United States has grim human rights record
For the first time ever, the human rights agency Amnesty International has made the United States the target of its worldwide campaign, accusing it of double standards and creating a climate "in which human rights violations thrive."
The report said: "While successive U.S. governments have used international human rights standards as a yardstick by which to judge other countries, they have not consistently applied those same standards at home. Across the United States, people have been beaten, kicked, punched, choked and shot by police officers even when they posed no threat."
Conditions in American prisons come in for particular criticism. The number of people in U.S. jails has tripled since 1980 to more than 1.7 million, and chains and leg-irons are commonly used as restraints, despite being prohibited by international law.
The report says: "Women and men are subjected to sexual as well as physical abuse. Overcrowded and underfunded prisons control inmates by isolating them for long periods and by using methods of restraint that are cruel, degrading and sometimes life-threatening. Victims include pregnant women, the mentally ill and even children."
According to the report, much of this abuse is linked to racism. It also points out that up to one-third of all young black men are in jail or on parole or probation, and that in 39 states, gays and lesbians can be legally dismissed from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.
It contains graphic descriptions of asylum seekers held in shackles, placed behind bars and detained in "inhuman and degrading" conditions. "The USA was built by immigrants and claims to stand against oppression. Yet the U.S. authorities violate the human rights of people who have been forced by persecution to leave their countries and seek asylum."
Amnesty has been involved in a long battle with the United States over its use of the death penalty. Executions are on the increase in this country, with more than 350 people put to death since 1990 and another 3,300 people on Death Row.
According to Amnesty, the death penalty is "applied in an arbitrary and unfair manner and is prone to bias on grounds of race or economic status. It has become so highly politicised that virtually no politician is willing to speak out against it."