Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Ci

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Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Civil Liberties Union ACLU And HRW Report On U.S. Human Rights Record By Paul Hoffman The ACLU and Human Rights Watch issued a joint 178-page report in December 1993 evaluating United States compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which our government ratified in 1992. The report focuses on nine areas: race and sex discrimination, language rights, immigrants' rights, prison conditions, police abuse, death sentencing, freedom of expression and religious liberty. Here are some of its findings: Prisoners The U.S. routinely violates Article 10 of the ICCPR, which requires that all prisoners and detainees "be treated with humanity and with respect to the inherent dignity of the human person," by maintaining prison conditions that are extremely overcrowded, lacking in privacy, unhealthy and unsafe; also, by handling prisoners inhumanely in "supermaximum security" facilities, where, for example, inmates may spend years indoors or may be forced to eat like animals, with their hands tied behind their backs. Article 26, which bans discrimination, is violated by the unequal treatment of women prisoners, who receive less recreational, vocational and educational opportunities than male inmates. Immigrants and Refugees The interdiction and summary repatriation of Haitian boat people is a flagrant violation of Article 12, which provides that "[e]veryone shall be free to leave any country, including his own"; it also violates Article 24, which forbids discrimination based on national origin (intercepted Cubans are not summarily repatriated). Human rights abuses by Immigration and Naturalization Service border patrol agents violate Article 7 (the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 9[1] (the right to liberty and security of the person). Race Discrimination Generally, U.S. laws' protections against race discrimination comply with ICCPR standards -- but not in practice. Segregation, discrimination and inequalities persist in schooling and housing, and in employment blacks are three times less likely to be hired than similarly qualified whites. These conditions violate Article 2, which requires an effective remedy for violation of Covenant rights, and Article 26, which requires "equal and effective protection [i.e., enforcement of the remedy] against discrimination on any ground." Language Rights Language minorities face discrimination in health and social services, employment and education, as well as such hostilities as the "English Only" movement. Article 26 forbids discrimination based on language, while U.S. law does not explicitly protect against such discrimination. Moreover, the relatively weak judicial scrutiny that has greeted constitutional claims in this area is protected by the U.S. understanding to Article 26, which purports to allow language discrimination when it is "rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective." Erasure of this understanding and implementation of the ICCPR would provide much-needed protection for language minorities. Sex Discrimination In violation of Article 26, women face systemic, entrenched employment discrimination in terms of occupational access, conditions of employment and compensation; exclusion from government-funded medical research, and unequal treatment in both secondary and higher education in terms of attention and resources. The U.S. is in non-compliance, even taking into account its limiting understanding of Article 26. Religious Liberty The 1990 Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith represented a serious legal incursion into First Amendment protection for the free exercise of religion. The trend was halted by passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, but that three-year hiatus in protection underscores the potential importance of the ICCPR as an additional line of defense against encroachments upon fundamental rights. Freedom of Expression Although the U.S. is a leader in this area, it falls short of complying with Article 19, which guarantees a right "to seek, receive and impart information ... regardless of frontiers." The U.S. curtails the information flow both into and out of the country by denying visas to some controversial speakers; by blocking entry of materials from certain countries through economic embargoes; by restricting travel abroad, and by constraining individuals' ability to seek and impart information independently. The severe and unjustified restrictions imposed on the media during the Persian Gulf War also violated Article 19. The Death Penalty Article 6 does not require abolition of the death penalty, but it favors abolition and limits the penalty's use. It forbids arbitrary death sentencing and the execution of juveniles, and it stipulates that a death sentence may be imposed "only for the most serious crimes." The U.S. entered a reservation to the ICCPR that allows death sentencing to the extent permitted under the U.S. Constititution. But for this reservation, the U.S. would be in violation of all the Article 6 conditions cited above. Police Brutality The 1991 beating of Rodney King made clear that police abuse is one of the most pressing human rights issues facing the U.S. The persistent use of excessive force, often exacerbated by racism, violates Article 7's prohibition on "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment" and the prohibition against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26. The U.S. further violates Article 2 by failing to take "the necessary steps" to ensure respect for these basic rights. The U.S. government was due to release its own compliance report, for the first time under a major international human rights treaty, around the time the ACLU/HRW report was published. That report has yet to appear. -------------------- Paul Hoffman, an author of the ACLU/HRW report, is chair of the ACLU's International Human Rights Task Force. How to Order the Joint Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States The ACLU and Human Rights Watch collaborated on this landmark report, which, for the first time, evaluates U.S. compliance with the human rights standards set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPSR). Citing major shortcomings in that compliance, the report calls on the Clinton Administration to take steps toward correcting a wide range of abuses and to make it possible to invoke ICPSR protections in U.S. court cases. Human Rights Violations In The United States. Human Rights Watch/American Civil Liberties Union. 178 pages. $15.00 plus $3.00 shipping & handling. 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