GENEVA – Washington must shake up its overseas surveillance program, shut Guantanamo, hold Americans accountable for “war on terror” violations and stem racism in the justice system, a UN panel said Thursday.
In a wide-ranging report on the United States’ respect for international rules, the UN Human Rights Committee faulted the current system of oversight for National Security Agency (NSA) snooping.
“What we are calling for is that if surveillance is undertaken, it has to be done in line with the principles of legality, that there is the need for very clear, detailed regulation of that area, containing safeguards for those under direct surveillance,” Swiss legal expert Walter Kaelin, who steered the UN review.
“We’re calling also for a proportionate use of surveillance, not everyone, but really limited to cases where such surveillance is necessary and justified,” he told reporters.
The US government has faced a cascade of scandals over online and telephone snooping around the globe by the NSA since fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden went public in 2013.
Officials have defended the methods as necessary to thwart terror attacks, but the extent of the NSA’s spying even on allies has raised hackles, and its activities on home soil have divided US opinion.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday set out a plan to end government bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, aiming to defuse a controversy over mass surveillance.
And in Congress, lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan bill to end bulk collection of telephone, email, and Internet metadata.
“The announcement by President Obama is in line with our recommendation,” said Kaelin, who had scrutinised US respect for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
US administrations of all political stripes have insisted that the 1966 covenant applies only on American territory, but the committee disagreed.
“We are of the opinion that the covenant and its obligations do apply to people under direct surveillance outside the territory of the US,” Kaelin said.
All UN members are meant to submit to periodic reviews of their respect for the covenant, and the committee’s report came two weeks after the 18-member panel held a hearing with US officials.
The committee also probed other areas of the rights impact of the “war on terror”.
It questioned Obama’s efforts to close Guantanamo — a detention camp created by his predecessor George W. Bush after the attacks of September 11, 2001 — where 154 inmates are still being held.
“We are calling for the transfer of all detainees in Guantanamo that can be transferred to a third country, and for the others, that they are either brought to trial or immediately released,” said Kaelin.
The committee complained about the limited number of probes, prosecutions and convictions of members of the military and other government employees for killings and the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” torture techniques.
“We call on the state party to ensure that all cases of unlawful killing, torture and ill-treatment are effectively, independently, impartiality investigated and perpetrators prosecuted and punished,” said Kaelin.
Examining domestic issues, it faulted “stand your ground” laws, stop and search methods, racial profiling and the death penalty, saying they disproportionately affected minority groups and immigrants.