At a recent meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the committee’s periodic review team conducted a review of the state of human rights in America. This kind of review is done every four and half years for all 193 member countries of the U.N. This review was the second time America has been examined since 2008, when the system was first introduced. During the review, representatives from 122 countries made numerous criticisms and suggestions about the human rights problems in America.
The criticisms of America were concentrated on the American police’s overuse of force, the racial, religious and gender-based discrimination, and the use of torture as well as Guantanamo Bay. Not only are these long-term problems, some of the problems are becoming worse. A lot of facts have proven that American police abuse their power, which has also reflected racism in its law enforcement, especially toward African-Americans. Such problems are the reason America became a target of critiques at the U.N.
From the American government’s own report, in the past few years, there have been frequent “individual or systemic” inappropriate police behavior in America. In the last five years, the American Justice Department has filed criminal lawsuits against more than 335 police officers, and 254 of them have been indicted. Last month, in the state of South Carolina, white police officer Michael Slager killed the African-American man Walter Scott, and a witness recorded the whole incident. The police officer’s shocking behavior was strong evidence for overpolicing, and he has already been fired and is currently facing murder charges. Also last month, Freddie Gray, a young African-American man in Baltimore, died from unnatural causes while in police custody. The grand jury has decided to prosecute the six officers in the case with second-degree murder and other charges.
America has used the excuse of counterterrorism to build prisons in Guantanamo Bay and other places, and it has used torture on suspected criminals and prisoners while evading American and international laws. Even though the severe prisoner abuse has been confirmed by American congressional investigations, the American Justice Department is still defending its mistakes. One of President Obama’s election-time promises was to close Guantanamo Bay, but that has not happened. In this U.N. review, the American police’s abuse of power, the use of torture, and the large-scale surveillance conducted internally and abroad has generated concern from many countries. Developing countries have mostly urged America to sign the series of international human rights treaties as quickly as possible, to follow the recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Committee, and to take actual steps toward resolving the human rights problems.
It is not surprising that America, in spite of being the biggest developed country in the world, still has many human rights issues. America once violated the indigenous populations’ rights on a large scale, and practiced the brutal slavery system. The so-called God-given human rights America champions were not applicable to minorities for a long time. Even though slavery has been abolished for more than 150 years, during the first 100 years, America still practiced segregation. Even in contemporary America, invisible segregation is still widespread. Minorities in America, especially African-Americans, are obviously disadvantaged in many areas such as housing, living, employment, education and medical care.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee will be using the results of this review to draft a report on the status of human rights in America, listing in detail the many problems and concerns from the meeting. America has the obligation, before the next review, to take effective action to realize these recommendations. America needs to seriously reflect on the reason for its myriad human rights violations and how to fix them. America also really needs to think about why it feels that it can dictate to other countries about human rights. It is not so much that America cannot criticize others but that it cannot criticize others without reason. The bottom line is that America needs to solve its own human rights problems first.
There is no best solution, only better ones, for issues involving human rights. Obviously, for America, which is used to being the international human rights arbiter, it’s time to reexamine itself and learn to respect other countries.