U.N. panel criticizes U.S. policy on police shootings, tortures

A U.N. committee criticizes the U.S. criminal justice system's treatment of minorities

A United Nations panel on Friday sharply criticized how the United States handles a variety of criminal justice-related issues, such as the police shooting of unarmed African Americans, the imprisonment of terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and the application of the death penalty.

In a 16-page report, its first such review since 2006, the U.N. Committee Against Torture condemned U.S. policies in handling how police dealt with issues of brutality against blacks and Latinos. It did not specifically mention events in Ferguson, Mo., but the parents of Michael Brown, fatally shot by a white police officer, spoke to the commission before the findings were released.

“There are numerous areas in which certain things should be changed for the United States to comply fully with the convention,” Alessio Bruni of Italy, one of the panel's chief investigators, said at a news conference in Geneva. He was referring to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which took effect in 1987 and the United States ratified in 1994.

The committee's 10 independent experts review the records of United Nations members and issue recommendations, which are non-binding.

Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown on Aug. 9, touching off weeks of often violent protests. A St. Louis County grand jury decided this week not to indict Wilson, and information was released that portrayed Brown as the aggressor in the incident. The announcement of the grand jury's decision was met with looting, arson and arrests in Ferguson and with more peaceful demonstrations around the nation.

In all, hundreds of arrests have been made from New York to Los Angeles and throughout the St. Louis region, though the level of protest has decreased in recent days.

Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., met with the committee in Geneva earlier this month and argued that their son was a victim of police brutality and that his death and other forms of police brutality were a violation of the U.N. treaty.

The panel was told by the U.S. delegation that 20 investigations had been opened by the U.S. Justice Department since 2009 into systematic police abuses against minorities and that more than 330 police officers had been prosecuted for brutality.

The Justice Department is conducting a similar probe in Ferguson. It is also investigating whether to charge Wilson with violating federal civil rights law.

In comments after the grand jury decision was announced on Monday, President Obama acknowledged that there were problems in the relations between police and minority communities.

“The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,” the president said at the White House. “Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.”

The next day in Chicago, the president said he has asked outgoing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to “identify specific steps we can take together to set up a series of regional meetings focused on building trust in our communities. And next week, we’ll bring together state and local officials, and law enforcement, and community leaders and faith leaders to start identifying very specific steps that we can take to make sure that law enforcement is fair and is being applied equally to every person in this country.”

The U.N. report also criticized the U.S. record on military interrogations, maximum security prisons, solitary confinement and migrants residing in the country illegally.

The report also called for tougher federal laws to define and outlaw torture, including how detainees are treated in Guantanamo Bay.

About 148 inmates are held at the base in Cuba, where the U.S. practices a form of incarceration the report described as “a draconian system of secrecy surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain.”

Nine inmates have died, including seven by suicide, since 2006, the report added.

Obama has called for closing the Guantanamo Bay facility and bringing the inmates to face trial in the United States, moves that have been opposed by Congress. Since the first detainees arrived in 2002, there have been reports that inmates have been tortured during interrogation. Officials have been force-feeding inmates who have been on a hunger strike since last year to protest their imprisonment.

The U.N. committee also criticized a series of executions in the United States in which it took a long time for inmates to die, and they appeared to be suffering because of the quality of drugs used and how they were administered.

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