U.S. Says Nothing in Response to Demand by Two UN Envoys that U.S. Protect Occupy Protesters from Police Violence
WASHINGTON -- Federal officials have yet to respond to two United Nations human rights envoys who formally requested that the U.S. government protect Occupy protesters against excessive force by law enforcement officials.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
(reprinted below), the two envoys called on U.S. officials to "explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall" and expressed concern that excessive use of force "could have been related to [the protesters'] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The envoys also reminded the U.S. government of its international obligations to "take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of all peaceful protesters be respected."
The letter, from Frank La Rue
, who serves as the U.N. special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, and Maina Kiai
, the special rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly, was sent in December 2011.
It was publicly released last week in connection with the 20th annual U.N. Human Rights Council meeting
, which started Monday and at which both rapporteurs -- independent experts sent out to investigate human rights problems around the world -- will make their annual reports.
The U.S. government has not answered the letter. A State Department spokeswoman told HuffPost that "the U.S. will be replying," but she couldn't say when or how. "We do not comment on the substance of diplomatic correspondence," she said.
"The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is the lead agency for violations of human rights or civil rights in the United States" and therefore will have input into the response, the spokeswoman noted.
U.N. officials could not be reached for comment.
"Lack of an answer does not make the U.S. look good in the international community," said Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's human rights program.
"The U.S. should at a very minimum respond to a letter like this," he said. "And if they believe that law enforcement agencies operated under legal, constitutional authority and there were no problems, then they should explain that and present that" before the Human Rights Council.
The rapporteurs' letter described how groups of peaceful Occupy protesters
were forcibly removed from their encampments in various U.S. cities, including New York, Seattle, Denver and Oakland, Calif., last fall.
- New York police staged a night raid
on the original Occupy Wall Street encampment.
- The Oakland Police Department fired tear gas
, smoke grenades and beanbag rounds at demonstrators.
- Philadelphia and Los Angeles police stormed the encampments
in their cities in the middle of the night, evicting and arresting hundreds of protesters.
"In the conduct of such operations, law enforcement officials in these cities allegedly used violence as a means to forcibly remove unwilling protesters from the public areas in which they were located," the letter said. "In some instances, police allegedly used force unnecessarily and disproportionately," including "pepper spray and tear gas … used deliberately on protesters at a very close distance."
The letter asked the State Department to respond to several questions about what happened and what sort of follow-up there was. It inquired, "What was the legal basis for these actions that limit the exercise of the legitimate rights of the protesters?"
The letter was written shortly after La Rue told HuffPost that he would contact the U.S.
government demanding to know why federal officials were not protecting the rights of Occupy demonstrators. La Rue's view was that the federal government's role was to ensure that local governments respected protesters' human and constitutional rights.
In the letter, the envoys raised a particular concern that the "crowd control techniques used to manage and disperse these assemblies might have been intended to insert fear and intimidation on protesters throughout the country."
NATIONS UNIES UNITED NATIONS
HAUT COMMISSARIAT DES NATIONS UNIES OFFICE OF THE UNITED NATIONS
AUX DROITS DE L’HOMME HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
PROCEDURES SPECIALES DU SPECIAL PROCEDURES OF THE
CONSEIL DES DROITS DE L’HOMME HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
REFERENCE: UA G/SO 214 (67-17) Assembly & Association (2010-1)
21 December 2011
We have the honour to address you in our capacity as Special Rapporteur on the
promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Special
Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association pursuant to
General Assembly resolution 60/251 and to Human Rights Council resolutions 16/4 and
In this connection, we would like to bring to your Excellency’s Government’s
attention information received concerning an alleged excessive use of force against
peaceful protesters who were assembled in various cities throughout the United
States of America.
According to the information received:
"In November 2011, groups of peaceful protesters from the “occupy movement”
were subjected to forced removal by law enforcement officials in different cities
within the country, including Portland, Davis, Oakland, New York, Seattle and
"In the conduct of such operations, law enforcement officials in these cities
allegedly used violence as a means to forcibly remove unwilling protesters from
the public areas in which they were located. Reportedly police equipped with riot
gear and law enforcement officers would have made use of heavy crowd control
techniques and weaponry, including pepper spray, teasers and LRAD ‘sound
cannons” to disperse protesters.
"In some instances, police allegedly used force unnecessarily and
disproportionately; pepper spray and tear gas would have been used deliberately
on protesters at a very close distance, causing serious injuries to several protesters.
In line with the information received, investigations on the alleged events above
resulted in ‘disciplinary measures’ for those police officers accused of
misconduct. However, no criminal investigations have, or are in the process of,
"Further reports indicate that the adopted crowd control techniques used to manage
and disperse these assemblies might have been intended to insert fear and
intimidation on protesters throughout the country."
Should this information be corroborated, concerns are expressed that the
aforementioned allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against
protesters could have been related to their dissenting views, criticisms of economic
policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental
Without prejudging the accuracy of these allegations, we urge your Excellency’s
Government to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of
all peaceful protesters be respected. We also request that your Excellency’s Government
adopt effective measures to investigate, sanction those responsible, and prevent the
recurrence of these acts.
We would like to draw your Excellency's Government attention to Principle 4 of
the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Officials, which
provides that, “Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as
possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.”
Furthermore, Principle 5 provides that, “Whenever the use of force and firearms is
unavoidable law enforcement officials shall, (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in
proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate object to be achieved; (b)
Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life; (c) Ensure that
assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest
possible moment and (d) Ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected
person are notified at the earliest possible moment.” (Adopted by the Eighth United
Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana,
Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990).
We wish to appeal to your Excellency’s Government to ensure that the right to
freedom of peaceful assembly, as recognized under article 21 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is enjoyed free of arbitrary restrictions. In this
context, we would like to refer to Human Rights Council resolution 15/21, and in
particular preambular paragraph 7, where it recognizes that, “exercising the rights to
freedom of peaceful assembly and of association free of restrictions, subject only to the
limitations permitted by international law, in particular international human rights law, is
indispensable to the full enjoyment of these rights, particularly where individuals may
espouse minority or dissenting… political beliefs”. In this context, we would like to recall
operative paragraph 1 of the same resolution that, “Calls upon States to respect and fully
protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely,…
including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, human rights
defenders, trade unionists and others, including migrants, seeking to exercise or to
promote these rights, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that any restrictions on
the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are in
accordance with their obligations under international human rights law.”
We would also like to appeal to your Excellency’s Government to take all
necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression in accordance
with fundamental principles as set forth in article 19 of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, which provides that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom
of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the
form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Moreover, it is our responsibility under the mandates provided to us by the
Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention. Since we are
expected to report on these cases to the Human Rights Council, we would be grateful for
your cooperation and your observations on the following matters:
1. Are the facts alleged in the above summary accurate?
2. Has a complaint been lodged?
3. What was the legal basis for these actions that limit the exercise of the
legitimate rights of the protesters?
4. Please provide the details, and where available the results, of any
investigation, medical examinations, and judicial or other inquiries which
may have been carried out in relation to these allegations.
5. In the event that the alleged perpetrators are identified, please provide the full
details of any prosecutions which have been undertaken; have penal,
disciplinary or administrative sanctions been imposed on the alleged
6. Please indicate whether compensation has been provided to any victim(s) or
the family of the victim(s).
We undertake to ensure that your Excellency’s Government’s response to each of
these questions is accurately reflected in the report we will submit to the Human Rights
Council for its consideration.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.
Frank La Rue
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of
opinion and expression
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of