(Reuters) - The United States, under the scrutiny of the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council for the first time on Friday, defended its human rights record as it faced criticism from foes including Cuba and Iran.
A U.S. delegation addressed questions about racial discrimination and the fight against terrorism at the forum, insisted the United States did not allow torture, and said the Obama administration was determined to shut down Guantanamo prison.
Here are some highlights from a report submitted by the U.S. government on the U.S. performance and a “shadow report” submitted by rights activists.
- Lists achievements as a democracy guided by “simple but powerful principles,” but admits to discrimination against blacks and Hispanics and a “broken” immigration system.
- The United States is “currently at war with al Qaeda and its associated forces.” The United States will comply with all applicable domestic and international law in armed conflicts and has ordered foreign detainees be treated humanely.
- The United States protects freedom of expression at home and has a “free, thriving and diverse independent press.”
- It also upholds freedom from religious persecution and has worked to ensure fair treatment of Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asian communities affected by discrimination and intolerance since the September 11 attacks on America.
- Workers are allowed to organize and bargain collectively and the administration is working to help women who face wage discrimination to recover their lost wages.
- Criminal defendants are entitled to constitutional rights including due process, but concerns remain about the U.S. justice system including capital punishment, juvenile justice, racial profiling and racial disparities in sentencing.
- The U.S. report, partly based on meetings held in 10 U.S. cities with representatives of civil society, notes that 32 million Americans are to get health insurance coverage under a new law. It is working to help the homeless, often mentally ill.
More than 300 activist groups, including Amnesty International USA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have issued a separate 400-page report charging that racial, ethnic and gender disparities persist in the United States.
Protection of fundamental freedoms has eroded since the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets, according to the broad coalition known as the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) which denounced “gross shortcomings.”
“Discrimination permeates all aspects of life in the U.S., and extends to all communities of color, and when coupled with discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, disability or other bases, can have a devastating impact,” the activists’ report says.
This “structural racism” negatively affects access to housing, food, jobs, education, health and justice, it adds.
The U.S. immigration system, while generous in many ways, is “riddled with systemic failures to protect human rights.”
“Whether it is migrant laborers who are excluded from workplace protections, children denied education because of the school-to-prison pipeline, or women denied equal pay in the workplace, advocates feel compelled to bring their experiences before international human rights mechanisms because the U.S. legal system has fallen short,” said Sarah Paoletti of USHRN.
Compiled by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn