Unit VI.  International Implementation,
             Monitoring, and Enforcement

A Case to Consider

What would you do if you were pressured or ordered to participate in abusing a POW?

The US has ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Degrading or Inhumane Treatment as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions for Victims of War. But the US has tried to minimize its legal obligations under these parts of international law in its dealing with “unlawful combatants” in places like Guantánamo, Cuba, where the US leases a military base that houses prisoners.

At times, the US has tried to make a unilateral interpretation of the Torture Convention, saying that an interrogator has to almost kill a prisoner to be found guilty of torture. The US has also said that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters taken in Afghanistan. These unilateral interpretations are not shared by most other states or by most private international lawyers.

US Army military police escort detainee
at Camp X-Ray, Guantánamo Bay

The result of these US interpretations has been to open the door to prisoner abuse at Guantánamo, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and elsewhere. Some prisoner abuse has been the result of poor training and supervision. Some has been authorized via general legal rulings that are then followed by specific instructions to interrogators and military commanders in the field.

In 2005, there was growing concern about US treatment of enemy prisoners by elements in the US intelligence community, in sectors of Congress, and by US Federal Courts.

7 video reports between Dec. 2007 and January 2010 on PBS
“The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer”

How do the problems with prisoner abuse affect the ability of the US to be a defender of human rights? Does it make a difference if a prisoner is thought to be a terrorist?

In this unit, you’ll learn about the United Nations and other cooperative efforts to promote and enforce human rights internationally.
Human Rights Council
High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN General Assembly
Security Council
Criminal Courts

BBC: Legal limbo of Guantánamo's prisoners
MSNBC: Guantánamo detentions ruled unconstitutional
US: Pentagon Detention Guidelines Entrench Illegality
PBS NewsHour: Allegations of Abuse

Unit V. International Human Rights
in the Domestic US Context