GENEVA -- The United States, which regards itself as a bastion of human rights, found itself under attack from friend and foe alike during the first week of the United Nations' annual meeting on global democratic rights.
The sharpest blow came from America's ally, Germany, whose foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, announced that the 15-member European Union for the first time would submit an anti-death-penalty resolution to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
He told delegates from the 53 member countries that the resolution was intended to prevent "the execution of minors, of the mentally ill, enforcement before completion of ongoing procedures, and extradition to countries where the death penalty is in force."
Fischer did not single out the United States by name, but Germany protested when Arizona executed two German-born men earlier this year, despite German government protests that the executions were "barbarism."
America's rights record was excoriated by longtime foes such as Cuba, but it also came under criticism from friendly countries and from Amnesty International, a leading crusader against human rights violations.
On the commission's opening day, Amnesty International for the first time placed the United States on its list of human rights violators, in the company of Algeria, Cambodia and Turkey, among others, because of police brutality, violations against people in detention and increased numbers of executions.
Each year, Amnesty International, which is based in London, targets a half-dozen nations as the worst violators of human rights and lobbies to see that the U.N. body censures them.
"Human rights violations in the United States are persistent, widespread and appear to disproportionately affect people of racial or ethnic minority backgrounds," said Pierre Sane, the group's secretary-general.
He argued that despite its "claim to international leadership," the United States' position as a champion of human rights had been tarnished by its violations.
Police brutality and poor treatment of those in detention are widespread in America, he said. He also accused American officials of detaining those seeking asylum from political persecution in other countries without judicial review and sometimes in the same lockups as criminals.
Nancy Rubin, head of the American delegation, disagreed "strongly that civil and human rights violations in the United States are persistent, widespread or indeed that they go unpunished." There are already "mechanisms in place" to safeguard citizens' rights, she noted.
"In the United States, the average time on death row is 11 years," said one American official, who refused to be identified. "The average time after a death sentence is given in China is 30 minutes, but it is not on Amnesty's list this year."
In previous years, Amnesty International has placed China high on its list of violators, but it was listed as a second priority this year.
Sane, from Senegal, said Amnesty International would support a resolution that will urge a moratorium on executions, with the goal of abolishing the death penalty. To do otherwise, he said, would jeopardize the group's credibility because of the increased numbers of people being executed in the United States, and because of the 3,500 people currently on death row.