Amnesty Targets U.S. Abuses: Report Contends Law Enforcement Rights Violations Are 'Widespread'

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Report contends law enforcement rights violations are `widespread'

Amnesty International, whose previous worldwide campaigns have targeted such well-known human rights violators as China, Rwanda and Guatemala, has now turned its attention on the United States. For the first time in its 37-year history, human rights abuses in a major Western country will be the focus of a yearlong Amnesty International country campaign.

The London-based human rights organization launched the campaign Oct. 6 with the release of a 153-page report, titled "Rights for All," detailing cases of police brutality and violence against prisoners, among other violations of international standards.

"Human rights violations in the U.S. occur in rural communities and urban centers from coast to coast," said the Nobel Peace Prizewinning organization, which monitors human rights in over 170 countries. "They are committed by sheriffs and judges, by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials and by police and corrections officers in jails and prisons across the country."

While Amnesty International has previously published reports about specific human rights concerns in the United States, this is its first comprehensive country campaign directed at abuses in the United States. Over 1 million Amnesty members worldwide are expected to participate in the U.S. campaign.

Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the organization expects "overwhelming support" from its 300,000 U.S. members for the campaign. "Our interest is not to embarrass, it is to highlight these issues and make recommendations."

`We welcome their scrutiny'

State Department spokesman James Foley said the U.S. government does not object to the Amnesty probe. "We welcome their scrutiny of human rights in the United States in keeping with our recognition of the universality of human rights and our openness as a democratic society," he said in published reports. "We are proud of our political and judicial systems, which we believe are the envy of the world."

Amnesty is calling on its members to help publicize the issues contained in the report by distributing the organization's publications, raising the issue with other groups and writing to the press.

The campaign will also include a letter-writing push to President Clinton, urging him to promote human rights in the United States, and to U.S. diplomatic representatives throughout the world, asking them to relay Amnesty's concerns to U.S. authorities.

William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that the United States' role defending human rights worldwide is weakened by its own abuses. "When the U.S. house is not in order, it makes it harder for the U.S. to take the kind of leadership role in international human rights that many of us in Amnesty would like to see it take,' he said.

Amnesty said its report on the United States "is played out against a national background of economic and racial injustice, a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment and front-page stories of violent crimes committed by children."

Law enforcement abuts were featured prominently in the report, which documents a "widespread and persistent pattern of police brutality."

As part of the USA Campaign, Amnesty International is recommending that the United States:

* establish independent monitoring bodies to investigate allegations of police brutality and abuse in jails and prisons;

* ban the use of stun belts, hog-tying and other dangerous restraint methods;

* ban the routine use of restraints on pregnant female inmates and all restraints during labor;

* restrict and regulate the interactions of male staff with female inmates to prevent sexual abuse;

* ratify, without reservations, the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;

* detain asylum-seekers only as a last resort and never with criminal defendants;

* ban the death penalty for juvenile offenders as a first step toward total abolition;

* adopt a code of conduct covering all transfers of military, security and police equipment, services and expertise to other countries. …