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U.S. skips regional human rights panel examining reports of abuse by U.S. officials

(Associated Press)

The Trump administration did not attend a regional human rights hearing that examined how U.S. policies are hurting asylum claims or triggering other alleged immigration abuses.

For decades, U.S. administrations have enthusiastically supported the Inter-American Human Rights Commission as it defended rights throughout the hemisphere, especially in repressive countries like Cuba and Venezuela.

But no U.S. official attended Tuesday's hearing, which examined Trump's executive actions to restrict the admission of refugees and restrict travel from six mostly-Muslim nations.

The commission also heard cases from the Obama administration involving U.S. Border Patrol agents accused of turning back migrants seeking to cross the border to apply for asylum.

Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said State officials decided not to attend on the advice of government lawyers who said any testimony by them could harm pending litigation.

"This was deemed not appropriate by our legal experts," Toner said.

He said the United States has "tremendous respect" for the commission's role "in safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the hemisphere, including the United States."

Human rights advocates said only the administration's proposed travel ban has been blocked in federal court, not the border cases, and a U.S. delegate would not have to give testimony but could simply observe.

Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America, which has worked on some of the border cases, said the U.S. absence sent a message that the Trump administration was uninterested in how its policies affected human rights.

"It is alarming because [the commission] is one of the last resorts for many of these people," she said.

The commission is the autonomous human-rights branch of the 35-nation Organization of American States, the hemisphere's most important alliance.

It was the second time this week that the U.S. skipped an international human rights forum.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced it was boycotting a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva because of what it described as an anti-Israel bias in the discussion of Israeli abuse of Palestinians.

Toner said comparing the two events was "apples and oranges."


(c) 2017 Los Angeles Times

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