Annual Report: USA 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: USA 2010

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  • Scores of prisoners at Tamms CMAX facility in Illinois - many of them mentally ill - had spent 10 or more years confined to solitary cells for 23 hours a day, with inadequate treatment or review of their status. Prisoners had no work, educational or recreational programmes and little contact with the outside world. In September, following appeals from community and human rights groups, the new Director of Corrections introduced a 10-point reform plan, which included Transfer Review Hearings for each inmate, more mental health monitoring and an opportunity for prisoners to undergo General Educational Development (basic education) testing.

In October, a US federal appeals court ruled that constitutional protection against shackling pregnant women during labour had been clearly established by decisions of the US Supreme Court and lower courts.

Migrants and asylum-seekers

Tens of thousands of migrants, including asylum seekers, were routinely detained, in violation of international standards. Many were held in harsh conditions and had inadequate access to health care, exercise and legal assistance. In August, the government announced a number of proposed changes, including strengthening federal oversight of immigration detention facilities and consultation on alternatives to detention. However, it declined to make nationwide standards governing conditions in detention enforceable by law.

In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expressed concern about deaths of migrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody resulting from inadequate medical care. He found that more deaths had occurred than the 74 officially recorded since 2003 and urged that ICE be required to promptly and publicly report all deaths in custody, with each death fully investigated.

Health and reproductive rights

In May, Dr George Tiller was shot dead in Wichita, Kansas, by an anti-abortion activist. Dr Tiller had been subjected to a series of threats and attacks for providing lawful late-term abortions to women whose pregnancies presented a grave risk to their health or who were carrying non-viable foetuses. After Dr Tiller's murder, the federal government increased security protection for some other abortion providers. However, threats and harassment of doctors and clinics continued.

Right to health - maternal mortality

The number of preventable deaths from pregnancy related complications remained high, costing the lives of hundreds of women during the year. There were inequalities in access to maternal health care based on income, race, ethnicity or national origin, with African American women nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. An estimated 52 million people under 65 had no health insurance in early 2009, a rise over the previous year.

Trade embargo against Cuba

President Obama lifted some travel restrictions to Cuba, allowing Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send money home. However, he extended the USA's 47-year trade embargo against Cuba, which limited Cubans' access to medicines, endangering the health of millions (see Cuba entry).

Conscientious objectors

In August, Travis Bishop, a sergeant in the US army, was sentenced to one year in prison for refusing to serve in Afghanistan because of his religious beliefs. His application for conscientious objector status was still pending when he was court-martialled. He is one of several US soldiers imprisoned in recent years for refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Unfair trials

In August, the US Parole Commission denied release on parole to Leonard Peltier, despite concerns about the fairness of his 1977 conviction for murder. The former American Indian Movement activist had spent more than 32 years in prison for the murders of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in June 1975.