Amnesty International
Faults US On Human Rights
By Kalpana Srinivasan
(An exctract)
WASHINGTON, 5.10.98 (AP): The United States measures other countries against a lofty ideal when it comes to human rights, but it frequently violates these standards within its own borders, Amnesty International contends.
From prisoners forced to wear shock-emitting stun belts to police who beat suspects without cause, the 153-page report provides the group's first comprehensive look at human rights violations in the United States.
Amnesty International accuses the United States of maintaining a double standard: criticizing other countries while not abiding by international treaties and principles of human rights itself. The United States...has failed to sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which seeks to promote human rights for children.
``When the U.S. house is not in order, it makes it far harder for the U.S. to take the kind of leadership role in international human rights that many of us in Amnesty would like to see it take,'' says William Schulz, executive director of the American chapter of the London-based organization.
Amnesty, a longtime vocal opponent of capital punishment, admonished the United States for its continued use of the death penalty. The country should move to abolish the system, which is ``racist, arbitrary and unfair,'' the group said.
U.S. authorities have executed more than 350 prisoners since 1990, and another 3,300 prisoners await execution on death row, the report noted, and some states execute juveniles and persons with mental retardation.
International standards enforcement officers should use force only as a last resort and in proportion to the threat they encounter. But the report accuses police of frequently disregarding these standards, beating and abusing suspects unnecessarily.
The 1997 case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant allegedly tortured by New York City police, recently propelled the problem into the public spotlight. ...the report also points to abuses in other cities such as Philadelphia _ where police allegedly conducted unjustified traffic stops and searches, particularly on minorities _ and Pittsburgh _ where drug squad officers allegedly planted evidence on suspects and falsified reports.
The report criticizes officers who use stun guns _ a handheld device with two metal prongs that emits an electric shot _ or who ``hogtie'' suspects by binding their wrists and ankles together.
Stun guns, like any tool, can be misused, said a spokesman for the National Association of Chiefs of Police. But ``it's actually one of the better devices, if used properly,'' said Gerald Arenberg.
Arenberg also acknowledged...police can benefit from oversight, urging those who believe they have been victimized to contact such authorities as the FBI or state attorney.
``I think we do need someone watching over our shoulders,'' Arenberg said.
Prison facilities are another site of frequent human rights violations, the report alleges, saying inmates fall victim to excessive force by guards, sexual abuse by fellow inmates and cruel use of restraints, such as leg-irons and restraint chairs.
Some prisoners are forced to wear remote control stun belts, which emit a shock when activated by guards. The stun belts, used by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 100 county agencies and at least 16 state correctional facilities, cause severe pain and incapacitation, says the report.
``Amnesty International believes...such devices are inherently subject to, and even invite, abuse,'' the report says.
While the United States prides itself as a haven for the persecuted, asylum seekers often end up thrown in jail, detained indefinitely and treated as criminals, says the report.
Immigration and Naturalization Service officials stressed ...people are not detained simply for seeking asylum and denied...they are detained for prolonged periods.
``The seeking of asylum is not what gets you in detention,'' said INS spokesman Andrew Lluberes. Those who enter the country without proper documents or who falsify their identity can be placed in the expedited removal process, but can be granted asylum by an immigration judge, he said.
He added...from October 1997 to October 1998, the 523 people who were eventually ordered removed by an immigration judge stayed an average of 59 days. Another 709 spent 34 days in detention while their claims were heard and 640 spent 93 days in detention before appearing before an immigration judge.
Part of a yearlong campaign focusing on human rights issues in the United States, the report recommends establishing independent bodies to monitor allegations of police brutality and abuse in prisons. It calls for a ban on dangerous restraint devices, and also asks...the United States ensure asylum seekers are detained only as a last resort.