Saturday, June 26, 2010

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture - Nothing can justify torture and ill-treatment under any circumstances


Washington, DC – Geneva, 26 June 2010. On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and its member organisation in the United States, Human Rights USA, jointly call on the Government of the United States of America to show its commitment to abolish torture and other forms of ill-treatment by implementing effectively the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

OMCT and Human Rights USA welcome the Obama Administration’s stated desire to bring U.S. policies in line with international human rights norms and, to that end, the decision last year to release previously confidential documentation of torture ordered during interrogations. We also applaud the decisions to release some detainees from Guantánamo Bay to third countries, transfer one terrorism suspect to New York to stand trial in federal court rather than by military tribunal, and order the closure of CIA secret prisons.

However, the administration continues to enforce policies that, as President Obama recognized during his presidential campaign, do not respect human rights. These include detention of suspects at the Guantánamo Bay facility, extraordinary rendition policies, and use of coerced testimony in military tribunals. The U.S. Government has yet to hold accountable government officials who ordered or provided the legal justifications for torture. In addition, the Obama Administration has thwarted efforts by survivors of torture like Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri to access the courts in order to assert their rights, seek remedies, and secure accountability.

On this day dedicated to victims of torture and other ill-treatment, OMCT and Human Rights USA urge the United States Government to launch prompt, effective, independent and impartial investigations into the alleged torture and ill-treatment as well as other human rights violations that took place during the previous administration. The result of such investigations must not only be made public, but criminal prosecutions must moreover be brought against the suspected perpetrators of ill-treatment. If they are found guilty, a penalty proportionate to their crimes should be imposed.

Furthermore, the victims must be granted adequate redress for their suffering, including rehabilitation for physical and psychological impacts of the abuses, as required by the Convention against Torture. The U.S. Government should cease its practice of improperly invoking the “state secrets doctrine,” so that victims will be afforded fair and effective access to independent and impartial courts of law as well as ensured access to all relevant information concerning the reasons for their arrests and detention in order to allow them to effectively challenge the abuses committed and seek adequate redress, including compensation and rehabilitation. The U.S. Government also should avoid seeking “qualified immunity” for Government officials as a means of avoiding liability for torture and other human rights abuses that are already universally prohibited as a matter of law and therefore cannot be considered “official acts” entitled to immunity.

Lastly, the U.S. Government should issue formal apologies to each individual victim of these abuses. By assuming responsibility for these grave abuses of fundamental human rights, the Obama administration would send a strong message to the world that the United States of America takes its duty to protect human rights, including the absolute prohibition against torture, seriously.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Texas Court Sentences Couple for Modern-Day Slavery

On Friday, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced an Arlington, Texas couple for holding their domestic worker in involuntary servitude for more than eight years. The couple will serve prison time and pay over $300,000 in fines for conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, conspiracy to harbor an alien for financial gain, harboring an alien for financial gain, document servitude and false statements to an FBI agent.

According to a Department of Justice press release, the victim, "a widowed mother of six children, including a chronically ill child, was recruited in Nigeria with promises that her children would be cared for in exchange for her work in the United States. Upon arrival in the United States, the defendants confiscated the victim’s passport and never returned it. For more than eight years, the victim cared for the defendants’ children day and night, and cooked and cleaned with no days off. The defendants did not allow the victim out unsupervised; prohibited her from speaking with her children on the phone unsupervised; and forbid her to make friends or converse with the defendants’ friends. According to evidence at trial, the victim also testified that Emmanuel Nnaji also sexually assaulted her. Although the victim was promised that her family would be cared for, her family received a total of about $300 over the eight years. When the victim asked to return to Nigeria, the defendants refused. The victim was ultimately rescued with the assistance of a Catholic priest."

We at Human Rights USA wish these cases were unusual -- but sadly, they are not. So it is encouraging to see the Department of Justice aggressively prosecuting these crimes. We agree with Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division: "The involuntary servitude and mistreatment that this victim endured is intolerable in a nation founded on freedom and individual rights."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Giving Voice to the Victims: UN Human Rights Council's Day of Testimonies

Today in Geneva the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will be listening to testimonies from victims of human trafficking. It is in recognition of the under-reported and under-documented nature of human trafficking that today we dedicate a space for victims and survivors to share their stories.

If you would like to hear their first-hand accounts and learn more about trafficking from the eyes of the victim, follow this link ( to watch a live webcast of the proceedings.

For even more information, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has provided the following literature: