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UN rights panel raps US on range of issues

GENEVA -- A United Nations rights panel demanded yesterday the immediate closure of any secret US detention facilities and criticized Washington on 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 UN Human Rights Committee was out of bounds in examining US 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 US compliance to a major human rights treaty.

``Our initial reaction is disappointment," said State Department official Matthew Waxman, who led a US delegation to the hearing. He said the panel appeared to ignore much of the American testimony.

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

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

The International Committee of the Red Cross is supposed to have access to all prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. It says it knows of people detained by the United States whom they have not found in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sandra Hodgkinson, another State Department official, said the Red Cross ``does have access to various battlefield locations, not just in Guantanamo Bay, to meet with prisoners and detainees."

On US 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.

  • ``In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, [the United States] should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people and in particular African-Americans 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 Washington, D.C., the same voting rights as other Americans, allowing them to elect representatives with full voting powers to the Senate and House .

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