US Defends Its Rights Record at UNHRC

Shreerupa Mitra-Jha/Geneva
US Defends Its Rights Record at UNHRC

The US today defended its rights record at the UNHRC which heard widespread concerns such as racial bias in America's criminal justice system, incidents of hate crimes against minorities, including Hindus and Sikhs.

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Mary McLeod, Acting Legal Adviser of the Department of the State highlighted steps taken by the US to battle against all forms of discrimination.

"Torture and cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment are absolutely prohibited at all times and in all places under both international law and US domestic law with no exception," she said.

"The former CIA programme is a thing of the past," she said at US' Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council.

The UPR is a process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states.

The Permanent Representative of India to the UN Office at Geneva, Ajit Kumar, said, "We acknowledge the openness of the US delegation in accepting areas of continuing concern such as racial bias in the criminal justice system, incidents of bias-motivated crimes including 'those committed against Hindus and Sikhs and need for safety and living conditions at confinement facilities."

Speaking of its efforts to counter hate crimes, James Cadogan, Senior Counselor to the Assistant Secretary General said, "As one specific example we are actively working to protect Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asians from threats and violence directed towards them for their religious beliefs or ethnicity."

"We must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil-rights laws live up to our promise," Cadogan told delegates, adding that that is particularly important in the area of police practices and pointing to recent high-profile cases of officers killing unarmed black residents.

Several countries, including Brazil, China and Germany voiced concern over the extent of US surveillance in the light of reports about the National Security Agency's activities.

Responding to concerns, David Bitkower, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, said, "Our intelligence activities are authorised pursuant to a framework based on the rule of law…US intelligence collection programs and activities are subject to stringent multi layered oversight mechanisms."

"We do not collect intelligence with the purpose of suppressing dissent, to form competitive advantage to the US companies or business sector  commercially or disadvantage any person on the basis of categories such as ethnicity, race, gender. We have extensive oversight to prevent abuse in this area," he added.

The US said the death penalty is used only for the most serious crimes responding to calls by several member states' to abolish the death penalty.

The US desires to "form a more perfect union" and the progress that democracy can achieve.

"The detainees who remain at the Guantanamo facility continue to be detained lawfully, both as a matter of international law and under US domestic law. At the same time, the president has stated that closing the Guantanamo detention facility is a national imperative," the US said.

There were 242 detainees at Guantanamo at the beginning of this administration.

Since then 116 have been transferred out of the facility, including 28 in 2014, and an additional 5 in January of 2015.

The most frequently raised issues in US' UPR were the use of capital punishment, racial profiling and excessive use of force by law enforcement; investigating torture allegations, surveillance of communications and the right to privacy, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and safe abortion services.

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