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U.S. Accused of Trying to Derail Anti-Torture Pact
Tue Jul 23, 7:26 PM ET

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Human rights groups accused the United States on Tuesday of trying to derail a new draft international treaty against torture that has taken a decade to negotiate.

The treaty, which is to be debated in the U.N. Economic and Social Council beginning on Wednesday, would set up an international system of inspections for all sites where prisoners were held, to insure that torture was not taking place.

The United States opposes the draft and plans to seek a vote demanding that negotiations be reopened, U.S. officials said.

Amnesty International denounced the U.S. strategy as "appalling."

"To reopen negotiations at this time could only lead to watering down the text, so that it will fail to fulfill its aim -- to prevent torture and ill-treatment still so prevalent around the world," said Martin McPherson, the head of Amnesty International's legal program.

"Yet again the (George W.) Bush administration is on a collision course with its allies over an important new mechanism to protect human rights," said Rory Mungoven, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. stand was the latest in a wave of go-it-alone actions that have infuriated Washington's closest allies, including rejection of the Kyoto pact on global warming ( news - web sites) and the treaty creating a new International Criminal Court aimed at combating genocide and war crimes.

The U.S. plan to try to reopen negotiations on the anti-torture pact puts it in the company of treaty foes including Cuba, Iran, China and Nigeria, human rights activists said.

Among backers of the treaty as drafted are most European Union ( news - web sites), Latin American, Caribbean and African states, they said.


U.S. officials said Washington was seeking a renegotiation of the anti-torture text because it would infringe on states' rights by authorizing international inspections of state prisons without the approval of state governments.

The United States also had procedural objections, the officials said.

While Washington wanted to work by consensus -- in essence requiring unanimous support for any step, the Economic and Social Council rules require only majority support for approval, they said.

The text was drafted by a working group of U.N. member-nations and has already been approved by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission.

To take effect, it must now be approved by the 54-nation Economic and Social Council and then the 189-nation U.N. General Assembly. Afterward, it must be signed and ratified by enough governments, with the required number set by the treaty itself.

The pact would supplement an existing Convention Against Torture which went into force in 1987 and was ratified by the United States in 1994.

But the Bush administration has been embarrassed recently by widespread criticism of its treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda detainees at a U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A heated international debate erupted after the release of photos of the tightly manacled and blindfolded detainees, who were captured when the United States invaded Afghanistan ( news - web sites) following Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

It was not yet clear whether the Economic and Social Council's 54 members would embrace or reject the U.S. plan, U.N. diplomats and rights activists said.

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