Responses to the U.S. Report to the UN Human Rights Committee

HarburyBy Ann Schneider, National Lawyers Guild-New York City Chapter

The new UN subcommittee of the NLG International Committee initiated a diverse panel discussion at the United Nations Church Center in New York City on March 23rd.

The event was organized from Maryland by Curtis Cooper with the assistance of John Kim, Olivia Kraus, Shashi Kara, Renate Lunn and Patricia Mann in New York; and Ann Fagan Ginger in Berkeley, California.

Background and Co-sponsors

The discussion highlighted the United States’ failures to file reports with the UN Human Rights Committee that were due in 1998 and 2003, and to critique the report it finally issued in October 2005. The event was co-sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, the National Lawyers Guild-New York City Chapter, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. The Guild’s participation was in fulfillment of a resolution unanimously adopted at the Portland Guild convention to use the bodies and the treaties of the United Nations more fully in our work. The March 23rd panel was the last of several events during the Human Rights Committee’s session in New York City which were organized through the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Shadow Group,” a coalition of over twenty organizations including the Guild. One member of the UN Human Rights Committee was in attendance, and comments on the US report prepared by Guild members were distributed at the event.

Panelists address shortcomings of the U.S.’ human rights record
Cynthia Soohoo describing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Cynthia Soohoo of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School

Credit: Andrew Sobel

The first speaker was Cynthia Soohoo of the Columbia Human Rights Institute. She described the process by which the human rights conventions are supposed to work, and said she was surprised that the US submitted a report on torture, given the administration’s record. She repeated what she was told of how the US State Department prepared its report on local conditions, ie., letters to local governments and Google searches. The US report did not mention capital punishment although there have been more than 1000 state executions and three federal executions in the past period.

Ann Fagan Ginger, Executive Director of the Meikeljohn Civil Liberties Institute, declared that these times are “much worse” than the McCarthy era and said that we must convince cities and counties to enforce the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “if we are to stop fascism.”

Rev. Daniel Buford talking about Hurricane Katrina and human rights

Rev. Daniel Buford, People’s Inst. for Survival and Beyond, West

Credit: Andrew Sobel

Reverend Daniel Buford of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, West was in New York to present to the HR Committee on the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He said “The federal government has shown depraved indifference when it comes to people of color and poor people.” He ceded some of his time to Margery Freeman, who recounted a story of one Katrina survivor. This man said he watched from his roof for three days as National Guard helicopters flew over again and again. Then he realized that they were only picking up white folks, so he organized the 60 white folks in the building and brought them up to his roof, wheelchairs and all so that they all could be rescued.

Juan Fernandez of AFSCME 154 gave a fiery speech about the 170,000 workers who lost their right to organize with the passage of the Homeland Security Act, and the 48 million Americans who are without health insurance, blaming the federal government for failing to enforce health and safety regulations, pension contributions, or anti-discrimination laws.

Katherine Metres Abbadi is the Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in NYC. She said the ICCPR protects “all persons in a nation’s jurisdiction,” and this includes Guantanamo. She criticized the US for using racial profiling as a prime weapon after 9-11 because freedom from racial discrimination is a non-derogable right. She noted that 64% of the immigration arrests following 9-11 took place in NYC. Of the 80,000 persons who complied with the odious Special Registration program, INS deportation proceedings were commenced against 13,000 of them and not one person was linked to terrorism.

Jennifer Harbury delivered a powerful message, speaking from her experience as the wife of a victim who was tortured to death with CIA complicity in Guatemala during the 1980s, and as the author of the recent book “Truth, Torture and the American Way.” She described the grim history of various methods we are using at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. For example, the now-iconic image of the man standing on a box with wires attached to his genitals and arms is known as the Vietnam position.

Jamil Dakwar speaks on the erosion of civil liberties post 9/11

Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU

Credit: Andrew Sobel

Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU discussed the responses to his FOIA requests and how they show torture to be widespread and systematic. “Executive power has been invoked again and again to violate human rights.” The DoD has 100,000 photos showing acts of torture, but they have withheld public release citing the Geneva Conventions’ privacy protections. He cited abuses of the material witness statute and immigrations hearings now being routinely closed to the public as examples of human rights violations.

Resolution and DVDs

At the end of the evening, the convenor John Kim moved for adoption of a resolution calling upon the US to comply with the ICCPR and other international treaties, which was adopted by acclamation, committing activists to study these treaties, to distribute them to city and county officials and to insist that they comply with the provisions and file timely reports to the Department of State for inclusion in the U.S. reports.

DVDs of this event can be purchased for $5 apiece by sending a check made out to “Baltimore Grassroots Media” to Curtis Cooper, 201 Gittings Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21212. The DVDs are in the public domain with no copyright, so that this important information can be distributed to as wide an audience as possible.

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