Some human rights lawyers are asking the United Nations to weigh in on the issue of people who are addicted to drugs and who are sent from Puerto Rico to substandard programs in Chicago. Steve Schwinn, director of the John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic in Chicago, says he thinks that hundreds of Puerto Ricans have been at worst tortured - and at best ill-treated - at unlicensed addiction therapy programs here and in other U.S. cities.
“Our hope here is to get some international attention for this problem, to kind of light a fire under the United States government to get them to pay some attention to the problem, and ultimately to stop it,” said Schwinn.
Schwinn said his group has spoken with roughly a dozen individuals who were sent to Chicago under false promises of receiving quality treatment by municipal authorities in Puerto Rico. Additionally, they spoke with government authorities in Chicago, Illinois, and the U.S. government about the issue. They synthesized their findings and argument in a report that was sent to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, known as CAT.
“Our effort here is a step in the direction of publicizing this problem on the international stage as a human rights issue and in particular as an issue of torture within the United States,” Schwinn explained. He said he hopes that the CAT will consider the information and include the issue on its list of human rights problems for the U.S. to address in its next reporting cycle.
“The Committee’s report, if it reflects that this a problem of torture and ill-treatment, is not only international public shaming for a problem that is, in our view, quite obviously torture and ill-treatment,” he said, “but it’s also a public legal statement by a legal authority, an international treaty body under the auspices of the United Nations, that identifies this as a problem of the United States violating its obligation under the Convention Against Torture and ill-treatment.”
Schwinn said it may be another year before the Committee Against Torture decides whether to include the issue on its list of items for the U.S. to address.
Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.