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Years Overdue: US Prisons Unavailable to Human Rights Council

24 July 2015 13:38



Few years ago, the sadistic abuse and sexual humiliation by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other prisons the world over shocked the world – but not those familiar with US jails and prisons, and certainly not the Human Rights Council.

This is because in American prisons today, wanton staff brutality and degrading treatment of inmates occur with distressing frequency, great impunity and little accountability to international humanitarian law.

When it comes to living conditions of prisoners incarcerated, “in too many places, black boys and black men, and Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated different under the law,” and that’s according to President Barack Obama!

Little wonder UN officials, armed with mandates from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, have been barred from US penitentiaries which are routinely accused of being steeped in a culture of violence, abuse, murder, and sexual misconduct.

The UN visit – years overdue – is particularly important, seeing that solitary confinement alone, affects 80,000 inmates, in most cases black men and Hispanics and for periods of months and years. The practice of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement inflicts pain and suffering of a psychological nature, which is strictly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture.

For obvious reasons, American authorities are not cooperating with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention:

-US jail system is pervaded by a culture of sadistic and malicious violence and secrecy, where inmates are beaten with fists and batons, stomped on, kicked, shot, stunned with electronic devices, doused with chemical sprays, choked, and slammed face first onto concrete floors by the officers whose job is to guard them. Inmates have ended up with broken jaws, smashed ribs, perforated eardrums, missing teeth, and burn scars. Some have died.

-Both men and women prisoners face staff rape and sexual abuse. Correctional officers will bribe, coerce, or violently force inmates into granting sexual favors. Just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the systematic absence of oversight and external scrutiny has created a climate in which abuses will occur.

-Even detained children and youth are not immune from staff brutality and abuse. They too are kicked, beaten, punched, choked, and sexually preyed upon by adult staff. The sexual abuse occurs with disturbing frequency and a level of physical abuse that is equally disturbing…

America claims it is an exception to international humanitarian law. This means the basic principles and guidelines are not there on the right to anyone deprived of their liberty to bring proceedings before a court, and to promote its use by the civil society.

The State Department refuses to establish effective mechanisms to ensure judicial oversight over all situations of deprivation of liberty – mechanisms that go hand in hand with the guidelines of the Human Rights Council. Under the circumstances, it is naïve to assume the US government is prepared to announce far reaching reforms any time soon.

The US government keeps preaching human rights in other parts of the world. It wants to “help” the international community to re-examine their conducts and reform their criminal justice system. But before it does, it should look closely at the human rights records of its own prisons, where, according to its president and federal judges, the violence and abuse “appears to be open, acknowledged, tolerated and sometimes expressly approved” by high ranking corrections officials.

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