. It also urged the U.S. to shutter the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and transfer its prisoners.

“The state party [the United States] should ensure that all cases of unlawful killing, torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detention or enforced disappearance are effectively, independently and impartially investigated, that perpetrators, including, in particular, persons in command positions, are prosecuted and sanctioned and that victims are provided with effective remedies,” the report reads.

In light of the NSA spying scandal, the U.N. called on the U.S. to implement protections against the invasion of privacy of individuals by making public laws that allow for surveillance. Furthermore, it pressed the U.S. to “reform the current system of oversight over surveillance activities” by involving judicial supervision. Concerned that “those affected have no access to effective remedies in case of abuse,” the U.N. advised the U.S. to create pathways for restitution for people who have been spied on unjustly.

During the course of the U.N.’s investigation, U.S. government representatives argued that spying occurred within legal bounds and that the implementation of new laws had ended torture. State Department official Mary McLeod argued that “substantial oversight” goes into surveillance, according to a Guardian report. 

The report also denounced racial disparities in prosecutions and sentencing, including the use of the death penalty and long drug-related prison sentences for African-Americans and Hispanics.

“[The] committee continues to be concerned about racial disparities at different stages in the criminal justice system, sentencing disparities and the overrepresentation of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in prisons and jails,” the report states.

The U.N. body calls on the U.S. to retroactively implement the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act and close a loophole that allows thousands of nonviolent offenders to languish in federal prisons as a result of draconian drug laws. The report also demands measures to end to racial profiling and praises steps to end New York City’s stop-and-frisk program.

U.S. drone strikes overseas also came under attack in the report. The U.N. expressed deep concern over the impact of unmanned aerial vehicles, saying the U.S. approach to exercising its right to self-defense in carrying out military maneuvers is clouded by a lack of transparency, an unclear definition of when hostilities end and whether someone qualifies as a legitimate target.

The U.N. recommended the United States “take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians in specific drone attacks and to track and assess civilian casualties as well as all necessary precautionary measures in order to avoid such casualties.”

The U.S., the report concluded, should “establish accountability mechanisms for victims of allegedly unlawful drone attacks who are not compensated by their home governments.”

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