US rejects torture allegations

Wednesday, 10 May, 2000

The US has rejected claims that its efforts to stamp out police and prison brutality are half-hearted, after being called before a United Nations committee on torture.
But Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh, who appeared before the committee, acknowledged that some problems did exist.
This is the first time Washington has had to defend itself before the committee, which met in Geneva to consider the US record since it ratified the UN Convention on Torture six years ago.
Evidence from the human rights watchdog Amnesty International, accusing the US of torturing prisoners, is being considered.
Mr Koh told the Committee Against Torture: "Although we are very proud of our record in eliminating torture, we acknowledge continuing areas of concern within the United States.
"From time to time allegations of torture do arise, particularly within the difficult domain of law enforcement," said Mr Koh.
"But we are utterly committed to the creation of a country and a world where no-one should be subject to torture or cruel or degrading treatment or punishment."

Ethnic minorities
A 45-page report from the group criticises the long-term isolation of some prisoners in US jails, and police measures such as the use of pepper spray and tear gas against demonstrators and electric shock devices to restrain prison inmates.
The report said the rising prison population contributed to widespread ill-treatment of inmates and that police brutality is particularly directed at racial and ethnic minorities.
And it said there was an increasingly punitive approach toward offenders, which had perpetuated practices which "facilitated torture or other forms of ill-treatment" since the US ratified the convention.
In a statement, Amnesty said that "as with other international human rights treaties, the US's respect for the Convention against Torture is only half-hearted when applied to itself".
Speaking to reporters after appearing before the UN committee, Mr Koh said his country's record on human rights was among the best in the world.
"I think there are a lot of misstatements in the Amnesty report, frankly," he said.
"I would like to match our record against any of the countries of the world.
"We absolutely reject the notion that anything we are doing with regard to the eradication of torture is half-hearted.
"Our record is completely open and transparent and we are in compliance."

'Extreme circumstances'
Mr Koh added: "In the areas where we are not in compliance we have been forthright and honest about it."
Mr Koh also rejected Amnesty's claims that the use of electric-shock devices and pepper spray constituted torture.
"These are non-lethal methods that are being used in extreme circumstances. They are not used for punitive purposes," he said.
The committee's findings are expected to be made public next week.

Original article