The latest mass shooting in the United States – yesterday’s massacre at a community college in western Oregon – is another painful reminder of the U.S.’s inability or unwillingness to rein in its gun control problem and bring its laws into conformity with international norms.
The problem of U.S. gun violence has long caught the attention of the international community, including at recent review conferences examining U.S. compliance with various international conventions, with diplomats and experts repeatedly noting that U.S. laws may not fulfill international obligations of the United States government to protect life.
Following a review of the United States early last year by the UN Human Rights Committee for adherence to obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Committee’s concluding observations included the following passage on U.S. gun violence:
While acknowledging the measures taken to reduce gun violence, the Committee remains concerned about the continuing high numbers of gun-related deaths and injuries and the disparate impact of gun violence on minorities, women and children. While commending the investigation by the United States Commission on Civil Rights of the discriminatory effect of the “Stand Your Ground” laws, the Committee is concerned about the proliferation of such laws which are used to circumvent the limits of legitimate self-defence in violation of the State party’s duty to protect life (arts. 2, 6 and 26).
To bring the U.S. epidemic of gun violence under control and to fulfill its obligation to effectively protect the right to life, the UN recommended that the United States should:
(a) Continue its efforts to effectively curb gun violence, including through the continued pursuit of legislation requiring background checks for all private firearm transfers, in order to prevent possession of arms by persons recognized as prohibited individuals under federal law, and ensure strict enforcement of the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996 (the Lautenberg Amendment); and
(b) Review the Stand Your Ground laws to remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality when using deadly force in self-defence.
At a review of U.S. compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, held later in 2014, the United States was again admonished for its failure to comply with international obligations on protecting the right to life. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) observed that gun violence disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities:
The Committee is concerned at the high number of gun-related deaths and injuries which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans. It is also concerned at the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws, which are used to circumvent the limits of legitimate self-defence, in violation of the State party’s duty to protect life, and have a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities (arts. 2, 5 (b) and 6).
As a recommendation, the Committee urged the U.S.
to take effective legislative and policy measures to fulfil its obligation to protect the right to life and to reduce gun violence, including by adopting legislation expanding background checks for all private firearm transfers and prohibiting the practice of carrying concealed handguns in public venues; increasing transparency concerning gun use in crime and illegal gun sales, including by repealing the Tiahrt Amendments; and reviewing the Stand Your Ground laws to remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defence.
The United States was again reminded of these recommendations during UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. human rights situation in May 2015.
The CERD, the UN reminded the United States,
was concerned at the large number of gun-related deaths and injuries, which disproportionately affected members of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans. It urged the United States to reduce gun violence by, inter alia, adopting legislation expanding background checks for all private firearms transfers and reviewing the “stand your ground” laws.57 The HR Committee58 and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences59 made similar recommendations.
Despite all of these recommendations, needless to say, the U.S. has not taken any meaningful steps to bring its gun laws into compliance with its international obligation to protect the right to life. The result: so far this year, there have been 294 mass shootings in America, including yesterday’s in Oregon.
For the fourth time in the past year, the U.S. state of Oklahoma has issued a stay of execution for Richard Glossip, an almost certainly innocent man wrongfully convicted for contracting the murder of his boss in 1997. Beyond serious questions of the man’s guilt, his multiple brushes with death in such a limited period of time are the equivalent of state-sanctioned mock execution, prohibited under international torture conventions and under U.S. law.
Glossip was convicted of murder-for-hire 18 years ago after Justin Sneed, the man who confessed to the killing, claimed Glossip had hired him to do it, despite a total lack of evidence connecting Glossip to the crime. Sneed received a life sentence without parole in a medium-security prison, while Glossip was sent to death row based entirely on Sneed’s testimony.
Despite how crucial Sneed’s testimony was in convicting Glossip, the courts have largely overlooked the fact that he gave not one but eight different accounts of what happened the night Barry van Treese was murdered.
In recent years a number of people have come forward to say that Sneed’s fingering of Glossip lacks any credibility, including former cellmates who claimed that Sneed had boasted of getting out of a death sentence by selling out an innocent man. Even Sneed’s daughter claims that her father had lied about Glossip’s involvement in the crime, stating in a clemency letter last year that he would recant if it wasn’t for his own fear of being executed:
For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. But has been afraid to act upon it, in fear of being charged with the Death Penalty, and not be here for his children. My father has no reason to do so as a favor to Richard, as him and Mr. Glossip have no relationship and have had no communication in the last 17 years. I feel his conscious is getting to him. His fear of recanting, but guilt about not doing so, makes it obvious that information he is sitting on would exonerate Mr. Glossip. I’m sure if he felt safe that he would not lose his Plea Agreement, he would give new and truthful testimony, much different that his Testimony 17 years ago. He has asked me several times to look into what the legal ramifications would be to his own case if he recanted.
Due to the massive amount of doubt surrounding Glossip’s conviction, his case has garnered worldwide attention, including from Pope Francis who on Wednesday urged Governor Mary Fallin to commute his death sentence and nearly 250,000 signers of a petition calling for his release. His supporters claim that his innocence makes his incarceration a gross violation of human rights, compounded by the multiple close calls he has had with the Oklahoma death chamber.
These brushes with death are described in a timeline of his case compiled by local Tulsa TV channel KJRH:
May 28, 2014 – Glossip’s execution date is set for Nov. 20, 2014.
Oct. 13, 2014 – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says the state does not have the drugs on hand or the medical staff prepared that is needed to carry out the state’s upcoming executions.
Oct. 24, 2014 – Stay of execution granted for Glossip and two other Oklahoma death row inmates
Oct. 24, 2014 – A state board voted unanimously not to recommend clemency for Glossip
Nov. 20, 2014 – Date Glossip was to be executed
Jan. 26, 2015 – State Attorney General Scott Pruitt asks for stays of execution for three death row inmates, including Glossip.
Jan. 26, 2015 – Application for stay of execution filed with United States Supreme Court. Glossip and two other inmates filed the application.
Jan. 28, 2015 – Supreme Court takes up inmates’ application for stays, pending final disposition of the case.
Jan. 28, 2015 – Glossip meets face-to-face with Sister Helen Prejean at the law library inside Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Jan. 29, 2015 – Date Glossip was to be executed.
Aug. 10, 2015 – Actress Susan Sarandon takes to Twitter to fight against Glossip’s execution. She and Prejean rebutted tweets sent out by a spokesperson for Gov. Mary Fallin’s office.
Aug. 28, 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court rejects a request for a new hearing. Scheduled execution will proceed.
Sept. 14, 2015 – Glossip’s attorneys claim to have new evidence days before client is scheduled to die.
Sept. 16, 2015 – Hours before his execution was to be carried out, anappeals court issued an emergency request for a stay for two weeks until Sept. 30.
As journalists Ziva Branstetter and Cary Aspinwall described the scene yesterday at the prison where Glossip was scheduled to die at 3:00 PM,
Outside the white walls of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Glossip’s family and friends thought he was already dead. Reporters heard them crying out in anguish when they learned the Supreme Court had denied Glossip’s request for a stay.
It turned out Oklahoma didn’t have the right lethal drug to carry out the last step of his execution. Instead of potassium chloride, which stops the heart, the prison had potassium acetate.
“That’s just crazy,” Glossip said, via speakerphone held up as reporters crowded around. “Nobody has really said much of anything.”
Glossip has had four stays of execution, including on Sept. 16, the day he was to be put to death. The stay on Wednesday “is the most stressful it has been.” He had been moved to a holding cell and was not taken into the death chamber.
“I’m sitting there watching TV trying to keep up with the news and find out what’s going on,” he said.
So, basically, because the state of Oklahoma purchased the wrong drug to use on Glossip he got one more stay of execution with a new date to die in 37 days’ time. But as Sister Helen Prejean noted in a tweet yesterday following the Governor’s stay of execution, “If Oklahoma can’t be trusted to buy the right lethal injection drugs, how can anyone trust them to convict the right person?”
Beyond serious questions regarding the basic competence of Oklahoma state officials, yesterday’s stay of execution raises grave issues over the state’s – and by extension, the U.S.’s – compliance with the UN’s Convention Against Torture (CAT), which defines the crime of torture in Article 1:
[T]orture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
As a state party to the CAT, the United States has adopted domestic legislation to ensure compliance with the treaty’s provisions. The Torture Statute, formally known as Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code, defines the crime of torture as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”
“Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from:
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death.
Considering the fact that Richard Glossip has now faced the threat of imminent death not once, not twice, but four times, it is clear that his treatment violates the letter and spirit of both international conventions and domestic statutes. It is effectively a mock execution, which is even prohibited under U.S. military interrogation and detention guidelines.
The likelihood that he is in fact innocent only compounds the tragedy and seriously calls into question the United States’ commitment to basic human rights.
For more on the Glossip case, click here.
To add your name to the petition demanding that his execution be stopped once and for all, click here.
Led by the United States, the international community has in recent days grown increasingly critical of the Syrian government for its indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on civilian populations. President Barack Obama highlighted the issue in his address to the United Nations Monday, noting that Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad “drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children,” and Secretary of State John Kerry drove the point home Tuesday by calling on Russia and Iran to force Assad to stop using these weapons.
The Iranians and the Russians, Kerry said, are “in a position, in exchange perhaps for something that we might do, they might decide to keep Assad from dropping barrel bombs,” which are essentially oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel that are rolled out the back door of military helicopters. To be sure, they are heinous weapons which are most likely illegal under international conventions.
But what about the U.S.’s close ally in the region, Saudi Arabia? What sort of reaction is there for the Saudi regime’s use of barrel bombs on civilians in its war against Houthi rebels in Yemen? Of course, when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s massive violations of human rights, including its use of both cluster bombs and barrel bombs, there is only deafening silence from Washington, which continues to shower Riyadh with military assistance.
The U.S. arms transfers to Saudi Arabia are likely a violation of the recently adopted Arms Trade Treaty, as Amnesty International explained in a fact sheet published last month. “In June-July 2015, Amnesty International researchers investigated eight airstrikes carried out by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in different parts of Yemen which resulted in scores of deaths and injuries to civilians, and demonstrated a clear failure to abide by the requirements of international humanitarian law,” noted Amnesty.
In response, Amnesty called for strict safeguards in the supply of weapons and their use In line the Arms Trade Treaty, which has been signed but not ratified by the United States:
Amnesty International is calling on States supplying weapons and ammunition to adopt a preventive approach and apply strict safeguards in order to mitigate and remove the substantial risk of the arms being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law; States must carry out rigorous risk assessments against strict human rights criteria before authorizing any arms transfer/military assistance; States must also implement robust post-delivery controls on all transfers. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition involved directly or indirectly in air strikes or other military operations must refrain from carrying out indiscriminate attacks or direct attacks on civilians, including through the use of unguided air bombardment in densely populated areas.
In another recent report, Amnesty International pointed out that its assistance “makes the United States partly responsible for civilian casualties resulting from unlawful attacks” in Yemen. Amnesty also noted that “the countries that supplied the weapons have a responsibility to ensure that they are not used to commit violations of international law.”
The human rights group further described the situation in Yemen as dire. “Prior to the conflict, more than half of Yemen’s population was in need of some humanitarian assistance,” according to Amnesty. “That number has now increased to more than 80 percent, while a coalition-imposed blockade on commercial imports remains in place in much of the country and the ability of international aid agencies to deliver desperately needed supplies continues to be hindered by the conflict.”
Not only is the United States fueling this humanitarian disaster with its no-questions-asked weapons transfers, it is also directly assisting the Saudis with in-air refueling, combat-search-and-rescue support, and providing intelligence on target selection. It is also providing the Saudis banned cluster munitions which are being used against Yemeni civilians.
The U.S. is also directly killing Yemeni civilians through its drone strikes concentrated in the eastern part of the country, with attacks this month killing a number of innocent people. Altogether, since 2002 there have been at least 127 U.S. drone strikes on Yemen that have killed an estimated 100 civilians and injured hundreds more.
In addition, the U.S. government is providing crucial diplomatic support to the Saudi regime’s campaign at the United Nations to block a human rights inquiry into its assault on Yemen. A proposal submitted by the Netherlands last week calls for the UN Human Rights Council to launch a probe into abuses committed by all parties in Yemen, but Saudi Arabia and its key allies appear determined to prevent such an investigation.
“Saudi diplomats have robustly lobbied Asian, African and European states through their capitals or missions in Geneva,” reported the New York Times. While President Barack Obama has so far remained silent on the resolution, U.S. allies Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates “have argued for shelving [the] plans,” according to Foreign Policy journalist Colum Lynch.
Quite simply, without support from the United States military the Saudis would not be able to sustain its war either politically or logistically, lacking the capability to independently carry out airstrikes over Yemen for any period of time. Yet, when pressed about the U.S. support for Saudi war crimes, U.S. officials simply say, “I would refer you to the Saudis.”
This is why U.S. statements on Syria’s use of barrel bombs should be taken with a grain of salt. It is simply not credible for the United States to feign outrage over war crimes taking place in Syria while enabling war crimes taking place in Saudi Arabia. At the very least, there should be some consistency introduced to U.S. foreign policy which would both increase U.S. credibility and prevent the needless suffering of civilians.
While the U.S. government pushes for the adoption of international norms on cybersecurity, including on questions of critical infrastructure protection, a grassroots effort is underway to establish binding international law to protect the rights of citizens from electronic surveillance, including the bulk collection of data exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden more than two years ago.
A campaign for a new global treaty against government mass surveillance – entitled the “The International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers,” or the “Snowden Treaty” for short – was launched yesterday in New York. While the full text of the treaty is yet to be released, an executive summary calls on signatories “to enact concrete changes to outlaw mass surveillance,” increase efforts to provide “oversight of state surveillance,” and “develop international protections for whistleblowers.”
As reported yesterday at The Intercept, “Since the Snowden revelations there has been increasing public recognition of the threat to global privacy, with the United Nations announcing the appointment of its first Special Rapporteur on this issue in March, followed by calls for the creation of a new Geneva Convention on internet privacy.”
The treaty effort is being spearheaded by the global activist organization Avaaz, working closely with David Miranda, who was detained and interrogated by British authorities at Heathrow airport in 2013 in relation to his work exposing NSA and GCHQ abuses with his partner Glenn Greenwald.
“We sat down with legal, privacy and technology experts from around the world and are working to create a document that will demand the right to privacy for people around the world,” Miranda said. Pointing out that governments and private corporations are moving to protect themselves from spying and espionage, Miranda added that “we see changes happening, corporations are taking steps to protect themselves, and we need to take steps to protect ourselves too.”
Snowden spoke via a video link at the event launching the campaign to say that the treaty effort is part of a larger movement to build popular pressure to convince governments to recognize privacy as a fundamental human right – a right already codified in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Although Article 17 of the ICCPR stipulates that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation,” some advocates believe that further elaboration is needed to ensure the full protection of privacy rights. The UN Human Rights Committee has raised concerns with the United States that its surveillance activities may violate both Articles 17 and 19, but no real changes to policy have been made.
The treaty is also necessary, Snowden said, to ensure internationally guaranteed protections to whistleblowers such as himself. Snowden cited the threat of pervasive surveillance in the United States, stating that “the same tactics that the NSA and the CIA collaborated on in places like Yemen are migrating home to be used in the United States against common criminals and people who pose no threat to national security.”
With world leaders meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia this week to review the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the United States is once again being reminded how out of step it is on international norms in general and on the issue of cluster bombs in particular.
Cluster munitions scatter bomblets over a wide area, posing a grave threat to civilians in conflict zones. When they detonate over civilian areas, they tear to shreds any human being in the vicinity, ripping off limbs, killing and maiming randomly, and causing immense pain and suffering, including to children. After the cessation of conflicts, the weapons continue to pose a threat by leaving remnants that fail to explode upon impact which essentially become landmines.
As part of the ongoing global effort to eliminate these heinous weapons, the First Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is taking place from September 7-11, including participation by stakeholders from States Parties to the Convention, signatory states, observer states, UN agencies, international and regional organizations and civil society. Notably absent is the United States, which along with about 75 other countries in the world, has refused to join the Convention.
The U.S. position is that cluster bombs, despite their indiscriminate and horrific effects on civilians, are a legitimate and necessary component of the Pentagon’s arsenal, and those of its allies such as Ukraine and Saudi Arabia which use them routinely against civilians. The U.S. insistence on maintaining a cluster munitions stockpile and providing them to other countries makes the U.S. a notable outlier in international opinion on these weapons, and is undermining efforts to eliminate them globally.
As Human Rights Watch’s Mary Wareham recently pointed out in a column for Huffington Post:
The U.S. is not a party to the international Convention on Cluster Munitions. But its reluctance to press Saudi Arabia on cluster munition use in Yemen appears to be having an impact on three close allies who are parties to that treaty. Australia, the UK and Canada want to water down language in draft documents to be issued by the First Five-Year Review Conference of the treaty, which opens September 7 in Dubrovnik, Croatia. This issue is fueling a fight that may overshadow the conference.
The advocacy group Cluster Munition Coalition issued its annual report last week finding that cluster bombs had been used in five countries over the past year: Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine and Sudan.
Although the United States may not have actually dropped these bombs directly in those five countries, it is nonetheless largely culpable for their use. As Glenn Greenwald points out in a recent article, “the U.S. has long been and remains one of the world’s most aggressive suppliers of cluster munitions, and has used those banned weapons itself in devastating ways.”
Two years ago, it was announced that Saudi Arabia would by buy 1,300 new CBU-105 cluster bombs from U.S. manufacturer Textron Defense Systems for $641 million. The announcement on Aug. 21, 2013 was criticized at the time as “a regressive step that goes against the norms of the treaty that outlawed these weapons in 2008.”
The U.S. has also personally used cluster bombs as recently as December 2009, when President Obama ordered a cruise missile strike on al-Majala in southern Yemen. That strike killed 35 women and children, and among the munitions used were cluster bombs, including ones designed to scatter 166 bomblets. The U.S. also used them extensively in its invasion of Iraq, where it dropped 10,800 cluster bombs.
“The bomblets packed inside these weapons wiped out Iraqi troop formations and silenced Iraqi artillery,” reported USA Today in December 2003. “They also killed civilians. These unintentional deaths added to the hostility that has complicated the U.S. occupation.”
Saudi Arabia’s current use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in Yemen is taking a horrible toll on the civilian population there. As Human Rights Watch explains,
Banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians including a child in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen. .. In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft. In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, Human Rights Watch was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.
These weapons have been supplied to Saudi Arabia by the United States, which knowingly and tacitly supports their use in Yemen. As a recent report in U.S. News made clear,
The U.S. knows the Saudi government has employed cluster bombs in its ongoing war against Shiite Muslim rebels in neighboring Yemen, but has done little if anything to stop the use of the indiscriminate and deadly weapons during what has become a human rights catastrophe in one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.
With watchdog groups warning of war crimes and attacks striking civilians in Yemen, the Pentagon declined to comment publicly on whether it has discussed cluster bombs with Saudi Arabia or encouraged its military to cease using them, deferring all such questions to the State Department. But a Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells U.S. News “the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”
Despite not having ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the United States is still bound by international law to prevent its weapons from being used in violation of international accords such as the Geneva Conventions, as HRW Director Ken Roth recently explained on Democracy Now:
As you note, the fact that the relevant countries have not ratified the cluster munitions treaty, while it would be helpful to do so, it’s not decisive, because all of them have ratified the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit indiscriminate warfare. And cluster munitions are, by definition, indiscriminate. They scatter over wide areas, so they should never be used in civilian-populated areas to begin with. Plus they leave a residue. Not every munition explodes on contact with the ground, and they become antipersonnel land mines for people to just stumble upon and die. So the U.S. should be using pressure on the Saudis not to be using these weapons at all, but certainly not to be using them in populated areas where, as we’re seeing, Yemenis are being killed.
Discussing how out of step the U.S. is with the rest of the world, Roth said, “as most nations of the world want to ban these inherently indiscriminate weapons, the U.S. has a huge arsenal of them, it doesn’t want that arsenal limited, and it hates the idea of treaties that are restraining the Pentagon on humanitarian grounds.”
Yet, in spite of U.S. intransigence, the stigmatization of cluster bombs continues to gain momentum.
As of last month, 117 countries had joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, of which 95 are States Parties. At the review conference in Dubrovnik this week, participants will be focused on how to expand the universalization of the treaty, promote storage and stockpile destruction, enhance risk reduction education, develop international cooperation and assistance, promote transparency, ensure compliance, develop national implementation measures, and facilitate implementation support.
As the International Committee of the Red Cross explained before the conference began, one of its overriding purposes is to raise the political costs for rogue states such as Saudi Arabia and the U.S. who insist on using these weapons to achieve their geopolitical goals:
[I]f we are to put an end for all time to the suffering and casualties caused by cluster munitions, the stigmatization of these weapons must continue to be strengthened. In the ICRC’s view, any use of cluster munitions by any party is unacceptable. In this respect, I am heartened by the condemnations and deep concern expressed by many States Parties about the use of cluster munitions in recent armed conflicts. The international community must never be complacent about the use of these weapons or their severe consequences in humanitarian terms.
While it may be a long time coming before the United States begins to respect international norms on cluster bombs, its shameful record on this issue should raise doubts any time a U.S. government official speaks about international norms or human rights in any other context. In this way, its isolation could continue to grow and its credibility eroded — at which point it may have to make a choice between its beloved cluster bombs or its position as a world power.
Earlier this month, UN Special Rapporteur Sarah Cleveland presented a draft report on follow-up to the concluding observations of the UN’s Human Rights Committee regarding the compliance of the United States with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Human Rights Committee on July 13 discussed the progress report, which found the U.S. response to previous inquiries to be largely unsatisfactory.
“The Special Rapporteur briefly overviewed the system of the assessment of replies by States parties,” noted the Human Rights Committee on its website, “which included a scale from A – ‘largely satisfactory’ to C2 – ‘response received, but not relevant to the recommendations’.”
Specifically, regarding the U.S.:
While the United States of America had provided information on convictions of four Blackwater contractors for their crimes in Iraq, the Committee required information on investigations, prosecutions or convictions of United States’ Government personnel in Iraq. The Committee regretted that no action had been taken to incorporate the doctrine of command responsibility into the criminal law. The Committee reiterated its concern about the reports that the immunity provided by “Stand Your Ground” laws had expanded. Transfer and/or trial of detainees from Guantanamo ought to be sped up; even today, a number of people were administratively detained there without being charged or tried. Given the lack of specific information provided by the State party on measures to ensure that interference with the right to privacy, in line with the established principles, and regardless of the nationality or location of the individual under surveillance, the Committee reiterated its request for information.
The full U.S. grades are as follows:
As journalist Kevin Gosztola further explained the grading scale:
To understand the grades, “B1″ means “substantive action” took place but the committee still wants more information. “B2″ means some initial action was taken. “C1″ means US replied to UN but did not take actions to implement recommendation. “C2″ means US replied, and the reply was irrelevant to the committee’s recommendation. “D1″ means US did not cooperate with the committee on this recommendation.
While the U.S. received a relatively high “B1″ grade for declassifying part of the report of the Senate report on torture and a “B2″ grade for investigating cases of unlawful killing, torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, and enforced disappearances, and expediting the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, no “A” grades were given for anything.
The committee issued a “C2″ grade for the continued detention of detainees at Guantanamo and in facilities in Afghanistan. For its mass surveillance policies, received a “C1″ grade for failing to ensure surveillance complies with the ICCPR.
The worst grade given was a “D1″ for a lack of access to remedies for victims of surveillance abuse.
In response to these poor grades, the U.S. Human Rights Network urged the Obama administration to follow up on ensuring full compliance with the United States’ human rights obligations.
Last May, a review by the UN Human Rights Council found that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards as enshrined not only in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other landmark human rights treaties – some of which the U.S. refuses to ratify.
President Barack Obama issued one of his most hypocritical statements in weeks when he scolded Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday for his alleged support of separatist rebels operating in eastern Ukraine.
“He’s got to make a decision,” Obama said of Putin. “Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to re-create the glories of the Soviet empire? Or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?”
Hearing the president of the United States lecture others about the importance of respecting countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity was a bit like listening to a serial rapist lecturing other men about the importance of respecting women’s rights.
Of course, as Obama was uttering these duplicitous platitudes – the hypocrisy of which went completely unchallenged by the journalists in attendance at the press conference – the United States was continuing to violate the sovereignty of multiple countries, including Syria and Pakistan.
On the same day that Obama insisted on Russia’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the U.S. launched nine air strikes in Syria, attacks that are unauthorized by the UN Security Council and against the stated wishes of the Syrian government, rendering them a blatant violation of international law.
Six of the air strikes were concentrated around Kobani near the Turkish border and three near the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, according to the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force. One of the air strikes apparently killed an entire family of seven, including five children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In Pakistan, the U.S. has been carrying out drone strikes for years, in complete disregard of the repeated protests of the Pakistani government complaining about the violations of that country’s sovereignty. As recently as last month, Pakistan’s Foreign Office condemned a U.S. drone strike that killed at least five people in North Waziristan, reiterating its stance that such attacks are a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“A drone strike on May 16, 2015 resulted in a number of casualties in the Mana area of North Waziristan agency,” said the Foreign Office in a statement.
“These (strikes) generate distrust among the local populace at a time when Operation Zarb-e-Azb is moving ahead decisively and the focus of the government is shifting towards rehabilitation of the civilian population. We reiterate our call for a cessation of such strikes,” the Foreign Office said.
But the U.S. can’t be bothered to acknowledge or apologize for its blatant violations of international law, or its routine, tragic killings of innocent people. It is now being sued in fact by the families of two Yemeni men killed in 2012, alleging they were innocent bystanders hit by missiles from a U.S. drone strike and calling for an acknowledgement of their unlawful deaths.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed June 7, the families of Salem bin Ali Jaber and Waleed bin Ali Jaber said their deaths “violated the laws of war and norms of customary international law” and “provide a case study of the failures of the drone war.”
The strike on Aug. 29, 2012 “killed two innocent members of a prominent local family, Salem bin Ali Jaber and Waleed bin Ali Jaber,” according to the complaint. “By this complaint, the estates of Salem and Waleed seek to hold accountable those responsible for their wrongful deaths.”
The lawsuit does not seek any monetary relief, but rather a declaratory judgement and an apology. As the complaint points out,
Rarely but occasionally, the U.S. government addresses the reality that its drones kill innocents, and expresses official regret. Only weeks ago the President addressed the nation about two other innocents killed by a U.S. drone: an Italian citizen and an American, who were mistakenly hit in a drone strike in Pakistan while being held hostage by al Qaeda. In his televised statement, the President explained that “the [victims’] families deserve to know the truth,” and claimed that his apology showed the U.S. is willing “to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
There is a simple question at the heart of this claim. The President has now admitted to killing innocent Americans and Italians with drones; why are the bereaved families of innocent Yemenis less entitled to the truth?
Even as the United States does occasionally concede that it sometimes kills innocent people, which is at least a tacit confirmation that its actions are not exactly in accordance with international law, it still can’t resist the temptation to point its bloody finger at others for doing the same thing.
Not only did President Obama just issue that hypocritical warning to Russia, but a number of “progressive” lawmakers have just published an op-ed in the journal Foreign Affairs expressing the urgent need to confront Russia and China over their alleged violations of international norms.
In “Principles for a Progressive Foreign Policy,” Democratic senators Chris Murphy, Brian Schatz, and Martin Heinrich warn that “traditional powers such as Russia and China are challenging international norms and pushing the boundaries of their influence.”
In response to these new challenges, as well as threats such as pandemic disease and global climate change, “the United States [must] think anew about the tools that it will use to lead the world, including reaching beyond the military budget to rediscover the power of non-kinetic statecraft.”
To their credit, these senators acknowledged that in order for the U.S. to have any credibility on the world stage, it “should practice what it preaches regarding civil and human rights, and defend its values internationally.”
“Actions abroad that are illegal under U.S. law and out of step with American values, such as torture, must be prohibited,” they continued. “Human rights and gender equality should not be viewed as secondary to security issues, but appropriately recognized as essential to long-term global stability.”
The senators are only partially right, and they left unsaid the most important thing – namely that violations must not only be “prohibited” but also prosecuted and punished. Torture of course is already “prohibited,” as is murder and violations of countries’ territorial integrity, so what the U.S. really needs to do is punish those who violate the law.
And please, stop hypocritically blaming others for doing the same thing.
In a recent interview with Democracy Now!, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange provided an inside account of the controversial grounding of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane by the United States in July 2013.
WikiLeaks had been providing logistical support and legal advice to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in his quest to reach Latin America for political asylum in the wake of his massive disclosures of the NSA’s bulk surveillance programs, and to keep the U.S. manhunt for Snowden off-track, was using various decoys and distractions, recounted Assange.
There was an international oil conference in Moscow at the time, Assange recalled, and because several presidential jets were departing the Russian capital at around the same time, there were discussions within the WikiLeaks organization whether to utilize one of those planes in order to ferry Snowden out. In their coded language WikiLeaks referred to Bolivia in order to confuse U.S. investigators who were hunting down Snowden (and presumably tapping WikiLeaks’ phones and reading their emails to do so).
This coded language was picked up by the U.S. intelligence community and was combined with a statement that President Morales had made publicly that was generally supportive of Snowden, and as Assange describes it, they “put two and two together and made 22.” As he told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman in an interview aired Thursday:
A number of presidential jets are flying back, and we are considering one of these. And so, we then—our code language that we used deliberately swapped the presidential jet that we were considering for the Bolivian jet. And so we just spoke about Bolivia in order to distract from the actual candidate jet. And in some of our communications, we deliberately spoke about that on open lines to lawyers in the United States. And we didn’t think much more of it. We had engaged in a number of these distraction operations in the asylum maneuver from Hong Kong, for example, booking him on flights to India through Beijing and other forms of distraction, like Iceland, for example. We didn’t think this was anything more than just distracting.
But the U.S. picked up a statement, a supportive statement made in Moscow by President Evo Morales, and appears to have picked up our codeword for the actual operation, and put two and two together and made 22, and then pressured France—successfully pressured France, Portugal and Spain to close their airspace to President Evo Morales’s jet in its flight from Moscow to the Canary Islands for refueling and then back to Bolivia. And as a result, it was forced to land in Vienna. And then, once in Vienna, there was pressure to search the plane.
Although Morales refused to let the authorities board the plane, which under international law functions as a “flying embassy” with all of the rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed by the 1961 Vienna Convention, the fact that the United States forced the plane to land at all was a serious breach of diplomatic protocol and international law, for which Washington has still refused to apologize.
It also demonstrated the intense arrogance and contempt that the United States shows to Latin America in general and the subservient nature of European countries to the superpower across the pond.
At the time, a livid Evo Morales stated that “We have had enough humiliation at the hands of the Americans,” arguing that the incident revealed a “neo-colonial” attitude to his entire continent.
“It is a crime not against Evo Morales, but against the people of South America and the Caribbean. It is utter discrimination,” he said, insisting that no head of state should be treated as a “second-rate president.”
The incident also demonstrated that despite occasional grumblings from Europe about U.S. misconduct on the world stage, Europeans will always kowtow to Washington when pressured.
Although European leaders were humiliated by the United States when it was revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks that the NSA had been tapping the telephone lines and computer networks of EU offices in Brussels, New York and Washington — as well as the governments of Germany, France, Greece, Italy and others — Europe fell into line in submitting to U.S. dictates regarding Snowden’s asylum requests, and then agreed to cooperate in the illegal grounding of Morales’ plane.
Just like forcing down the Bolivian president’s plane, the U.S. spying on diplomatic missions of the EU and European nations was a violation of the Vienna Convention which states that “the official correspondence” as well as “the premises” of diplomatic missions “shall be inviolable.”
When Snowden’s leaks revealed the NSA snooping into the emails and phone conversations of European nations, European leaders feigned outrage. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, described the disclosures of massive U.S. spying in Europe as unacceptable.
Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said, “If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and individual European countries have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable.”
The French president, François Hollande, also called the spying intolerable.
“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies,” Hollande said. “We ask that this stop immediately.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that if confirmed, the activities would be “totally unacceptable.”
Yet, when push came to shove, European leaders fell over each other to do the bidding of the United States, even when they were asked to violate international law in forcing down the plane of a sitting head of state, an act that was described at the time as “an act of air piracy and state terrorism.”
As Assange explained it on Democracy Now!:
So, it’s really a quite extraordinary situation that reveals the true nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States and what it claims are its values of human rights and asylum and the rights to asylum and so, and respecting the rule of law, the Vienna Convention. Just a phone call from U.S. intelligence was enough to close the airspace to a booked presidential flight, which has immunity. And they got it wrong. They spent all that political capital in demanding this urgent favor to close the airspace, which was humiliating to those Western European countries, and they got it wrong.
Assange recommends that the appropriate thing to do at this point is issue apologies all around. “The U.S. should apologize to Evo Morales, to Portugal, to Spain, to France” Assange said. “Portugal, Spain and France should apologize to Evo Morales for not following the law.”
He pointed out though that while the grounding was unfortunate for President Morales, it was a good thing to see because “it revealed the arrogance and hypocrisy of the United States in pressuring Western Europe in that way. It revealed the nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States.”
In a practical sense, it also led directly to Russia’s decision to grant Snowden’s asylum request. After this incident, “at a legal level, in terms of asylum law, it was very clear that there could not be a fair process,” explained Assange. Further, not only was it very clear he could not receive asylum in Western Europe, but at a political level, the Russian government had to respond.
As Assange points out, Russia couldn’t react by handing him over, because it would look “weak and unprincipled.” The only other card that Russia had was to grant him asylum.
And two years later, despite one of the largest manhunts in world history, Snowden is still living in the Russian Federation under political asylum. So, not only were the U.S. actions in summer 2013 illegal and arrogant, they were ultimately counterproductive.