UN report condemns US over police brutality and torture

A United Nations (UN) report has condemned the United States for violating the terms of an international anti-torture treaty. The panel took Washington to task for police brutality, military interrogations, and capital punishment protocols.

“The Committee is concerned about numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials,” the paper released by the UN Committee Against Torture says, adding that in particular this brutality is seen against persons belonging “to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals.”

The document was released on Friday, just days after the contentious decision of a Missouri grand jury not to indict a white officer accused of shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen. The decision triggered a wave of protests nationwide.

Although the report didn’t specifically mention the events in Ferguson, Mike Brown’s parents met with the committee to discuss their son’s case in Geneva earlier this month.

The UN watchdog expressed “deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”

The 10-person panel, which periodically reviews the records of the 156 countries which ratified the Convention Against Torture – a non-binding international human rights treaty – cited mounting concerns over “racial profiling by police and immigration offices, and growing militarization of policing activities.”

The committee called on US authorities to “prosecute persons suspected of torture or ill-treatment and, if found guilty, ensure that they are punished in accordance with the gravity of their acts.”

“We recommend that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism,” said panel member, Alessio Bruni, at a news conference in Geneva.

Urging for tougher laws to define and ban torture, the committee called on Washington to re-evaluate the treatment of detainees at the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which currently houses 148 prisoners.

“The Committee is particularly disturbed at reports describing a draconian system of secrecy surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain.”

In addition, the committee criticised the recent spate of botched executions, especially in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio, citing reported cases “of excruciating pain and prolonged suffering that procedural irregularities have caused to condemned prisoners in the course of their execution.”

The UN body further highlighted “continued delays in recourse procedures which keep prisoners sentenced to death in a situation of anguish and incertitude for many years.”

“The Committee notes that in certain cases such a situation amounts to torture in so far as it corresponds to one of the forms of torture (i.e. the threat of imminent death) contained in the interpretative understanding made by the State party at the time of ratification of the Convention.”

The report urges US authorities to establish “a moratorium on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty” and “to commute the sentences of individuals currently on death row.”

US activists welcomed the findings as a call to action for the federal government.

“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,” said Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).