U.N. Convention Against Torture Observations

Gabor Rona, International Legal Director for Human Rights First, is in Geneva observing the United States’ presentations to the Committee and will also brief the Committee on several issues of concern. He is reporting daily on the events in Geneva as they unfold. Preparing for the U.S. Appearance Before the U.N. Anti-Torture Body On May 1-8, in Geneva, the U.N. Committee Against Torture will consider whether the United States has been complying with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman And Degrading Treatment (“CAT” or “the treaty”). The United States ratified CAT in 1994. By doing so, it became bound to respect the treaty’s prohibitions against torture and other forms of ill treatment, to take effective measures to prevent and punish such conduct, and to periodically report on its compliance with the treaty to the Committee Against Torture – a committee of experts established by the treaty. Last year, the United States finally submitted its Second Periodic Report (the report was due in 1999). In response to the United States’ report, the Committee issued a list of 59 topics upon which it will focus when the United States appears before the Committee on May 5 and May 8. The long list reflects the Committee’s many serious concerns about U.S. conduct toward detainees in the “war on terror,” as well as toward persons held in administrative detention within the United States. The list of issues includes:

    • credible allegations of torture and ill treatment of hundreds of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo, including detainees tortured to death;
    • secret detention and “extraordinary rendition,” the practice of kidnapping and delivering individuals to a third country for indeterminate detention and/or interrogation, where they may be held without judicial process, often to face torture and other mistreatment;
    • concerns that individuals who have suffered torture or abuse at the hands of U.S. officials have no meaningful remedy or right to redress;
    • questions about the use in legal proceedings of evidence gained through torture;
    • concerns that investigations of torture allegations against the United States and of the role of command responsibility have not been sufficiently independent; and
  • questions about the U.S. assertion that the obligation under the treaty to refrain from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment does not apply to the conduct of the United States abroad.

In addition to materials that have been submitted by the United States, the Committee will be informed by the submissions of non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs), including that of Human Rights First. These reports provide independent information to the Committee on a country’s compliance with the treaty, including on the assertions made by the country in its Periodic Report. NGOs will also make formal presentations to the Committee to back up their written submissions and will informally brief the press and public both before and after the testimony of the United States. There are several indications that the United States sees this particular report to the Committee as a big deal. The United States is sending an unusually large, 26-person delegation to Geneva, a delegation that includes several senior government officials. (Unfortunately absent will be any official from a U.S. intelligence agency, such as the CIA, which has reportedly been involved in some of the most serious incidents of torture of detainees in U.S. custody.) The United States also last week issued criminal charges against Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, who headed the interrogation center at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib detention facility; Jordan now becomes the highest-ranking officer criminally charged in connection with the abuses there. And U.S. officials have indicated that long-awaited revisions to the Army’s Field Manual on intelligence interrogation may soon be forthcoming. The Committee’s hearings thus come at a time of heightened U.S. government activity in areas of concern to the Torture Committee. I will be in Geneva observing the United States’ presentations to the Committee and will also brief the Committee on several issues of concern. I will be reporting daily on the events in Geneva as they unfold. So stay tuned.


Published on May 3, 2006


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