Torture Watch

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Berkeley would become the first city in the United States to independently try to comply with U.N. treaties on torture, civil rights and racial discrimination, if the City Council passes a measure on the issue tonight.

The measure would require the city to file biennial reports to the United Nations on how - or whether - the city meets international human rights standards. In Berkeley, that could include its record on homelessness, the achievement gap among different racial groups at Berkeley High and the presence of John Yoo, a UC Berkeley School of Law professor and Berkeley resident who authored the Bush administration's justification for torture.

"It's critical that cities and counties, not just nations, make these reports to the U.N.," said Ann Fagan Ginger, head of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute in Berkeley. "To relate directly to the U.N. is the closest way we have of supporting the rights spelled out in these treaties."

Unpaid law students at Ginger's institute and volunteers on the city's Peace and Justice Commission would compile most of the city data for the United Nations. City staff would chip in if more work is needed, according to the city manager.

Berkeley would be the first city in the country, and possibly the world, to submit its compliance records to the United Nations, said Yves Sorokobi, a U.N. spokesman in New York.

"We welcome citizen participation in trying to uphold these treaties, but in general they are directed toward countries," he said. Berkeley "has taken the lead here."

That's not surprising. Berkeley has long conducted its own foreign policy, occasionally at odds with the U.S. State Department.

Some on the City Council said they're not sure Berkeley needs to comply with treaties to which the United States has already agreed.

"They expect each town and hamlet to report back? That seems kind of excessive," said City Councilman Gordon Wozniak. "And is it really helpful to the international body if Berkeley, one isolated city, does this?"

There's also the possibility that Berkeley might not be in compliance with the treaties, a potential embarrassment for a city that prides itself on civil rights and progressive politics.

"I'm not sure what the upside for us is," Wozniak said. "To prove we're good guys because we don't torture people in Berkeley? I think we need to read these treaties a lot more closely."

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This page contains a single entry published on September 29, 2009 12:35 AM.

Bybee's latest Opinion: "protective sweep" was the previous entry in this blog.

Torture probe doesn't go far enough up chain of command is the next entry in this blog.

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