US says open to fair criticism at UN rights forum

Geneva–The United States is open to fair criticism of its human rights record, including racial discrimination and counterterrorism policies, when it is under UN scrutiny this week, a US envoy said on Wednesday.

For the first time on Friday, US practices will come under review by the UN Human Rights Council which has been gradually examining the performance of all 192 UN members.

“We have to be willing to take criticism from all corners. And we've got to be able to take all serious allegations seriously, and I believe we will," US human rights ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters.

A bloc of developing countries, many of them Muslim, often allied with Russia and China, dominate the 47-member body set up in 2006 to replace a discredited commission. The main innovation is that no country escapes its spotlight and recommendations.

Muslim states are likely to raise concerns about abuse of prisoners in Iraq, mounting civilian casualties in Afghanistan, secret detention in the US-led fight against terrorism and the delay in closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“We will get some interesting questions, we may get some outrageous questions," Donahoe said.

"We genuinely believe that it's through that type of open process that the truth about our human rights record will shine through and the areas in which we need to improve will benefit from the real and serious input that we get," she added.

The Obama administration brought the United States back into the council last year with a promise to focus on traditional Western concerns about civil and political freedoms.

No fewer than three US assistant secretaries of state will lead a delegation made up of some 30 officials from the State Department, Homeland Security, the Pentagon and the Departments of Justice, Labour, Education, and Health and Human Services.

The Obama administration has submitted a 29-page report listing its achievements as a democracy guided by "simple but powerful principles", but admitting to discrimination against blacks and Hispanics and a "broken" immigration system.

“There is no comparison between American democracy and repressive regimes," it declares. "Progress is our goal."

The United States is "currently at war with al Qaeda and its associated forces", it says. The United States would comply with all applicable domestic and international law in armed conflicts and has ordered that foreign detainees be treated humanely.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) human rights program, said: "The report also defends the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects, despite the fact that military commissions under international law are considered a second class system of justice."

The US report also failed to fully address significant problems, especially the impact on human rights of the economic crisis, Hurricane Katrina and the "militarization of the US-Mexico border" to stop immigrants, he told Reuters.

"The United States is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole, with 2,400 individuals sentenced to basically die in prison when they committed a crime as a juvenile," Dakwar said.

The US report says the United States upholds freedom from religious persecution and has worked to ensure fair treatment of Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asian communities affected by discrimination and intolerance since the 11 Sept. attacks.

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