Amnesty International condemns Toruture in the U.S.

Jay Moore research at
Wed May 10 19:08:26 MDT 2000

Amnesty International Public document
AI Index AMR 51/68/2000
News Service Nr. 83
9 May 2000

UN Committee against Torture must condemn increasing institutionalized
cruelty in USA

Cruelty to detainees and prisoners is becoming institutionalized across the
USA, Amnesty International said today, on the eve of the US Government=s
first appearance before the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva.

"Since the United States ratified the Convention against Torture in October
1994, its increasingly punitive approach towards offenders has continued to
lead to practices which facilitate torture or other forms of ill-treatment
prohibited under international law."

The spiralling prison and jail population -- which recently hit two million
for the first time -- and the resulting pressures on incarceration
facilities have contributed to widespread ill- treatment of men, women and
children in custody. Police brutality is rife in many areas, and it is
disproportionately directed at racial and ethnic minorities.

"From the use of long-term isolation in supermaximum security units, through
the routine employment of chemical sprays to subdue suspects and prisoners
and the incarceration of asylum-seekers in cruel and degrading conditions,
to the use of electro-shock weapons in local jails and courts, the USA is
standardizing practices which undermine the aim of the Convention to
eradicate state torture and ill-treatment from the planet," Amnesty
International said.

Recent allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in
the USA include:
- Ronnie Hawkins subjected to an eight-second 50,000 volt electro-shock from
a remote control stun belt in open court on the order of the judge, to
punish his verbal statements. In the past decade, 100 US jurisdictions at
federal, state and local level have acquired stun belts.
- Inmates at two "supermax" prisons in Virginia subjected to arbitrary
electro-shocks from stun guns. Perry Conner, who was beaten in the genital
area and repeatedly electro- shocked until he lost control of his bowels,
was not allowed to shower for six days.
- Widespread punitive solitary confinement and excessive use of shackling,
handcuffing and four-point restraint against children in a South Dakota
juvenile facility.
- James Earl Livingston, a mentally ill man, died after being pepper-sprayed
and left in a restraint chair, one of several deaths associated with the use
of this device.
- Liquid pepper spray swabbed directly into the eyes of non-violent
anti-logging protestors, a technique allegedly repeated against World Trade
Organization protestors in 1999.

In a report outlining its concerns to the Committee against Torture, Amnesty
International notes the US Government=s reluctance to adhere to
international human rights law and to accept the same minimum standards for
its own conduct that it so often demands from other countries.

"As with other international human rights treaties, the USA=s respect for
the Convention against Torture is only half-hearted when applied to itself,"
Amnesty International said, pointing out that the US Government has agreed
to only limited compliance with the Convention, entering several
reservations. For example, it agreed to be bound by the Convention=s ban on
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment only to the extent that it matches the
ban on cruel or unusual punishments in the US Constitution.

"If all countries took this approach, the global system for protecting
fundamental human rights would quickly collapse," Amnesty International

-"The US Government, which so often labels itself as champion of human
rights, must take serious steps to ensure that international standards are
respected throughout the country," Amnesty International said.
While the US system provides a range of remedies for torture or
ill-treatment, there remain serious deficiencies in overcoming abuses and
localized climates of impunity.

The USA should also urgently review officially sanctioned practices which
are at odds with international standards for humane treatment, such as the
use of long-term isolation in conditions of reduced sensory stimulation, and
cruel restraint methods, including the use of electro-shock stun belts.

Amnesty International calls upon the Committee against Torture to condemn
such practices and urges the US Government to implement effective measures
to stop the abuses that are occurring on a daily basis in the United States.

Source: Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street,
WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom

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