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Torture and Ill-Treatment: Will the Us Correct Its Many Mistakes?

18 November 2014

Last week, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) reviewed the United States (US) in Geneva. The CAT is a United Nations (UN) human rights body composed of independent experts. They are in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention Against Torture and give recommendations for UN Member States to fully implement this convention.

WILPF’s Human Rights programme was there to monitor and report on this review.

Is the US trying to hide torture in Guantanamo?

The Committee first questioned the ethics of forced feeding – referred to as “enteral feeding” by the US delegation – of detainees who were on hunger strike. The delegation replied that through such a practice, they did not deliberately seek to harm the detainees’ health but rather to preserve their lives.

Experts then asked why the US authorities have refused to disclose videotapes of this appalling practice. The delegation replied that these videos contain confidential information, and disclosing them would turn Guantanamo detainees into objects of curiosity.

Additionally, the CAT denounced the fact that the US authorities did not allow the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to conduct interviews with detainees at the detention facility in Guantanamo, supposedly owing to security concerns. This limited the efficiency of his work.

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Excessive use of force by police forces

Experts of the CAT expressed great concern over the increasing militarisation of U.S. police forces and their excessive use of force, in particular against African American communities and people of colour.

The US delegation explained that the transfer of military equipment to civil law enforcement officials was made upon the demand of police forces themselves. However, the committee reiterated several times its concern on the use of inappropriate weapons against US citizens, as was the case between protesters and police forces recently during the confrontations in Ferguson, Missouri. They urged the US to ensure accountability for any excessive use of force by the police.

Michael Brown’s parents and others came all the way from Ferguson, Missouri, to attend this review in Geneva. They held a silent protest in order to denounce the recent racial tensions in Ferguson and the lack of action from the US authorities to hold accountable those responsible for Brown’s murder.


What to do now?

We, in particular our US Section, will monitor the implementation of the recommendations. The concluding observations of the Committee will be published shortly. These concerns and recommendations are an essential advocacy tool to combat the use of torture and ill treatment by the US authorities, and to protect and promote human rights over all. It will also be very important to refer back to these recommendations when other human rights bodies review the country.

From sexual violence in the military to solitary confinement, including practices of border patrol officials, suspicious interrogation techniques and many more, CAT’s experts denounced a great variety of issues regarding the practice of torture by the US authorities, including beyond the geographical limits of the U.S. territory.

However, most answers from the U.S. delegation were disappointing and avoided the questions posed. Therefore, civil society actors will have to multiply their efforts to promote the implementation of the CAT recommendations on the ground in order to ensure that the U.S. corrects and never repeats its mistakes.

Very soon, the Human Rights programme, together with the US Section, will start advocacy preparation for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the US, to be held on 11 May 2015. This is a general review of the human rights record of the US.

We will keep you updated on further outcomes of this UPR process and the review by the CAT, so stay in touch and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe to our newsletter, so that you get the latest news directly in your inbox.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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