Saturday, November 15, 2014
We're pleased to share a guest blog post from Victor Cerda of Chicago:
There is little room to doubt that racial relations, which continue to cause social unrest within the United States, have been historically strained. The events occurring in Ferguson, Missouri highlight how volatile the social implication of difference in skin color has been for centuries. The series of protests reveals a need for a national discussion on how to resolve this generational issue.
While a need for discussion is necessary, one must discuss the approach taken by the family of the victim. The parents of Mike Brown, the young man shot to death by police, are in Geneva, Switzerland, testifying before the United Nations Committee Against Toture. The U.N. Convention Against Torture came into force in 1987. The United States signed and subsequently ratified the treaty in 1994, meaning, as a nation, we have an obligation to uphold the treaty.
So, what exactly are the obligations under the treaty? Article 1 defines torture as:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
— Convention Against Torture, Article 1.1
A team of legal professionals has drafted a document complaining of the United States’ compliance with the convention. In that document, the drafters cite CAT article 1, but fail to emphasis the final sentence which adds that torture does not include “pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.” Each state within the United States, and the United States as a whole, has sanctioned lawful use of force by officers. We have authorized officers to decide when, where, and how to apply the use of force in the heat of the moment, in the line of duty. The decision to legitimize such authority has brought a relatively peaceful country under a rule of law.
I do not mean to imply that racial profiling does not occur. I am not suggesting that racism is not alive. What I am stating is that the disproportionate and systematic use of force by law enforcement is a domestic issue, and not one that amounts to torture, as defined by the convention.
The international community must be hesitant to allow such a broad application to the definition of the torture. The bright side, however, is that the international community’s attention could influence the United States to address the demographic discrepancies in law and punishment. Reform is necessary, but the world should pressure the United States to comply with the law, not change the law to comply with the facts.