Global perspective Human stories

While hailing US rights traditions, UN expert voices concern at anti-terror steps

While hailing US rights traditions, UN expert voices concern at anti-terror steps

Affirming the continuing leadership role of the United States in security and human rights, an independent United Nations expert has criticized some measures taken by the country to fight terrorism, after completing a ten-day fact finding visit.

Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, expressed concern over the holding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq, Afghanistan and classified locations, and the permitting of military tribunals and “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the US, in preliminary findings.

During his visit from 16 to 25 May, he found “troubling” developments in immigration and refugee areas, profiling and community outreach issues, domestic surveillance and freedom of the press, said Mr. Scheinin, who is an unpaid expert, reporting to the UN Human Rights Council in a personal capacity.

The Special Rapporteur voiced his “deep respect for the long traditions in the United States of respect for individual rights, the rule of law, and a strong level of judicial protection,” according to a release on his 25 May press conference in Washington.

“Despite the existence of a tradition in the United States of respect for the rule of law, and the presence of self-correcting mechanisms under the US Constitution, it is most regretful that a number of important mechanisms for the protection of rights have been removed or obfuscated under law and practice since the events of September 11,” Mr. Scheinin stated.

The primary instruments for weakening those protections, he said, were the USA Patriot Act of 2001, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the Military Commissions Act (MCA), Executive Orders and other programmes, some of which are classified.

The US Government extended an invitation to Mr. Scheinin following a request he made in October 2006, when he said the MCA violated the country’s international obligations under human rights laws in several areas.

After his visit -- with specialists in the US Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defence and Justice, as well as members of Congress and non-governmental organizations – he maintained that the military commissions did indeed raise significant concerns.

Those include “the jurisdiction and composition of military commissions, the potential use of evidence obtained by coercion, and the potential for the imposition of the death penalty,” among others.

He urged President George Bush to act on his announced intentions to move toward the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, and to ensure just treatment for detainees there and those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In all areas, the leadership position of the US in both the war on terror and human rights must be kept foremost in mind, he said.

“The Special Rapporteur thus sees his visit as one step in the process of restoring the role of the United States as a positive example for respecting human rights, including in the context of the fight against terrorism,” he stressed, dismissing the perception that the United States has become “an enemy of human rights.”

“It is a country which still has a great deal to be proud of,” he said.

Mr. Sheinin said a more thorough report, to be submitted to the Human Rights Council, will be made available to the public.