U.N. Committee Calls On U.S. to Crack Down on Police Brutality

Committee Against Torture
Activists hold hands during a silent protest at a hearing of the United States at the Committee against Torture at the United Nations in Geneva on November 13, 2014. Denis Balibouse/REUTERS

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used only in life-threatening situations.

The panel's first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 came in the wake of racially-tinged unrest in cities across the United States this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The committee decried "excruciating pain and prolonged suffering" endured by prisoners during "botched executions" as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons, and extensive use of solitary confinement.

The review cited deep concern about "numerous reports" of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants and homosexuals as well as racial profiling and militarization of policing work.

It referred to the "frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal purusits of unarmed blackindividuals."

The U.S. delegation told the 10 independent experts on the panel that 20 investigations had been opened since 2009 into systematic police abuses and that more than 330 police officers had been prosecuted for brutality.

The U.N. panel said there was insufficient information available on the result of those investigations.

It spoke of "numerous and consistent" reports that U.S. police have used tasers against unarmed people resisting arrest and condemned two recent cases of death in Florida and Illinois.

Tasers should be used only in extreme cases to prevent loss of life or serious injury, the committee said.

It criticized what it called a continued U.S. failure to fully investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment of terrorism suspects held in U.S. custody abroad, "evidenced by the limited number of criminal prosecutions and convictions".

Some 148 inmates are held at the U.S. Guantanamo base in Cuba amid reports, the committee's report said, of "a draconian system of secrecy surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain".

Nine inmates have died, including seven by suicide, since 2006, the report added.

It called for declassifying evidence of torture and detainee abuse committed during former PresidentGeorge W. Bush's administration, and for prosecuting those responsible.