Protests as US defends record before UN anti-torture body

Activists stood in silent protest as the United States on Thursday defended its record before a UN anti-torture watchdog, raising their fists and displaying pictures of victims of police brutality.

Geneva: Activists stood in silent protest as the United States on Thursday defended its record before a UN anti-torture watchdog, raising their fists and displaying pictures of victims of police brutality.

On the second and final day of the UN Committee Against Torture`s review of the United States, a group of young protesters flaunted UN protocol and stood up as the US delegation began discussing the issue of abuse by police. 

Around 10 youths with the Chicago-based group We Charge Genocide (WCG) wearing matching t-shirts and brandishing pictures of Dominique Franklin -- a 23-year-old who died in June after police used a taser on him while he was handcuffed -- rose silently, their fists held in the air.

Soon members of other non-governmental organisations in the room followed suit, forcing the delegation of some 30 high-level US officials to continue their responses to committee questions with a sprinkling of fists throughout the room.

"We wanted to show the US that we are listening to their responses, and that we`re really concerned about how serious they are taking this. Kids are literally dying," WCG protester Breanna Champion, 21, told AFP.

At its first review of the United States since 2006 and the first since President Barack Obama came to power, the committee had on Wednesday grilled the delegation on 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.

While acknowledging a range of past abuses during the so-called "War on Terror" under the previous administration of George W. Bush, the delegates stressed that Washington had made great strides to right those wrongs.

"We`ve not just replaced the problematic policies. We have definitively repudiated them," insisted Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary at the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.

The committee, which periodically reviews the records of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention Against Torture, also took the delegates to task over excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, including the militarisation of local police forces and widespread and sometimes lethal use of tasers.

It was when the delegates began responding to questions on this issue, stressing that the US judicial system ensured that abusive officers could be held accountable and prosecuted, that the protesters stood up.

"We hope that everyone here sees that this issue is bigger than the US trying to cover themselves," Champion said, stressing the devastating impact police violence, including excessive use of tasers, is having on minority youths and their families.

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 committee members also did not appear convinced by the US arguments.

"There are disturbing patterns of excessive force on the part of police officers, especially towards African Americans and other persons of colour... The current mechanisms of accountability are insufficient," said Jens Modvig, one of the top investigators on the 10-member committee.

The committee`s verdict was clear, according to Jamil Dakwar of civil rights group ACLU.

"The United States has to do much more to promote more robust police oversight, to prevent fatal shootings, police abuse and racial profiling," he told AFP.

The head of the US delegation, US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Keith Harper, meanwhile said he welcomed the input from civil society.

Acknowledging the demonstration, he stressed that "the United States has no objection to that protest whatsoever."

The parents of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri last August, also attended the session, and seemed pleased with the review.

Their lawyer Daryl Parks told AFP the couple felt the US delegation had appeared "very concerned about the issues that are going on in Ferguson, Missouri."

The committee is set to publish its conclusions on November 28.

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