US 'routinely' violates judicial rights, fails to punish torture - HRW

Demonstrators calling for justice in the chokehold death of Eric Garner take part in a protest march outside the 120th police precinct in the Staten Island borough of New York City, January 15, 2015.(Reuters / Mike Segar)
US state and local officials should reconsider racial discrimination and police abuse, which triggered public outrage and demonstrations internationally, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2015, which monitors the situation in over 90 nations.

The global rights watchdog examined global human rights practices, shedding light on the US criminal justice system, with the resulting report published Thursday. Despite achieving some key improvements on such issues as migrants’ rights, there is a major field for reforms in the US – abusive practices against migrants and minorities, as well as mass surveillance practices and Guantanamo Bay detention camp need some action on the governmental level, according to HRW.

“Protests across the US in 2014 reflected well-justified outrage at years of racial discrimination in the justice system and police brutality,” Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, US program co-director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Federal, state, and local governments should work with marginalized communities to fix the system.”

In an introduction to the report, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth pointed out that US President Barack Obama has “steadfastly refused to investigate, let alone prosecute, the Bush CIA’s torture,” which could lead to America’s future presidents “treat[ing] torture as a policy option.”

READ MORE: HRW urges Kiev to acknowledge cluster bomb use, stop indiscriminate killings in E. Ukraine

Regarding the human rights situation in Russia, the HRW report claimed: “The Kremlin took another leap backward in 2014,” referring to the increasing “isolation of the country … and a level of anti-Western hysteria unseen since the Soviet era.”

Russian authorities failed to prevent homophobic violence, while prosecuting opposition leaders and introducing new, “draconian” laws on the media, according to HRW.

View image |

HRW’s analysis of the Ukrainian conflict spelled out the scale of the human tragedy involved: “Since April 2014, armed conflict in eastern Ukraine claimed the lives of over 4,000 people, about 1,000 of them civilians, and wounded over 9,000. Over 500,000 people are internally displaced in Ukraine; many others have fled to Russia.”

READ MORE: French police beat, pepper-spray asylum seekers – Human Rights Watch

View image |

Elsewhere, HRW outlined the deterioration of human rights conditions in Iraq, as the Islamic State (IS) military group, formerly known as ISIS, took over northern regions of the country. Among atrocities committed by ISIS, HRW lists “ongoing car bombings and suicide attacks in civilian areas; summary executions; torture in detention; sexual assault and slavery of some Yezidi women and girls; destruction of religious property.” It also notes the fact that amid ongoing US-led airstrikes in the country, US officials failed to condition military support on human rights reforms, as US law requires.

In neighboring Syria, IS extremists were also responsible for “systematic and widespread … kidnappings, and executions.” The armed conflict in the country “grew increasingly bloody” with serious abuses carried out by both parties, and last August the death toll reached more than 191,000 people, HRW reported, citing UN figures.

View image |

READ MORE: Satellite images reveal ‘horrific’ scale of Boko Haram attack in Nigeria

In Africa, Nigeria has faced “intensified” violence and atrocities by Boko Haram in 2014, HRW noted. The militant group destroyed villages and towns, killing civilians and abducting women. Last April, the group attracted unprecedented global attention with an abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok, but the global condemnation “has not resulted in meaningful change.”

In the Gulf region, Bahrain became a matter of HRW concern due to its political and judicial systems, and their “lack of independence” in particular. With the country’s main oppositional party protesting an unfair electoral system, its leaders are facing arrests and prosecution, as well as human rights activists.

World Report 2015 is HRW’s 25th annual review. The “tumult” and challenges that marked 2014 could lead to the impression that “the world is unraveling,” Roth said. He concluded: “Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises … [is the] key to their resolution.”