UN reports US police brutality
- U.N. cites police for being too forceful at rally
Oakland police accused of violence against activists
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER
Here's a distinction Oakland didn't need: A United
Nations report lists police firing of wooden plugs and
shot-filled beanbags at antiwar demonstrators last
April alongside the world's worst cases of government
defamation and violence against activists in 2003.
In her 166-page report, Hina Jilani, a Pakistani human
rights lawyer and investigator for the Geneva-based
U.N. Commission on Human Rights, suggests that Oakland
police used excessive force on protesters at the Port
That puts Oakland's finest in the company of the New
York Police Department -- which charged into
protesters with horses, batons and pepper spray in
February 2003 -- and also Gambia, where security
forces used batons, tear gas, rubber and lead bullets
to quell student unrest in 2000. In Egypt and
Pakistan, other protests against the war in Iraq led
to arrests and alleged torture.
U.N. human rights officials have written up the United
States for child prostitution and pornography,
criminal executions, poor treatment of migrant workers
and violence against women.
But the 2004 report is the first in at least five
years to add the United States to a list of such
repressive regimes as Indonesia, Burundi, China and
others that routinely kill, torture, imprison or spy
on human-rights activists.
Most of those nations responded to "letters of
allegation" from U.N. officials. The U.S. State
Department did not.
"Since we're a foreign policy organization, typically
we don't comment on domestic policy issues unless they
have a foreignpolicy dimension," said State Department
spokesman Lou Fintor.
Later in the spring, the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security reimbursed Oakland by more than $424,000 for
police overtime in protecting critical infrastructure
such as the Port of Oakland during the early weeks of
the war in Iraq.
"While the U.N. is sending out letters, the Department
of Homeland Security is patting them on the back with
$400,000," said David Solnit, a Bay Area organizer for
Direct Action to Stop the War.
Police handling of protests in Oakland and New York
were brought to the attention of the United Nations in
an American Civil Liberties Union report on post-Sept.
11 government repression.
Jilani, a Pakistani human-rights lawyer appointed in
2000 as special representative to the U.N. Secretary
General on the situation of human rights defenders,
made contact with the protesters and their attorneys
"It indicates the outrageous actions of Oakland Police
Department don't comport with international standards
for how to treat people who are expressing their
political viewpoint," said Rachel Lederman, staff
attorney for the National Lawyers Guild in San
Francisco and co-counsel for 48 protesters pursuing a
civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Oakland Police Chief Richard Word could not be reached
Friday for comment. But he has announced that city
police no longer will fire wooden dowels as a means of
Lederman said the city should prohibit indiscriminate
use of such "less than lethal" munitions on crowds.
"These kinds of weapons are in violation of
international standards generally," she said.
Jilani's report says at least two protesters in
Oakland were seriously injured, one of them requiring
surgery and later a skin graft. Attorneys for the
demonstrators say at least 50 people were injured,
more than a dozen seriously enough to seek medical
attention at local hospitals.
One of them, Erik Shaw, served as protesters' liaison
to law enforcement agencies. In the weeks after the
April 7 protest, Shaw said, he was photographed by
apparently undercover law officers on several
searching the flatbed truck that Shaw arrived in, Shaw
told U.N. investigators. They left when challenged for
a search warrant, according to the report.
Antiwar activists will return to the port Wednesday
for another march, said Direct Action's Solnit.
"We're going to make sure we still have a right to
protest," he said.
Contact Ian Hoffman at ihoffman@...
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