GENEVA, July 17: A string of international human rights rules do not apply to the ‘war on terror’ lock-up in Guantanamo Bay or military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, US officials told a United Nations watchdog panel on Monday.
Under scrutiny from the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a delegation of officials from Washington jousted over legal definitions with the experts on the panel.
Like all 156 nations which are party to the covenant, the United States is bound to produce regular reports for the committee and submit to hearings every few years.
Ahead of a committee session that began on Monday, senior State Department official Mark Lagon reaffirmed Washington’s view that issues related to terrorism in ‘large part lie beyond the scope of the treaty’.
“Those (are) things that have to do with conduct outside of the territory of the United States, or those that belong to the question of the law of war rather than human rights law,” Lagon explained to journalists.
“Nonetheless, the United States will answer those questions as a matter of openness to the international community,” he said.
Lagon and other officials reaffirmed Washington’s position at the start of a question and answer session between the delegation and the committee’s 18 members. Several committee members disagreed, saying that the activities of the US military, civilian personnel and contractors away from US territory could indeed fall under the scope of the covenant.
They also took Washington to task over ‘extraordinary rendition’, expressing particular concern that it could expose people to human rights abuses.
Lagon said that he hoped the committee “will not try and hold the United States to a higher standard than some of the other governments that have been reviewed in the last five years, which include Syria, Egypt, Russia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and North Korea.
“But the United States recognises that it will be held to the highest standard. It is an exemplar and it welcomes playing the role as an exemplar,” he told reporters.
US human rights activists said the committee hearing was a welcome opportunity to spotlight Washington’s record on a string of domestic, as well as international, issues linked to the ‘war of terror’.
Ann Beeson, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told reporters in Geneva that concerns included increased surveillance of anti-war protestors and alleged ‘racial profiling’ on national security grounds of Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims in general in the United States.
Beyond issues tied to terrorism, said Robert Freer of Amnesty International, campaigners want the committee to take Washington to task over the death penalty, the use of ‘super-maximum’ security prisons which hold around 20,000 people in long-term isolation, and rules allowing life sentences without parole for offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crime.—AFP