UN Torture Watchdog Urges US To Crack Down On Police Brutality

Activists hold hands during a silent protest at a hearing of the United States at the Committee against Torture at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Activists hold hands during a silent protest at a hearing of the United States at the Committee against Torture at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

U.N. Committee against Torture

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.

The panel's first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The committee decried "excruciating pain and prolonged suffering" for prisoners during "botched executions" as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.

Its findings cited deep concern about "numerous reports" of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling.

The panel referred to the "frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals."

"We recommend that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism," said panel member Alessio Bruni, noting "reported current police violence in Chicago especially against African-Americans and Latino young people".

The U.S. delegation reported that 20 investigations had been opened since 2009 into systematic police abuses and that more than 330 police officers had been prosecuted for brutality.

The UN panel said there was insufficient information available on the result of those investigations.

"We have certain concerns about whether investigations are thoroughly completed and whether punishment of law enforcement (officers) when they have crossed the line are effectively put in place," committee member Jens Modvig told reporters.

It spoke of "numerous and consistent" reports that US police have used tasers against unarmed people resisting arrest and condemned two recent cases of death in Florida and Illinois.

Tasers should be used only in extreme cases to prevent loss of life or serious injury, the committee said.

It criticized what it called a continued US failure to fully investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment of terrorism suspects held in US custody abroad, "evidenced by the limited number of criminal prosecutions and convictions".

Activists welcomed the findings and called for reforms.

"This report – along with the voices of Americans protesting around the country this week – is a wake-up call for police who think they can act with impunity," said Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who attended the review.

The U.N. panel called for ending U.S. custody of migrants including children in "prison-like detention facilities".

It criticized what it called a continued U.S. failure to fully investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment of terrorism suspects held in U.S. custody abroad, "evidenced by the limited number of criminal prosecutions and convictions".

Some 148 inmates are held at the U.S. Guantanamo base in Cuba amid reports, the committee's report said, of "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.

It called for declassifying evidence of torture and detainee abuse committed during former President George W. Bush's administration, and for prosecuting those responsible.

This article was first published at Reuters.