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UN raps US civil rights record on secret programs

March 27, 2014
Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — A United Nations panel has found serious shortcomings in the United States' civil rights record, with experts citing Thursday a lack of adequate oversight and transparency in national security programs dealing with everything from electronic surveillance to targeted drone killings and secret detentions.

The report by the U.N. Human Rights Committee, a panel of 18 independent experts from different countries, found general improvement in some areas — such as handling of rights of indigenous peoples and the Guantanamo Bay prisoners — since the last such review in 2006.

And while the panel's experts made clear they generally view the United States as a promoter of human rights, they also found major concerns while examining compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"It's one of the top concerns, the lack of transparency, secrecy," committee member Walter Kaelin, a prominent Swiss legal expert, told The Associated Press about the National Security Agency electronic surveillance, use of drone strikes against al-Qaida and the Taliban and CIA secret rendition programs closed in 2012.

"We all know that the rights of individuals are very well protected in the United States, and we are not second-guessing that. But there are for certain serious issues, yes."

Some of the areas dealt with by the panel include the prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners, sentencing of life without parole for juvenile offenders, racial disparities in the use of the death penalty and laws hindering felons from voting. Other areas include solitary confinement, racial profiling, gun violence, excessive use of force by law enforcement officials and domestic violence.

The report also criticizes policies on trafficking and forced labor, immigrants, and non-consensual psychiatric treatment, and recommends the U.S. government provide "full voting rights" to residents of Washington, D.C.

Kaelin said there were concerns about the federal government's inability to ensure compliance on state and local levels, and its long-held views that the treaty only applies to its actions on U.S. soil but cannot be used as the basis for any U.S. court action.

The panel's report is based on questioning of a U.S. delegation this month.



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