Implementing CAT: Working to Eliminate Torture
The USHRN is working to promote full implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (typically called the Convention Against Torture or CAT) by educating the public about U.S. Government obligations under the treaty, and engaging our membership in the effective use of the treaty to promote human rights at home and abroad. This treaty was signed by the United States in 1988 and ratified in 1994, making it legally binding.
The Convention Against Torture is monitored by the Committee Against Torture (an independent body of experts) which reviews regular reports of States parties (governments that have ratified the Convention) on how the treaty is being implemented and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of "concluding observations." Under certain circumstances, the CAT may consider complaints or communications from individuals claiming that their rights under the Convention have been violated.
By ratifying CAT, the United States became a state party to it and was required to submit a report to the UN on its compliance with the CAT within one year, after which they were obliged to report every four years. The United States submitted its reports late and was first reviewed by the Committee Against Torture in 2000. At the time, pre-9/11, the hearing was mostly focused on domestic issues. The second review took place in May 2006 and was intensely scrutinized because of the much publicized and criticized U.S. actions during the period including the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, the allegations of human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay, the leaked information about secret prisons throughout Europe, the use of rendition and torture for suspected Al Qaeda operatives and the Bush administration's changing interpretations of what constitutes "torture." Lethal injection as a form of capital punishment, an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, will also be examined. According to Mercedes Morales, a UN human rights officer who served as secretary to the UN Committee Against Torture, the list of issues the Committee expects the U.S. to address "is the longest list of issues I have ever seen." (From interview with Reuters in April 2006.) At the end of the hearings, the UN released public comments about its findings and made recommendations (also known as Concluding Observations) to the United States on policy changes. The Committee Against Torture usually meets in April/May and November each year in Geneva.
How to Get Involved in the US CAT Review
The United States was due to submit their most recent report to the United Nation's Committee Against Torture (CAT) mid-year 2011. A list of issues to be considered in this report was issued by the UN in late 2009. The USHRN has established a taskforce to coordinate both a civil society response to the United States government report as well as its advocacy before the Committee Against Torture.
The CAT Taskforce co-chairs are:
- Antonio Ginatta, Human Rights Watch
- Claire Leslie, Midwest Coalition for Human Rights
The CAT Taskforce is accepting applications from groups interested in joining. For more information on the work of the CAT Taskforce, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Network has an official listserv for the CAT project in order to facilitate the general planning and information sharing on the implementation of CAT in the U.S.