Friday, November 14, 2014

Report from Geneva: The Committee Against Torture Pushes the U.S. on Youth and Gender Issues

by Cynthia Soohoo 

As expected, during this week’s review of the U.S.’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture, the Committee Against Torture chastised the U.S. on Guantanamo, prison conditions and solitary confinement. Less expected – but equally significant – was its tough stand against violence and detention of youth and sexual and gender violence. 

Prior to the review, the Committee received information from U.S. NGOs across the country coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network. Here in Geneva, they heard the moving testimony of Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, the parents of Michael Brown, Martinez Sutton, whose sister Rekia Boyd was shot by a Chicago police officer, Anjelique Wadlington, who was incarcerated as a youth in New York, and the inspiring advocacy of the We Charge Genocide Campaign around police violence against youth against color in Chicago.

U.S. activists also testified about serious gender and sexual violence issues. The Committee heard from Sam Brinton and Samantha Ames about the dangerous use of conversion therapy against LGBT youth, from Monica James about police and custodial violence against transgender women, from Barbara Blaine about priest sexual abuse, from Stephanie Schroeder about sexual violence in the military, and from Women’s All Points Bulletin and Black Women’s Blueprint on rape and sexual assault by police officers. 

The advocacy and information provided to the Committee clearly had an impact. During the review, the Committee asked several questions about around police violence against youth of color in Chicago, including the deadly use of tasers. They asked about the numbers of youth being held in adult jails and prisons and about sexual abuse and solitary confinement of youth. They also questioned the U.S. about the detention of unaccompanied minors and migrant families. 

Several Committee members asked about the use of conversion “therapy” on LGBT youth. They also expressed concern about police harassment and violence against transgender women and the treatment of LGBT detainees and sexual abuse by the police. The Committee questioned the U.S. about the shackling of pregnant women in detention and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care in immigrant detention. They also pushed the U.S. to address legal and structural barriers that prevent victims of sexual violence in the military and by the Catholic clergy from obtaining a remedy. 

The Committee’s concluding observations should come out on November 28.

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