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U.S. Fails in Effort to Block Vote on U.N. Convention o

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U.S. Fails in Effort to Block Vote on U.N. Convention on Torture


NITED NATIONS, July 24 — The United States lost a bid today to rewrite a United Nations plan intended to reinforce the 1989 convention against torture. The Bush administration, continuing to review international agreements binding on the United States, feared that the new plan would lead to demands by monitors to gain access to American prisoners and detainees.

The United States delegate to the United Nations' Economic and Social Council had called today for a vote to set aside the council's plan to establish a system of regular inspections of prisons and detention centers worldwide to check for abuses.

The United States wanted to create a committee in the General Assembly to write a new plan more acceptable to Washington.

The American proposal was defeated this evening, and the council's plan was approved.

The plan will next be considered by the General Assembly, where it requires the approval of a majority of the 190 member nations. Twenty nations must then ratify it for it to go into force.

The plan the United States opposed is contained in a protocol, or side-agreement, to the international convention against torture, which also bars "other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment."

Diplomats say, and American officials do not dispute, that the United States is sensitive about this issue because of potential demands for access to the detention camp at the United States naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 500 detainees suspected of being Al Qaeda members and others seized in Afghanistan are being held, as well as to others held in the United States as "enemy combatants."

But an American official here said that the concern in Washington was that the plan, couched in what is called an "optional protocol," would be unconstitutional in the United States because it does not recognize states' rights. Adherence to the protocol would be voluntary. He predicted many other countries would also refuse to cooperate because of its intrusiveness.

The official also said there was no question of withdrawing support for the convention on torture itself, which he called "an important human rights instrument." The United States, which signed the convention during the Clinton administration, is the largest contributor to a United Nations fund to aid torture victims.

Past efforts by United Nations monitors to visit American prisons have met with mixed results, with some states refusing entry to foreign inspectors. American officials have told United Nations human rights committees and monitors that the federal government cannot force states to open their prisons.

Human rights organizations say that the target of the new plan for prison visits is not the United States.

Amnesty International reports that more than 100 countries employ torture or other unacceptable methods on prisoners or detainees.

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