Human Rights Watch organization recently published its World Report, which analyzes the human rights situation in every country in the world. The United States looks very unseemly in protecting the rights of its own people, with the most vulnerable groups, including racial and ethnic groups, minorities, the poor, immigrants, prisoners and the elderly, who suffer the most from abuse. Here are the ten main areas marked by Human Rights Watch, in which the United States of America poorly protect and respect human rights.
1. Severe sentences
The USA has the largest number of prisoners in the world. There are 760 detainees per 100,000 residents in the country, and approximately 2.2 million people are prisoned around the country. Our country accounts for about 5% of the world’s population, but about 25% of all prisoners in the world. These include life sentences without parole, severe minimum sentences and the laws of three crimes (providing for long prison sentences for those who committed three crimes.) Almost half of all federal prisoners serve time for drug-related crimes.
Attorney General calls for reforms in the practice of federal court decisions so that the most severe punishment is borne by malicious drug traffickers. However, petty offenders who have committed non-violent crimes still receive disproportionately severe sentences, and often they have no choice but to deal with the guilty plea since otherwise, they face an arbitrarily minimal penalty.
The rate of annual death sentences in the USA has declined, but in 32 states the death penalty still exists despite the fact that its application was found to be contrary to the norms of international law. Last year 42 executions were carried out, and during March 2018, ten people were executed.
2. Terrible conditions in prisons
Characteristic features in prisons are still their overcrowding, widespread physical abuse, rape, almost inedible food, unsanitary conditions and inadequate access of prisoners to medical and psychiatric care. Long prison terms have led to the imprisonment of more and more elderly people, and this creates serious medical problems for the prison administration, which is poorly prepared to deal with the problems of the aging prison population. In 2011, more than 26,000 people aged 65 and over got into state prisons and federal prisons. This is a 62 percent increase over the past five years.
Last year, 30,000 prisoners from the California prison initiated a hunger strike in protest against inhuman conditions of detention and solitary confinement. Nevertheless, prisoners, as before, are put in a cooler, and often they are kept there for weeks and months without interruption. According to international law, a long solitary confinement refers to “cruel punishment and torture”. It is scientifically proven that it causes serious physical and mental suffering to prisoners.
3. Detention of young people
In almost all jurisdictions in the United States, young criminals are tried in adult courts, and prison sentences are also served in adult prisons. It is estimated that in 2011, more than 95,000 young people under the age of 18 were held in adult prisons, and they were regularly subjected to solitary confinement there. In 2012, the Supreme Court overturned mandatory life sentences without parole for young criminals convicted of murder. According to Human Rights Watch, in this regard, almost 85% of all cases of juvenile offenders in the country were reviewed.
A positive step was the California law in September that provides for the possibility of reviewing the sentences of 5,000 young people convicted for life. But many states are in no hurry to implement the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, which means that life sentences without the right of parole for those convicted for the murder of young criminals are still in force. Human Rights Watch found another alarming trend. Almost every fourth young criminal who is serving a life sentence without parole has complained of physical abuse or rape by cellmates and correctional officers.
4. Poverty and Justice
The link between poverty and criminal prosecution is still evident among poor defendants who are in pretrial pre-trial detention centers because they do not have the means to deposit collateral and to pay large court fees and additional costs. According to Human Rights Watch, 60% of the suspects are held pending trial in prisons, because they do not have the money to be released on bail. It costs the country about $9 billion annually.
Further, the law still unfairly punishes those who are experiencing economic hardship. The police regularly and unjustly harass and intimidate the poor and homeless, subjecting them to arrest under the law, prohibiting loitering, sitting and seizing public places. Sometimes, people who are unable to pay bills are also sentenced. The criminal justice system not only “stigmatizes, turns into scapegoats and mistreats” with the poor. Their interests are completely inadequately represented in the courts by public defenders, who in their work are underfunded and work with excessive strain. As a result, poor defendants are deprived of the right to a fair trial. In response, the presiding judge of New York promised to carry out legislative reforms within a year, which would lead to a reduction in the period of pre-trial detention for indigent defendants.
5. Racial inequality in criminal proceedings
African Americans make up only 13% of the population, but in state prisons and in federal prisons, they serve a sentence of 41% and 44% respectively for drug-related offenses. They are arrested for drug-related crimes four times more often than whites and Hispanics, although they all use drugs in roughly equal proportions. Racial and ethnic minorities, especially those with a criminal record, are more likely than white to be convicted and discriminated against when hiring, in educational institutions, in housing and in voting.
Racial inequality is also evident in the actions of the police, which often stops and searches blacks. They are three times more likely than whites are searched at transport stops. The Union for the Struggle for Civil Liberties reported that more than 88% of those who are stopped and searched by the city police are blacks or Hispanics, although 88% of them are not guilty. In August, the federal court ruled that the practice of such stops and searches of people, adopted by the police, is a violation of minority rights. The Mayor de Blasio recently supported this decision.
6. Labor rights
Millions of American workers suffer from the weakness and lack of labor laws that put them at risk of exploitation. Many are paid below the minimum wage, work overtime in violation of the law, work in dangerous conditions, are discriminated against in terms of age, disability or family circumstances. Those who receive a salary below the minimum, encounter the hostile attitude of employers and their retaliatory punitive actions in the event of demands for higher wages. A small victory last year was won by social workers who provide vital services and assistance to the elderly and disabled people when they achieved the right to a minimum fair pay.
Besides, children are allowed to engage in hazardous work in agriculture from the age of 16, although in all other branches it has been allowed since 18 years. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of children working on American farms are at risk of poisoning with pesticides, getting a heat stroke, disability for life and even death. Human Rights Watch reports that 75% of children under the age of 16 injured by work-related injuries were engaged in agricultural production.
7. Health policy
Despite Obama’s attempts to implement a national health plan to extend health insurance coverage to all citizens, Republicans in 21 states refuse to distribute free medical services under the Medicaid program to people with low incomes, although this is provided by the law on accessible medical care. This is a direct violation of the right to health of the poor and those vulnerable groups that have only limited access to health care.
8. Women’s rights
In 2013, Republicans in 22 states introduced 70 different restrictions on abortion, inflicting a powerful blow to the right of American women to reproductive health. These restrictions apply in many different forms. Among them, the requirement for abortion doctors to obtain permits in local hospitals, requiring patients to have an ultrasound scan before an abortion, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and limiting the amount of insurance coverage. Such a surge of restrictions resulted in the closure of clinics and to the danger of dismissals of physicians. As a result, it has become much harder for females in many states to make an abortion.
In addition, sexual violence against women and inadequate rape investigations are of great concern. Only 30 percent of survivors of rape report this to the US police, but even according to their statements, investigations are conducted very casually. Last week it became known that about 400 thousand analyzes taken from women on the fact of rape were kept untreated for many years, because of what many had the confidence that in the US rape is a crime without consequences.
9. National security and surveillance
The surveillance program of the NSA was severely criticized last year for violating human rights, including the right to privacy, when the unmasker Edward Snowden organized a leak of classified information showing that the United States and other countries are engaged in intercepting data globally.
Action to combat terrorism also raises questions and doubts in the US, as Guantánamo still has at least 154 inmates without charges and sentences. This prison has been in operation for 12 years already. By adding oil to the fire, the US court refused to discontinue forcible feeding of prisoners, although it violated the basic rules of medical ethics and the manifestation of cruelty.
And, finally, the veil of secrecy surrounding Obama’s campaign for targeted killings abroad, without any legal justification, is of great concern. This particularly applies to the practice of using drones and air strikes, which is a violation of the international human law.
10. The rights of non-citizens
In the United States, there are approximately 25 million non-citizens, and at least 10 million are in the country without official permission. Up to 400 thousand non-citizens are held in more than 250 centers for immigrants throughout the country, despite the absence of criminal records and strong ties with the United States, such as family relations. In 2013, the US immigration and customs authorities deported almost 370,000 non-citizens from the country. And illegal entry into the US is the most often punishable offense. Human Rights Watch recorded a large number of detainees, who are often and randomly transferred from one detention center to another, which deprives them of access to justice and increases the distrust of immigrant communities to the authorities.
Republicans in the US continue to reject amendments to the Immigration Act and are aggressively fighting immigration policies that affect the rights of illegal immigrants, including the Deferred Action for Arrivals in Childhood process. This legislation provides for the postponement of deportation for those who were brought to the United States in childhood, who have lived in the United States for more than five years.