The Islamic Post Blog

Rebuffing Bush Legacies, United States Joins Human Rights Council, Ends ‘War on Terror’ by Khalida
May 21, 2009, 5:41 am
Filed under: Front Page News, International, May Volume I - 2009, World | Tags:

(IP) –“The US is seeking election to the [United Nations Human Rights] Council because we believe that, working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights,” said US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, in a recent statement. “We hope to work in partnership with many countries to achieve a more effective Council,” Ms Rice concluded.
The Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was created in 2006, but Bush Administration officials chose to steer wide of involvement with the body. In another break from past legacies, prior to Ambassador Rice’s announcement, the Obama Administration sent a message to Pentagon senior staff to cease using the terms “Long War or Global War On Terror” in keeping with the more diplomatic overtures coming out of Washington since the January inauguration. The Defense Department email was obtained by the Washington Post.
Furthermore, in a formal filing with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew the term “enemy combatant” and submitted a new standard for holding detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The DOJ insisted the current definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization but “draws on the international laws of war.”
Furthermore, the filing submits that “individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial.”
The brief was filed in habeas litigation brought by numerous detainees at Guantanamo who are challenging their detention under the Supreme Court’s decision last summer in Boumediene v. Bush.
The Department of Justice also submitted a declaration by Attorney General, Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
“As we work towards developing a new policy to govern detainees, it is essential that we operate in a manner that strengthens our national security, is consistent with our values, and is governed by law,” said Attorney General Holder. “The change we’ve made today meets each of those standards and will make our nation stronger.”
Shortly after the DOJ filing, UN human rights investigators announced the launching of a year-long global investigation into secret places of detention. They note the use of such facilities has increased since the Global War on Terror was declared after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The investigators say their probe will look at so-called rendition flights used by the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, in the United States to secretly transfer suspects to third world countries for interrogation. The UN probe also will examine the policies of secret detention as practiced by other nations around the world.
The probe comes on the heels of a February report on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism, Martin Scheinin, whose investigation was perceived as broadly critical of rendition activities. Speaking to reporters after presenting the report, Mr Scheinin said that UN human rights investigators will be looking into possible human rights violations committed by the US during the “War on Terror” and that the investigation will not be relaxed because of a change in administrations, as reported by Reuters.
Mr Scheinin said regarding the investigation: “The increased powers of intelligence services to conduct measures that seriously interfere with individuals’ rights, as well as the increasing relevance of intelligence for legal and administrative actions, make it essential that adequate accountability mechanisms are put in place to prevent human rights abuses. Under international human rights law, states are under a positive legal obligation to conduct independent investigations into alleged violations of the right to life, freedom from torture or other inhumane treatment, enforced disappearances or arbitrary detention, to bring to justice those responsible for such acts, and to provide reparations where they have participated in such violations. States retain this positive obligation to protect human rights where they grant privileges within their national territory to another State, including to intelligence services.”
Last year, the Jurist news agency reported Mr Scheinin to have urged the UN to restructure or eliminate the existing terrorist “blacklisting” system. The United States House of Representatives recently passed a bill to address these issues as well.
“With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system to advance the vision of the UN Declaration on Human Rights,” Secretary Hillary Rodham-Clinton related in a statement regarding the upcoming vote for the UNHRC seat. The Declaration states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security and that all –regardless of race, gender, colour, sex, language, religion or political opinion –are equal before the law. Renewed commitment of the United States to the Declaration and the UNHRC has been welcomed worldwide. Members are currently elected to a three-year term, but the Council is scheduled to undergo a formal review of its structure and procedures in 2011 “which will offer a significant opportunity for Council reform” noted the State Department in a press release.


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