U.S. Welcomes First-Ever Visit of U.N. Expert on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism

January 17, 2007 12:00 am

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NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the U.S. government’s decision to accept a request from the United Nations’ top expert on human rights and counter-terrorism to visit the United States in the spring.

“We are pleased to finally see the government doing more to engage seriously with international human rights bodies,” said Jamil Dakwar, a senior human rights counsel with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “The United States should fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and seize his visit to retract counter-terrorism policies which have badly tarnished America’s standing in the world.”

The visit will mark the first time the United States has allowed an independent expert from the United Nations to examine the compatibility of U.S. post-9/11 counter-terrorism efforts with international human rights law. The expert, Martin Scheinin, is expected to arrive in the United States in May to begin his inquiries.

In a statement issued yesterday, Scheinin said that he was hoping to “study and discuss U.S. counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices,” including issues regarding the “detention, arrest and trial of terrorist suspects and the rights of victims of terrorism or persons negatively impacted by counter-terrorism measures.”

The ACLU urged the U.N. special expert to review the following counter-terrorism issues during his upcoming visit:

  • The indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” who have not been charged with criminal offenses, including the treatment and interrogation of persons captured in U.S. “global war on terrorism;”
  • The Justice Department’s misuse of the “material witness” statute;
  • The CIA’s “rendition” policy, under which the agency has transferred terrorism suspects to the custody of countries known to use torture;
  • Expanded government surveillance, including warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency; the use of National Security Letters by the FBI, CIA, and Pentagon; and the surveillance of lawful advocacy groups by multiple government agencies including the Defense Department;
  • The government’s unprecedented use of the “state secrets” privilege to shut down litigation concerning civil and human rights abuses;
  • The dramatic increase in government secrecy that prevents U.S. citizens and residents from obtaining information about government policy;
  • The suppression of religious freedom through the closure of multiple Muslim charities, and the use of secret evidence in proceedings relating to those charities;
  • Racial profiling in the application of national security policies;
  • The treatment and interrogation of individuals who have been detained in connection with the 'war on terror;' and,
  • The denial of the habeas corpus and due process rights of thousands of non-citizens detained by the United States.

U.N. independent experts or Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights) with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries and on human rights violations worldwide. Amongst their activities, independent experts carry out country visits, either at their own request or at the invitation of the country concerned.

Country visits are considered one of the most critical tools available in highlighting human rights violations in particular countries and in placing pressure on governments to remedy the situation, the ACLU’s Dakwar said. A country visit usually lasts no more than two weeks, during which Special Rapporteurs meet with members of civil society, including human rights and civil liberties organizations, victims, affected communities and the concerned government officials and agencies. The independent experts then submit a report of their visit to the Human Rights Council, presenting their findings, conclusions and recommendations.

The U.N. expert on human rights and counterterrorism was appointed in 2005 by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which has since been assumed by the Human Rights Council. In this capacity, the independent expert is mandated to develop a regular dialogue and to cooperate with all relevant actors, including governments, to exchange information, make recommendations and to identify and promote best practices on measures to counter terrorism that respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, is available online at: www.ohchr.org/english/issues/terrorism/rapporteur/srchr.htm

The ACLU's Shadow Report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, Dimming the Beacon of Freedom: U.S. Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/25924pub20060620.html

The ACLU's Shadow Report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, Enduring Abuse: Torture and Cruel Treatment by the United States at Home and Abroad, is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/25354pub20060427.html

For more information on the ACLU’s human rights advocacy, go to www.aclu.org/humanrights

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