USA: UN Committee against Torture must condemn
increasinginstitutionalized cruelty in USA
Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 19:28:47 -0400
* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
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
"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
"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
- 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
"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.
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