Geneva (AFP) – A UN watchdog on Friday slammed police shootings of blacks in the United States, days after a decision not to prosecute a white officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teen sparked nationwide protests.
With tensions still running high after Monday’s decision by a Missouri grand jury not to charge a white policeman who shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, the UN Committee Against Torture published conclusions from its review earlier this month of the U.S. record.
Brown’s parents had been present at the hearing on November 12 and 13 in Geneva to discuss their son’s case with the committee members.
“The committee is concerned about numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups,” the 10-member committee said in its report.
It also lamented “racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarisation of policing activities.”
Alessio Bruni, one of the top investigators on the committee, told reporters in Geneva the members had voiced “deep concern at the frequent and recurring police shootings in fatal pursuit of unarmed black individuals.”
The committee, which periodically reviews the records of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention Against Torture, lamented that the large delegation of high-level U.S. officials who came to Geneva to defend the U.S. record had provided little data on police brutality and investigations into such abuses.
It urged Washington to ensure that all cases of police brutality and excessive use of force are “investigated promptly, effectively and impartially”, that perpetrators be brought to justice and that victims receive effective remedies.
“We have certain concerns about whether investigations are … thoroughly completed and whether punishment of law-enforcement when they have crossed the line are effectively put in place,” said another of the panel’s top investigators, Jens Modvig.
The committee also highlighted excessive use of taser guns by police, an issue that had prompted protests at the hearing earlier this month.
It said it was “concerned about numerous, consistent reports that police have used electrical discharge weapons against unarmed individuals who resist arrest or fail to comply immediately with commands, suspects fleeing minor crime scenes or even minors.”
Taser guns are weapons that deliver electric shocks and are popular with authorities because they are supposed to be nonlethal, but activists say the devices have caused more than 500 deaths in the United States.
The U.S. delegation had assured the committee that they have put in place guidelines for the use of tasers aimed at avoiding accidents, but Bruni told AFP “apparently this is not enough.”
The committee urged Washington to ensure that police use tasers “exclusively in extreme and limited situations, where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury.”
It also called for a ban on using the weapons on minors and pregnant women.
“There are far too many accidents,” Bruni said.
After its first review of the United States since 2006 and the first since President Barack Obama came to power, the committee also raised a range of issues ranging from torture at CIA “black sites”, to continued detention at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, prisoner abuse, and detention of illegal immigrants.
The committee hailed efforts to end a range of past abuses during the so-called “War on Terror” under the previous administration of George W. Bush, including a clear ban on so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding.
But it urged Washington to close Guantanamo, and voiced concern over “the ongoing failure to fully investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects held in U.S. custody abroad.”
“There have been investigations, but very few have ended in guilty verdicts,” Bruni pointed out.
AFP Photo/Michael B. Thomas
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