United States takes centre stage in UN rights council
The United States's human rights record at home and abroad will come under the spotlight at the UN's top rights assembly on Friday, exposing Washington to criticism from some of its foes.
The half day public debate in the UN Human Rights Council comes just two weeks after whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war, reviving concern about unresolved allegations of torture and abuse stretching back to the Bush administration.
But the sesson will also bring some awkward domestic issues for President Barack Obama’s administration into the limelight at the 47 member Council, campaigners said.
“The United States is going to be on the spot over some glaring problems in its human rights record — from the death penalty to unnecessary detention of immigrants,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
“This is a chance for the US to confirm its commitment to human rights by accepting the criticism and making improvements,” he added.
A European diplomat said the US treatment of terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre — which the Obama administration is struggling to shut down — would also be up for debate.
Washington has mobilised about 30 officials for its delegation at the session headed by three assistant secretaries of state.
“We appreciate the opportunity to improve our own human rights record and we want to acknowledge up front that we do not believe our human rights record is perfect,” the US ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, told journalists.
The four-yearly “Universal Periodic Review” is based on reports by the United Nations, the country concerned, as well as a summary of observations by campaign groups.
Although no action is taken, it exposes governments to questioning by their peers and especially their critics.
Current members include China, Cuba, Libya, Russia and Pakistan.
Ginatta told AFP the United States “is doing things it has never done in the past like raising racial discrimination issues,” in its report to the Council.
More than 300 US civil liberties and community groups in the US Human Rights Network criticised “glaring inadequacies in the US human rights record” in a 400 page report.
Speaking ahead of the session, campaigners also expressed disappointment at the Obama administration, claiming it had failed to live up to its early promise of remedying abuse in Iraq and bringing those behind torture of terror suspects to justice.
“Until today not a single victim of torture has had their day in a US court. This is very sad,” Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union said.
On the eve of the meeting, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on the United States to open up “instead of covering up” after the website leaked secret documents detailing abuses committed during the Iraq war.
“The US is in danger of losing its way,” he told journalists in Geneva, pointing to a “proud” US tradition of freedom of information.
US ambassador Donahoe said delegation officials from Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Justice and State departments could take part in an informal face-to-face “Town Hall” meeting organised with campaigners later on Friday.