U.N. panel faults United States

Published July 29, 2006

GENEVA - A U.N. rights panel Friday demanded the immediate closure of any secret U.S. detention facilities and criticized Washington on a range of other issues, calling for a moratorium on capital punishment and improved treatment of poor and black citizens after Hurricane Katrina.

Officials in Washington said the U.N. Human Rights Committee was out of bounds in examining U.S. practices outside the United States, but they said they would consider its recommendations.

"The committee is concerned by credible and uncontested information that the state party has seen fit to engage in the practice of detaining people secretly and in secret places for months and years on end," according to the 12-page report by the committee, which held a two-day hearing last week on U.S. compliance to a major human rights treaty.

"Our initial reaction is disappointment," said State Department official Matthew Waxman, who led a U.S. delegation to the hearing. Waxman denied allegations that the United States mishandles terror suspects. .

In a conference call from Washington, U.S. officials refused to confirm or deny reports that there have been secret detention centers in Europe and elsewhere.

The 18 independent experts on the committee, which examines on a rotating basis the record of all 156 signatories to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said U.S. practices violate the rights of detainees and their families.

Criticism by the panel brings no penalty beyond international scrutiny.

The United States maintains the treaty applies only to its national territory and not the U.S. military or its installations abroad.

On U.S. domestic issues, the committee said:

- The United States should adopt a moratorium on executions on grounds that capital punishment appears to be disproportionately imposed on minority groups and poor people.

- The United States should increase efforts to ensure the rights of poor people and African-Americans in the reconstruction plans after Hurricane Katrina.

- The United States should give residents of Washington, D.C., the same voting rights as other Americans.