- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

NEW YORK A high-level body of the United Nations last night brushed aside U.S. objections and accepted a new protocol to the international convention on torture that allows U.N. inspectors to monitor the treatment of prisoners inside the borders of sovereign countries.
The protocol, approved by the Economic and Social Council, will apply only to those nations that join it.
It will permit international inspectors to visit civil and military prisons to root out inhumane conditions and punishments.
The 53-member group will formally refer the protocol to the General Assembly for approval. If the measure is approved, it will become a treaty open to nations for signature and ratification. The Economic and Social Council is one of the five central components of the United Nations.
Mike Dennis, adviser to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and a negotiator of several international agreements, told the council that Washington was solidly against torture despite its objections to the protocol.
"But the optional protocol is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution," he said yesterday. He also said that the discussions, which were held in Geneva, had been "divisive" and that the final draft produced was "far from consensus."
U.S. officials have said that Washington is uncomfortable with foreign monitors visiting American prisons, including the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba where Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are being kept.
They also say the federal government cannot impose foreign monitors on states.
The issue involved states' rights, a U.S. official said after the vote last night.
The council approved the draft protocol by a vote of 35-8. The United States was one of 10 nations to abstain.
Washington had tried to delay the vote earlier yesterday, introducing an amendment that called for more negotiation.
That amendment was soundly defeated by European, Latin and many African nations, which supported strengthening the anti-torture convention with prison visits.
"Torture has not been eliminated," said Elyne White, the Costa Rican envoy, who cited overcrowding, sexual abuse, and chronic acts of harsh punishment and violence. She rejected the U.S. effort to continue negotiations.
"This amendment truly is a death sentence for the optional protocol," she said.
"I cannot figure out why the United States would delay this even longer," said Joanna Wechsler of Human Rights Watch, one of a dozen human rights groups that back the anti-torture convention and the inspection protocol. "If they do not want monitors, they will not visit."
One of the more intriguing aspects of the U.S. amendment, which failed by a vote of 29-15, was that its strongest support came from nations that Washington has criticized as human rights violators: China, Cuba, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Libya and Egypt.
Japan and Australia also supported the U.S. amendment with the rest of the members abstaining.
The United States is one of 130 nations to sign the original convention against torture, which entered into force in 1989.
Those nations have the option of signing the new protocol.
Diplomats have struggled for a decade to come up with an additional agreement that would open prisons to independent inspection.
Discussions were conducted jointly with the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights.
The United States briefly lost its seat on the commission two years ago.
Nevertheless, according to U.S. and other envoys, American officials have actively participated in all the discussions about the protocol.


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