A recent report by the United Nations High Commision for Human Rights Committee on Torture excoriated the United States for its human rights record at home and abroad in it first review of the United States since 2006. The United States record was reviewed along with those of several other parties to the 1987 U.N Convention Against Torture which was ratified by the United States in 1994. A number of issues raised in the committee's conclusions include:
- Continuing concern over the treatment of military detainees in the "War on Terror" in numerous ways.
- Abuse of the state secrecy privilege and mutual judicial assistance to isolate detainees from legal recourse to their condition.
- The routine use of solitary confinement, including the use of solitary confinement as the status quo in Supermax prisons.
- Vulnerability of prisoners in the United States to violence including sexual assault.
- The continuing increase in the number of deaths at municipal and county jails in the United States.
- Nearly the entire juvenile justice system including the possibility of life imprisonment without opportunity for parole when children are convicted of crimes.
- The death penalty as practiced in the United States with the disturbing number of botched, painful executions.
- Excessive force and police brutality, particularly within the Chicago Police Department.
- Use of electrical discharge weapons as compliance devices in situations where there is no present "real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury – as a substitute for lethal weapons"
- Lack of verifiable training for persons involved Military, Law Enforcement, and other professions concerning the treaty obligations the United States has according to the Convention against Torture.
- Sexual violence in the United States military.
Other desires by the committee include that the United States ratify further the Optional Protocol enhancing its treaty obligation, that the United States disseminate the report widely, and that the United States by November 28th, 2015 submit a follow up report informing the committee of the efforts being taken to remedy its deficiencies. All documents from the treaty body session of the committee are available on their website. The committee's conclusions about the United States are pasted in plaintext below:
Committee against Torture
Concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports
of United States of America
ADVANCE UNEDITED VERSION
The Committee against Torture considered the combined third to fifth periodic
report of the United States of America (CAT/C/USA/3-5) at its 1264th and 1267th meetings,
held on 12 and 13 November 2014 (CAT/C/SR.1264 and 1267), and adopted the
concluding observations at its 1276th and 1277th meeting, held on 20 November 2014
(CAT/C/SR. 1276 and 1277).
The Committee expresses its appreciation to the State party for accepting the
optional reporting procedure as this improves the dialogue between the State party and the
Committee and helps the State party to prepare a more focused report. It notes, however,
that the report was submitted with a two-year delay.
The Committee appreciates the quality of its dialogue with the State party’s highlevel delegation and of the responses provided orally to the questions and concerns raised
during the consideration of the report.
The Committee welcomes the changes in the State party’s legislation and
jurisprudence in areas of relevance to the Convention, including:
Recognition by the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723
(2008), of the extraterritorial application of constitutional habeas corpus rights to aliens
detained by the military as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay;
Presidential Executive Orders 13491 – Ensuring Lawful Interrogations,
13492 – Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval
Base and Closure of Detention Facilities, and 13493 – Review of Detention Policy Options,
issued on 22 January 2009;
Presidential Executive Order 13567 establishing a periodic review of
detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility who have not been charged, convicted
or designated for transfer, issued on 7 March 2011;
Supreme Court’s rulings in Graham v. Florida (2010), prohibiting sentences
of life imprisonment without parole for children convicted of non-homicide offences, and
Miller v. Alabama (2012), barring sentences of mandatory life imprisonment without parole
for children convicted of homicide offences.
The Committee also welcomes the efforts of the State party to amend its policies,
programmes and administrative measures to give effect to the Convention, including:
Adoption of the Directive on the appropriate use of segregation in
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, in 2013; and, ICE revised
Performance-Based National Detention Standards, in 2011;
Promulgation of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to
Sexual Abuse in Confinement Facilities, in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination
Act of 2003 (PREA), in 2012; and, the efforts undertaken by the State party to ensure the
respect of the act in federal, state and local facilities and to collect data on the extent of
sexual violence in detention.
The Committee welcomes the firm and principled position adopted by the State
party with regard to the applicability of the Convention during armed conflict, stating that a
time of war does not suspend the operation of the Convention, which continues to apply
even when the State is engaged in an armed conflict.
It also welcomes the State party’s long standing commitment to the United Nations
Voluntary Funds for Victims of Torture and its mission.
Finally the Committee notes with appreciation President’s Obama public statement
of 1 August 2014 in which he qualified some of the so-called “enhanced interrogationtechniques” as acts of torture.
Principal subjects of concern and recommendations
Definition and criminalization of torture
Notwithstanding the State party’s statement that under U.S. law, acts of torture are
prohibited by various statutes and may be prosecuted in a variety of ways, the Committee
regrets that a specific offence of torture has not been introduced yet at the federal level. The
Committee is of the view that the introduction of such offence, in full conformity with
article 1 of the Convention, would strengthen the human rights protection framework in the
State party. The Committee also regrets that the State party maintains a restrictive
interpretation of the provisions of the Convention and does not intend to withdraw any of
its interpretative understandings lodged at the time of ratification. In particular, the concept
of “prolonged mental harm” introduces a subjective non-measurable element which
undermines the application of the treaty. While noting the delegation’s explanations on this
matter, especially with regard to articles 1 and 16 of the Convention, the Committee recalls
that under international law, reservations that are contrary to the object and purpose of a
treaty are impermissible (arts. 1, 2, paragraph 1 and 4).
The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation (A/55/44, para. 180 (a) and
CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para. 13) that the State party should criminalize torture at the
federal level, in full conformity with article 1 of the Convention, and ensure that
penalties for torture are commensurate with the gravity of this crime. It recommends
the re-introduction of the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act, a bill which
contains a definition of torture and specifically criminalizes acts of torture by law
enforcement personnel and others under the color of law.
The State party should give further consideration to withdrawing its interpretative
understandings and reservations. In particular, it should ensure that acts of
psychological torture are not qualified as “prolonged mental harm”. In this regard,
the Committee draws the attention to its General Comment No. 2 (2007), on the
implementation of article 2 of the Convention by State parties, which states that
serious discrepancies between the Convention’s definition and that incorporated into
domestic law create actual or potential loopholes for impunity (CAT/C/GC/2, para. 9).
The Committee welcomes the State party’s unequivocal commitment to abide by the
universal prohibition of torture and ill-treatment everywhere, including Bagram and
Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, as well as the assurances that U.S. personnel are
legally prohibited under international and domestic law from engaging in torture or cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times, and in all places. The
Committee notes that the State party has reviewed its position concerning the
extraterritorial application of the Convention, and stated that it applies to “certain areas
beyond” its sovereign territory, and more specifically to “all places that the State party
controls as a governmental authority”, noting that it currently exercises such control at “the
U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and over all proceedings conducted there,
and with respect to U.S.-registered ships and aircraft”. The Committee also values the
statement made by the State party’s delegation that the reservation to article 16 of the
Convention, whose intended purpose is to ensure that existing U.S. constitutional standards
satisfy the State party’s obligations under article 16, “does not introduce any limitation to
the geographic applicability of article 16”, and that “the obligations in article 16 apply
beyond the sovereign territory of the United States to any territory under its jurisdiction”
under the terms mentioned above.
However, the Committee is dismayed that the State party’s reservation to article 16 of the
Convention features in various declassified memoranda containing legal interpretations on
the extraterritorial applicability of U.S. obligations under the Convention issued by the
Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) between 2001 and 2009, as part of
deeply flawed legal arguments used to advise that interrogation techniques, which
amounted to torture, could be authorized and used lawfully. While noting that these
memoranda were revoked by Presidential Executive Order 13491 to the extent of their
inconsistency with that order, the Committee remains concerned that the State party has not
withdrawn yet its reservation to article 16 which could permit interpretations incompatible
with the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.
The Committee reiterates its view (CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para. 15) that the State party
should take effective measures to prevent acts of torture not only in its sovereign
territory but also “in any territory under its jurisdiction”. In this respect, the
Committee recalls, as stated in its General Comment No. 2, that ‘any territory’
includes “all areas where the State party exercises, directly or indirectly, in whole or
in part, de jure or de facto effective control, in accordance with international law. The
reference to ‘any territory’ in article 2, like that in articles 5, 11, 12, 13 and 16 [of the
Convention], refers to prohibited acts committed not only on board a ship or aircraft
registered by the a State party, but also during military occupation or peacekeeping
operations and in such places as embassies, military bases, detention facilities, or
other areas which a State party exercises factual or effective control” (para. 16).
The State party should amend the relevant laws and regulations accordingly, and
withdraw its reservation to article 16 as a means to avoid wrongful interpretations.
The Committee expresses its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret
detention and interrogation programme operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations,
including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of
involvement in terrorism-related crimes. While noting the content and scope of Presidential
E.O. 13491, the Committee regrets the scant information provided by the State party with
regard to the now shuttered network of secret detention facilities, which formed part of the
high-value detainee programme publicly referred to by President Bush on 6 September
2006. It also regrets the lack of information provided on the practices of extraordinary
rendition and enforced disappearance; and, on the extent of the CIA’s abusive interrogation
techniques used on suspected terrorists, such as water-boarding. In this regard, the
Committee is closely following the declassification process of the U.S. Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme
(art. 2, 11 and 16).
The Committee recalls the absolute prohibition of torture reflected in article 2,
paragraph 2, of the Convention, stating that “no exceptional circumstances
whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or
any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture”. In this
regard, the Committee draws the attention to paragraph 5 of its General Comment
No. 2 (2007), in which it states that those ‘exceptional circumstances’ include “any
threat of terrorist acts or violent crime as well as armed conflict, international or noninternational”.
The Committee urges the State party to:
Ensure that no one is held in secret detention under its de facto effective
control. The Committee reiterates that detaining individuals in such conditions
constitutes per se a violation of the Convention;
Take all necessary measures to ensure that its legislative, administrative
and other anti-terrorism measures are compatible with the provisions of the
Convention, especially with article 2;
Adopt effective measures to ensure, in law and in practice, that all
detainees are afforded all legal safeguards from the very outset of their deprivation of
liberty, including those mentioned in paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Committee’s
General Comment No. 2.
The Committee calls for the declassification and prompt public release of the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s secret detention and
interrogation programme with minimal redactions.
The Committee also encourages the State party to ratify the International Convention
for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Inquiries into allegations of torture overseas
The Committee expresses concern over the ongoing failure to fully investigate
allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects held in U.S. custody abroad, evidenced
by the limited number of criminal prosecutions and convictions. In this respect, the
Committee notes that during the period under review, the Department of Justice (DoJ)
successfully prosecuted two instances of extrajudicial killings of detainees by Department
of Defense and CIA contractors in Afghanistan. It also notes the additional information
provided by the State party’s delegation regarding the criminal investigation undertaken by
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into allegations of detainee mistreatment while in
U.S. custody at overseas locations. The Committee regrets, however, that the delegation
was not in a position to describe the investigative methods employed by Mr. Durham or the
identities of any witnesses his team may have interviewed. Thus, the Committee remains
concerned about information before it that some former CIA detainees, who had been held
in U.S. custody abroad, were never interviewed during the investigations, casting doubts as
to whether this high-profile inquiry was properly conducted. The Committee also notes that
the DoJ announced on 30 June 2011 the opening of a full investigation into the deaths of
two individuals while in U.S. custody at overseas locations. However, Mr. Durham’s
review concluded that the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain
convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. The Committee shares the concerns expressed at
the time by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture over the decision not to prosecute and
punish the alleged authors of these deaths. It further expresses concern about the absence of
criminal prosecutions for the alleged destruction of torture evidence by CIA personnel, such
as the destruction of the 92 videotapes of interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and ‘Abd alNashiri that triggered Mr. Durham’s initial mandate. The Committee notes that in
November 2011 the DoJ determined, based on the Mr. Durham’s review, not to initiate
prosecutions of those cases (arts. 2, 12, 13 and 16).
The Committee urges the State party to:
Carry out prompt, impartial and effective investigations wherever there
is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture and ill-treatment has been
committed in any territory under its jurisdiction, especially in those cases resulting in
death in custody;
Ensure that alleged perpetrators and accomplices are duly prosecuted,
including persons in positions of command and those who provided legal cover to
torture, and, if found guilty, handed down penalties commensurate with the grave
nature of their acts. In this connection, the Committee draws the attention to
paragraphs 9 and 26 of its General Comment No. 2;
Provide effective remedies and redress to victims, including fair and
adequate compensation, and as full rehabilitation as possible, in accordance with the
Committee’s General Comment No. 3 (2012) on the implementation of article 14 of the
Convention by State parties (CAT/C/GC/3);
Undertake a full review into the way the CIA’s responsibilities were
discharged in relation to the allegations of torture and ill-treatment against suspects
during U.S. custody abroad. In the event of a re-opening of investigations, the State
party should ensure that any such inquiries are designed to address the alleged
shortcomings in the thoroughness of the previous reviews and investigations.
Military accountability for abuses
The information provided by the State party’s delegation indicates that the U.S.
Department of Defense (DoD) has conducted “thousands of investigations since 2001 and
prosecuted or disciplined hundreds of service members for mistreatment of detainees and
other misconduct”. However, the Committee regrets that in the course of the dialogue, the
delegation provided minimal statistics on the number of investigations, prosecutions,
disciplinary proceedings and corresponding reparations. It has also received insufficient
information about the sentences and criminal or disciplinary sanctions imposed on
offenders, or on whether the alleged perpetrators of these acts were suspended or expelled
from the U.S. military pending the outcome of the investigation of the abuses. In the
absence of this information, the Committee finds itself unable to assess whether the State
party’s actions are in conformity with the provisions of article 12 of the Convention (arts. 2,
12, 13, 14 and 16).
The Committee urges the State party to:
Ensure the prompt and impartial investigation of all instances of torture
and ill-treatment by military personnel, that alleged perpetrators are prosecuted, and,
if found guilty, punish appropriately, and that effective reparation, including
adequate compensation, is granted to every victim;
Ensure that alleged perpetrators of torture or ill-treatment are
suspended from duty immediately for the duration of the investigation, particularly
when there is a risk that they might otherwise be in a position to repeat the alleged act
or to obstruct the investigation.
Guantanamo Bay detention facilities
The Committee expresses its deep concern about the fact that the State party
continues to hold a number of individuals without charge at Guantanamo Bay detention
facilities. Notwithstanding the State party’s position that these individuals have been
captured and detained as “enemy belligerents” and that under the law of war is permitted
“to hold them until the end of the hostilities”, the Committee reiterates that indefinite
detention constitutes per se a violation of the Convention. According to the figures
provided by the delegation, to date, out of the 148 men still held at the facility, only 33 have
been designated for potential prosecution, either in federal court or by military commissions
– a system that fails to meet international fair trial standards. The Committee notes with
concern that 36 others have been designated for “continued law of war detention”. While
noting that detainees held in Guantanamo have the constitutional privilege of the writ of
habeas corpus, the Committee is concerned at reports that indicate that federal courts have
rejected a significant number of habeas corpus petitions.
While noting the explanations provided by the State party concerning the conditions of
detention at Guantanamo, the Committee remains concerned about the secrecy surrounding
conditions of confinement, especially in Camp 7 where high-value detainees are housed. It
also notes the studies received on the cumulative effect that the conditions of detention and
treatment in Guantanamo have had on the psychological health of detainees. There have
been nine deaths in Guantanamo during the period under review, including seven suicides.
In this respect, another cause of concern is the repeated suicide attempts and recurrent mass
hunger strike protests by detainees over indefinite detention and conditions of detention. In
this connection, the Committee considers that force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike
constitutes ill-treatment in violation of the Convention. Furthermore, it notes that detainees’
lawyers have argued in court that force feedings are allegedly administered in an
unnecessarily brutal and painful manner (arts. 2, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16).
The Committee calls upon the State party to take immediate and effective measures
Cease the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial for
individuals suspected of terrorism-related activities;
Ensure that detainees held at Guantanamo who are designated for
potential prosecution be charged and tried in ordinary federal civilian courts. Any
other detainees who are not to be charged or tried should be immediately released.
Detainees and their counsels must have access to all evidence used to justify the
Investigate allegations of detainee abuse, including torture and illtreatment, appropriately prosecute those responsible, and ensure effective redress for
Improve the detainees’ situation so as to persuade them to cease the
Put an end to force-feeding of detainees in hunger strike as long as they
are able to take informed decisions;
Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to visit Guantanamo Bay
detention facilities, with full access to the detainees, including private meetings with
them, in conformity with the terms of reference for fact-finding missions by Special
Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.
The Committee reiterates its earlier recommendation (CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para 22)
that the State party should close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, as
instructed in section 3 of Executive Order 13492 of 22 January 2009.
Abuse of State secrecy provisions and mutual judicial assistance
The Committee expresses its serious concern at the use of State secrecy provisions
and immunities to evade liability. While noting the delegation’s statement that the State
party abides by its obligations under article 15 of the Convention in the administrative
procedures established to review the status of law of war detainees in Guantanamo, the
Committee is particularly disturbed at reports describing a draconian system of secrecy
surrounding high-value detainees that keeps their torture claims out of the public domain.
Furthermore, the regime applied to these detainees prevents access to an effective remedy
and reparations, and hinders investigations into human rights violations by other States
(arts. 9, 12, 13, 14 and 16).
The Committee calls for the declassification of torture evidence, in particular
Guantanamo detainees’ accounts of torture. The State party should ensure that all
victims of torture are able to access a remedy and obtain redress, wherever acts of
torture occurred and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim.
The State party should take effective steps to ensure the provision of mutual judicial
assistance in all matters of criminal procedure regarding the offence of torture and
related crimes of attempting to commit, complicity and participation in torture. The
Committee recalls that article 9 of the Convention requests States parties to “afford
one another the greatest measure of assistance” in connection with criminal
proceedings related to violations of the Convention.
Transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay and reliance on diplomatic assurances
The Committee takes note of the explanations provided by the delegation concerning
the processes involved in transferring the remaining detainees from Guantanamo Bay
detention facilities, and the lifting of the detainee transfer moratorium to Yemen. However,
it expresses its concern at the fact that most of the 79 detainees who are currently
designated for transfer had already been cleared for transfer five years ago by the Review
Task Force. While noting the information provided by the State party on the practice of
obtaining torture-related diplomatic assurances, the Committee remains disturbed by
reports from non-governmental sources which indicate that some former Guantanamo Bay
detainees have experienced abuse during treatment post release (art. 3).
The Committee calls on the State party to ensure that no individual, including persons
suspected of terrorism, who are expelled, returned, extradited or deported, is exposed
to the danger of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment. It urges the State party to refrain from seeking and relying on diplomatic
assurances “where there are substantial grounds for believing that [the person] would
be in danger of being subjected to torture” (art. 3). The principle of non-refoulement
should always have precedence over any other protection measure.
The Committee appreciates the initiatives of the State party to eliminate
interrogation methods which constitute torture or ill-treatment. Nevertheless, the
Committee is concerned about certain aspects of Appendix M of the Army Field Manual
Human Intelligence Collector Operations, FM 2-22.3 of September 2006, in particular the
description of some authorised methods of interrogation, such as the interrogation
techniques of “physical separation” and “field expedient separation”. While noting the
information by the delegation to the effect that such practices are consistent with the State
party’s obligations under the Convention, the Committee remains concerned over the
possibilities for abuse such techniques may entail (arts. 1, 2, 11 and 16).
The State party should ensure that interrogation methods contrary to the Convention
are not used under any circumstances. The Committee urges the State party to review
Appendix M of the Army Field Manual in light of its obligations under the
In particular, the State party should abolish the provision contained in the “physical
separation technique” which establishes that “use of separation must not preclude the
detainee getting four hours of continued sleep every 24 hours”. Such provision
applicable over an initial period of 30 days, which is renewable, amounts to
authorizing sleep deprivation –a form of ill-treatment-, and is unrelated to the aim of
the “physical separation technique” which is to preventing communication among
detainees. The State party should ensure detainee’s needs in terms of sleep time and
that sleeping accommodation provided for the use of prisoners is in conformity the
requirements of Rule 10 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of
Equally, the State party should abolish sensory deprivation in the “field expedient
separation technique” aimed at prolonging the shock of capture by applying goggles
or blindfolds and earmuffs to generate a perception of separation, which based on
recent scientific findings with high probability will create a state of psychosis with the
detainee (Daniel C., Lovatt A., Manson OJ. Psychotic-like experiences and their
cognitive appraisal under short-term sensory deprivation. Frontiers in Psychiatry; Vol.
5, Art 106:1), raising concerns of torture and ill-treatment.
Asylum protection requests at the southwestern border
The Committee is concerned by the expansion of expedited removal procedures,
which do not adequately take into account the special circumstances of asylum seekers and
other persons in need of international protection. It is also concerned by a growing number
of reports that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other U.S. immigration agencies
fail to identify and refer many of the individuals placed in expedited removal for an
asylum-screening interview. Furthermore, persons who are placed in expedited removal
proceedings may be detained until they are removed from the United States. The
Committee also notes with concern that the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Asylum Division recently revised its interpretation of the credible-fear standard making it
more restrictive (art. 3).
The State party should ensure that it is in full compliance with its obligations in
respect of non-refoulement under article 3 of the Convention. In particular the State
Take concrete measures to ensure the adequacy of the refugee
determination process and asylum procedures for migrants of all nationalities;
Uphold the principle that asylum procedures should remain confidential
and should provide for special consideration for minors, women, victims of torture or
traumatisation and other asylum seekers with specific needs;
Conduct a thorough risk assessment of situations covered by article 3 of
the Convention, notably by taking into consideration the current security situations in
Mexico and in the Northern Triangle of Central America;
Review the use of expedited removal procedures, and guarantee access to
Ensure that the interpretation of the “credible fear” screening standard
is returned to its original, less restrictive application for all individuals expressing a
fear of return and referred for such screening interviews.
The Committee notes with concern that the State party continues to use, under
certain circumstances, a system of mandatory detention to automatically hold asylum
seekers and other immigrants on arrival in prison-like detention facilities, county jails and
private prisons. It is also concerned at the recent expansion of family detention with the
plan to establish up to 6,350 additional detention beds for undocumented migrant families
with children. The Committee observes that despite the increased use of foster care for
unaccompanied children and separate children, many of them continue to be held in group
homes and secure facilities, which closely resemble juvenile correctional facilities. While
acknowledging the steps taken by the State party to reform the immigration detention
system, the Committee remains concerned by reports of substandard conditions of detention
in immigration facilities and use of solitary confinement. It is also concerned about reports
of sexual violence by staff and other detainees (arts. 2, 11 and 16).
The State party should:
Review the use of mandatory detention of certain categories of
Develop and expand community-based alternatives to immigration
detention, expand the use of foster care for unaccompanied children, and halt the
expansion of family detention, with a view to progressively eliminating it completely;
Ensure compliance with the 2013 Directive on the appropriate use of
segregation in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities
and the 2011 Performance-based national standards in all immigration detention
Prevent sexual assault in immigration detention and ensure that all
facilities holding immigration detainees are in compliance with Prison Rape
Elimination Act standards;
Establish an effective and independent oversight mechanism to ensure
prompt, impartial and effective investigation into all allegations of violence and abuse
in immigration centres.
While noting that the State party has indicated that there is “no systematic use of
solitary confinement in the United States”, the Committee remains concerned about reports
of extensive use of solitary confinement and other forms of isolation in US prisons, jails
and other detention centres for purposes of punishment, discipline and protection, as well as
for health-related reasons. It also notes the lack of relevant statistical information available.
Furthermore, it is concerned about the use of solitary confinement for indefinite periods of
time, and its use against juveniles and individuals with mental disabilities. The full isolation
for 22-23 hours a day in super-maximum security prisons is unacceptable (art. 16).
The State party should:
Limit the use of solitary confinement as a measure of last resort, for as
short time as possible, under strict supervision and with the possibility of judicial
Prohibit any use of solitary confinement against juveniles, persons with
intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, pregnant women, women with infants and
breastfeeding mothers in prison;
Ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in supermaximum security detention facilities;
Compile and regularly publish comprehensive disaggregated data on the
use of solitary confinement, including related suicide attempts and self-harm.
Protection of prisoners against violence, including sexual assault
The Committee is seriously concerned at the widespread prevalence of sexual
violence, including rape, in prisons, jails and other places of detention by staff and by other
inmates. It also notes with concern the disproportionally high rates of sexual violence faced
by children in adult facilities, as well as the higher rates of sexual victimization reported by
inmates with a history of mental health problems and LGBTI individuals. While welcoming
the promulgation in 2012 of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to
Prison Rape under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the Committee is concerned
by reports that their implementation at the state level continues to be a substantial
challenge. In this context, the Committee notes with concern that six states have not
certified that they are in full compliance with PREA standards, and several agencies
operating federal confinement facilities are still in the process of issuing their own PREA
The Committee remains concerned over the negative effects of the Prison Litigation
Reform Act (PLRA) on the ability of prisoners to seek protection of their rights. While
taking note of the changes introduced in 2013 in the PLRA (adding “the commission of a
sexual act” as an alternative to physical injury to establish eligibility for compensation for
emotional distress), the Committee considers that the State party has continued to place
greater emphasis on the goal of curbing prisoner lawsuits at the expense of inmates’ rights.
Thus, the Committee regrets that section 1997 e(e) requires a predicate of either “physical
injury” or “the commission of a sexual act” as a prerequisite to obtaining compensatory
damages for mental or emotional injury. It is concerned further at section 1997 e(a) of the
PLRA, that requires prisoners to exhaust all internal complaint procedures before bringing
an action in federal court, which implies that they have to meet applicable deadlines for
filing the initial grievance and making administrative appeals.
Finally, the Committee notes that 19 states have enacted a statute restricting the shackling
of pregnant inmates and that legislation has also been under consideration in a number of
other states. It is nevertheless concerned at reports that in certain cases incarcerated women
are still shackled or otherwise restrained throughout pregnancy and during labour, delivery,
and post-partum recovery (arts. 2, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).
The Committee recommends the State party to increase its efforts to prevent and
combat violence in prisons and places of detention, including sexual violence by law
enforcement and penitentiary personnel and by other inmates. In particular, the State
Ensure that PREA standards or similar standards are adopted and
implemented by all states, and that all federal agencies and departments operating
confinement facilities propose and publish regulations that apply PREA standards to
all detention facilities under their jurisdiction;
Promote effective and independent mechanisms for receiving and
handling complaints of prison violence, including sexual violence;
Ensure that any and all reports of prison violence, including sexual
violence, are investigated promptly and impartially and that the alleged perpetrators
Ensure the use of same-sex guards in contexts where the detainee is
vulnerable to attack, in scenarios that involve close personal contact or that involve
the privacy of the detainee;
Provide specialized training to prison staff on prevention of sexual
Develop strategies for reducing violence among inmates. Monitor and
document incidents of violence in prisons with a view to revealing the root causes and
designing appropriate prevention strategies;
Authorize monitoring activities by non-governmental organizations;
Amend sections 1997 e(a) and (e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act;
Revise the practice of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women,
bearing in mind that the regime of the prison shall be flexible enough to respond to
the needs of pregnant women, nursing mothers and women with children (see the
United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial
Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules, as adopted by the General
Assembly in its resolution 65/229 of 21 December 2010, Rule 42.2).
Deaths in custody
The Committee notes with concern that 958 inmates died while in the custody of
local jails during 2012, an 8 percent increase from the 889 deaths in 2010. During the same
year State prison deaths remained stable with 3,351 reported deaths. The Committee is
particularly concerned about reports of inmate deaths occurred as a result of extreme heat
exposure while imprisoned in unbearably hot and poor ventilated prison facilities in
Arizona, California, Florida, New York, Michigan and Texas (arts. 2, 11 and 16).
The Committee urges the State party to investigate promptly, thoroughly and
impartially all deaths of detainees, assessing the health care received by inmates as
well as any possible liability of prison personnel, and provide, where appropriate,
adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
The State party should adopt urgent measures to remedy any deficiencies concerning
the temperature, insufficient ventilation and humidity levels in prison cells, including
death row facilities.
The Committee remains concerned at the notable gaps in the protection of juveniles
in the State party’s criminal justice system. In particular, the Committee expresses once
again its concern at the conditions of detention for juveniles, including their placement in
adult jails and prisons, and in solitary confinement (art. 11 and 16).
The State party should take the necessary measures to ensure the proper functioning
of the juvenile system in compliance with international standards. In particular, the
State party should:
Ensure full implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum
Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules, General
Assembly res. 40/33 of 29 November 1985, annex) and the United Nations Guidelines
for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (The Riyadh Guidelines, General
Assembly resolution 45/112, annex);
Ensure that juvenile detainees and prisoners under 18 are held
separately from adults, in line with the provisions of The Beijing Rules (rules 13.4 and
26.3), and the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their
Liberty (General Assembly resolution 45/113 of 14 December 1990, rules 17, 28 and
Prohibit any use of solitary confinement against juveniles (see, para. 20);
Resort more to alternatives to incarceration, taking into account the
provisions of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial
Measures (the Tokyo Rules, General Assembly resolution 45/110, of 14 December
1990) and the Bangkok Rules.
Life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders
While welcoming Supreme Court’s rulings in Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller
v. Alabama (2012), imposing limitations on juvenile life-without-parole sentences, the
Committee remains concerned that some courts have ruled that Miller v. Alabama does not
apply retroactively and that a majority of the 28 states that required mandatory life
sentences without the possibility of parole for children have not passed legislation to
comply with the ruling. Moreover, the rulings leave open the possibility of judges imposing
life without parole sentences in homicide cases, even where the child played a minimal
role, and courts continue to impose the sentence (art. 11 and 16).
The State party should abolish the sentence of life imprisonment without parole for
offences committed by children under 18 years of age, irrespective of the crime
committed. Enable child offenders currently serving life without parole to have their
cases reviewed by a court for reassessment and resentencing, to restore parole
eligibility and for a possible reduction of sentence.
While welcoming that six states have abolished capital punishment during the period
under review, the Committee expresses its concern at the State party’s admission that it is
not currently considering abolishing the death penalty at the federal level. It also expresses
its concern at reported cases of excruciating pain and prolonged suffering that procedural
irregularities have caused to condemned prisoners in the course of their execution. The
Committee is specially troubled by the recent cases of botched executions in Arizona,
Oklahoma, and Ohio. The Committee is equally concerned at the continued delays in
recourse procedures which keep prisoners sentenced to death in a situation of anguish and
incertitude for many years. The Committee notes that in certain cases such situation
amounts to torture in so far as it corresponds to one of the forms of torture (i.e. the threat of
imminent death) contained in the interpretative understanding made by the State party at the
time of ratification of the Convention (arts. 1, 2 and 16).
The State party should review its execution methods in order to prevent pain and
prolonged suffering. The Committee recalls that according to the Safeguards
guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (approved by
Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984), where capital
punishment occurs, it shall be carried out so as to inflict the minimum suffering.
The State party should reduce the procedural delays that keep prisoners sentenced to
capital punishment in the death row for prolonged periods.
The State party is encouraged to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to
abolish the death penalty, to commute the sentences of individuals currently on death
row and to accede to the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Excessive use of force and police brutality
The Committee is concerned about numerous reports of police brutality and
excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging
to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals, racial profiling by
police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities. The
Committee is particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago,
especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being
consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police
Department (CPD) officers. It also expresses its deep concern at the frequent and recurrent
police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals. In this regard, the
Committee notes the alleged difficulties to hold police officers and their employers
accountable for abuses. While noting the information provided by the delegation that over
the past five years 20 investigations were opened into allegations of systematic police
department violations, and over 330 police officers were criminally prosecuted, the
Committee regrets the lack of statistical data available on allegations of police brutality and
the lack of information on the result of the investigations undertaken in respect of those
allegations. With regard to the acts of torture committed by CPD Commander Jon Burge
and others under his command between 1972 and 1991, the Committee notes the
information provided by the State party that a federal rights investigation did not develop
sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutable constitutional
violations occurred, However, it remains concerned that, despite the fact that Jon Burge
was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, no Chicago police officer has been
convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring.
While noting that several victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, the
vast majority of those tortured –most of them African Americans–, have received no
compensation for the extensive injuries suffered (arts. 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).
The State party should:
Ensure that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by
law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an
independent mechanism with no institutional or hierarchical connection between the
investigators and the alleged perpetrators;
Prosecute persons suspected of torture or ill-treatment and, if found
guilty, ensure that they are punished in accordance with the gravity of their acts;
Provide effective remedies and rehabilitation to the victims;
Provide redress for CPD torture survivors by supporting the passage of
the Ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.
Electrical discharge weapons (Tasers)
The Committee is concerned about numerous, consistent reports that police have
used electrical discharge weapons against unarmed individuals who resist arrest or fail to
comply immediately with commands, suspects fleeing minor crime scenes or even minors.
Moreover, the Committee is appalled at the number of reported deaths after the use of
electrical discharge weapons, including the recent cases of Israel “Reefa” Hernández Llach
in Miami Beach, Florida, and Dominique Franklin Jr. in Sauk Village, Illinois. While
taking note of the information provided by the State party on the relevant guidelines and
available training for law-enforcement officers, the Committee observes the need to
introduce more stringent regulations governing their use (arts. 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).
The State party should ensure that electrical discharge weapons are used exclusively
in extreme and limited situations –where there is a real and immediate threat to life or
risk of serious injury– as a substitute for lethal weapons and by trained law
enforcement personnel only.
The State party should revise the regulations governing the use of such weapons with
a view to establishing a high threshold for their use and expressly prohibiting their use
on children and pregnant women. The Committee is of the view that the use of
electrical discharge weapons should be subject to the principles of necessity and
proportionality and should be inadmissible in the equipment of custodial staff in
prisons or any other place of deprivation of liberty. The Committee urges the State
party to provide more stringent instructions to law enforcement personnel entitled to
use electric discharge weapons, and to strictly monitor and supervise their use
through mandatory reporting and review of each use.
The Committee takes note of the information that it has received regarding training
in lawful interrogation methods and internal reporting mechanisms. It is concerned,
however, by the lack of information on the impact of the training conducted for law
enforcement officials, intelligence and security officials, military personnel and prison staff,
and how effective the training programmes have been in reducing incidents of torture and
ill-treatment (art. 10).
The State party should:
Further develop mandatory training programmes to ensure that all
public servants –law enforcement officers, military officers, intelligence officials,
prison staff and medical personnel employed in prisons and psychiatric hospitals – are
well acquainted in the provisions of the Convention and are fully aware that violations
will not be tolerated and will be investigated, and that those responsible will be
Ensure that all relevant staff, including medical personnel, are
specifically trained to identify cases of torture and ill-treatment in accordance with
the Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Istanbul Protocol);
Develop and apply a methodology for assessing how effective its training
programmes are in reducing the number of cases of torture and ill-treatment.
Redress, including compensation and rehabilitation
While noting the State party’s assertion that its legislation provides a wide range of
civil remedies for seeking redress in cases of torture at the federal and state level, the
Committee regrets the limited information provided by the delegation on rehabilitation
programmes for both domestic and third country victims, or the allocation of resources to
support such programmes. The Committee is further concerned about the situation of
certain individuals and groups made vulnerable by discrimination or marginalization who
face specific obstacles that impede the enjoyment of their right to redress (art. 14).
The State party should ensure that appropriate rehabilitation programmes are
provided to all victims of torture and ill-treatment, including medical and
psychological assistance. The State party should also enhance its support and funding
for torture rehabilitation programmes in the State party.
The Committee urges the State party to take immediate legal and other measures to
ensure that all victims of torture and ill-treatment obtain redress and have an
enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full
rehabilitation as possible, in particular victims of police brutality, terror suspects
claiming abuse, victims of gender violence, asylum-seekers, refugees and others under
The Committee draws the State party’s attention to its General Comment No. 3 (2012)
on the implementation of article 14 by State parties (CAT/C/GC/3), in which it
elaborates upon the nature and scope of State parties’ obligations to provide full
redress to victims of torture, in particular to paragraphs 3-4, 11-15, 19, 32 and 39.
Sexual violence and rape in the U.S. military
While welcoming the recently increased efforts by the Department of Defense to
prevent sexual assault in the military, the Committee remains concerned about the high
prevalence of sexual violence, including rape, and the alleged failure of the Department to
adequately prevent and address military sexual assaults of both men and women serving in
the armed forces (arts. 2, 12, 13 and 16).
The State party should increase its efforts to prevent and eradicate sexual violence in
the military by taking effective measures to:
Ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations of all allegations of
Ensure that, in practice, complainants and witnesses are protected from
any acts of retaliation or reprisals, including intimidation, related to their complain or
Ensure equal access to disability compensation to those veterans who are
survivors of military sexual assault.
The Committee again recommends (CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para. 41) the State party to
ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and to make the declaration provided for in
article 22 of the Convention in order to recognize the competence of the Committee to
receive and consider individual communications.
The State party is requested to disseminate widely the report submitted to the
Committee and the Committee’s concluding observations, in all appropriate languages,
through official websites, the media and non-governmental organizations.
The Committee requests the State party to provide, by 28 November 2015 follow-up
information in response to the Committee’s recommendations related to (a) ensuring or
strengthening legal safeguards for persons detained, (b) conducting, prompt, impartial and
effective investigations, and (c) prosecuting suspects and sanctioning perpetrators of torture
or ill-treatment, as contained in paragraphs 12(a), 14(c) and 17 of the present concluding
observations. In addition, the Committee requests follow-up information on remedies and
redress to the victims, as contained in paragraph 26(c) of the present concluding
The State party is invited to submit its next report, which will be the sixth periodic
report, by 28 November 2018. To that end, the Committee will, in due course, submit to the
State party a list of issues prior to reporting, in view of the fact that the State party has
accepted to report to the Committee under the optional reporting procedure.