UN Committee against Torture must condemn increasing institutionalised cruelty

'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's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights in custody. Police brutality is rife in many areas, and it is disproportionately directed at racial and ethnic minorities.

'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 standardising 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 belts. 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's rights 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 Organisation 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 Constitution.

'If all countries took this approach, the global system for protecting fundamental human rights would quickly collapse,' Amnesty International warned.

'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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