Human Rights in the U.S. Focus of International Attention
The widespread sexual abuse of prisoners is one of the greatest contemporary human rights crises in the United States. Tomorrow, the United Nations Human Rights Council will assess the human rights record of the U.S. as part of a new process -- the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
JDI has used the opportunity of the UPR to press the U.S. government to recognize its absolute responsibility to keep inmates safe from abuse. No matter what crime someone may have committed, rape is not part of the penalty.
In a "civil society consultation" with the State Department earlier this year, JDI urged the Obama Administration to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and to finalize national standards aimed at ending sexual abuse in detention. Such standards are currently under review by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. JDI also provided a written report directly to the U.N. Human Rights Council. That and other civil society reports as well as the U.S. government's self-assessment will form the basis of tomorrow's review by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
One of the main reasons sexual abuse and other forms of violence flourish in U.S. prisons and jails is the acute lack of external monitoring of our detention facilities. The OPCAT would help change that, opening up prisons and jails to much needed outside scrutiny.
In advance of the UPR session, a number of U.N. member nations have lodged their concerns about the United States' troubling record with respect to safeguarding the rights of prisoners. Denmark and the Czech Republic have submitted official inquiries challenging the refusal of the U.S. to ratify the OPCAT. The Netherlands has requested further information about the status of the national standards addressing sexual violence in detention, emphasizing the need to protect gay, transgender, and other vulnerable inmates from abuse. JDI's representative in Geneva this week, Darby Hickey, has been busy speaking with country representatives, encouraging them to raise these and other issues related to sexual abuse in detention during the session tomorrow.
You can view the UPR session, live or archived, by visiting http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/archive.asp?go=029. The session begins at 3:00 am EDT on Friday, November 5, 2010.
Human rights violations occur on a daily basis in the U.S., especially in our prisons and jails. Thank you for continuing to work with JDI as we seek to protect every person's basic rights to safety and dignity.