NEW YORK - July 20 - The
United States is set to defy its allies on another critical human rights treaty,
warned Human Rights Watch as the United Nations debates a new treaty to prevent
The U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the organization's governing
body for human rights, will next week debate a draft Optional Protocol to the
Convention Against Torture. The new treaty would establish an international system
of inspection visits to places of detention, but would only apply to those countries
that ratify it.
The current text has been put forward by Costa Rica and enjoys wide support
from ECOSOC members, including members of the European Union and many Latin American,
Caribbean and African states. But the United States has signaled its opposition
and wants negotiations on the text re-opened.
“Yet again the Bush Administration is on a collision course with its
allies over an important new mechanism to protect human rights,” said Rory
Mungoven, Global Advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Last week, it
was the International Criminal Court, this week, it's the prevention of torture.”
Human Rights Watch said the draft Optional Protocol represented the best compromise
possible after ten years of difficult negotiations. It addressed many of the concerns
previously raised by governments, including the United States.
The U.S. government has objected to the proposal, claiming that prison visits
by an international body would be too intrusive. But the system of visits has
many checks and balances, ensuring consultation with governments, prior-notification
of visits and the confidentiality of reports. It can be adapted to different legal
cultures, including federal systems. And if the U.S. government didn´t ratify
the new treaty, it would not face any inspections at all.
Human Rights Watch warned that the U.S. proposal to re-open negotiations on
the draft would be the kiss-of-death for the treaty. Abusive governments, many
of which have not even signed the Convention Against Torture, would use further
negotiations to water down or block the adoption of the protocol.
“By sending this treaty for more negotiations, the United States would
be playing into the hands of countries such as Cuba and Iran, which want to block
international scrutiny of human rights,” Mungoven said.
Human Rights Watch said the U.S. government should not oppose or delay adoption
of the protocol, even if it chose not to ratify the treaty itself.