- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

GENEVA — A U.N. rights panel yesterday 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, representation in Congress for the District of Columbia and for improved treatment of poor and black citizens victimized by 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 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. He said the panel appeared to ignore much of the U.S. testimony.

The 18 analysts 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.

The United States “should only detain persons in places in which they can enjoy the full protection of the law,” the report said. “It should also grant prompt access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to any person detained in connection with an armed conflict.”

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

Mr. Waxman denied charges that the United States mishandles terror suspects. “Any idea that any United States or other detention operations or other activities in the war on terrorism are beyond the law is simply false.”

The United States maintains the treaty applies only to its national territory and not the U.S. military or its installations abroad, which are governed by other domestic and international laws.

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.

• cIn the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the United States should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people and in particular blacks are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to access to housing, education and health care.

• The United States should give residents of the District the same voting rights as other Americans, allowing them to elect representatives with full voting powers to the Senate and House.

Criticism by the panel brings no penalty beyond international scrutiny.

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