Human Rights in the United States | Center for Victims of Torture

Human Rights in the United States

The Center for Victims of Torture focuses our work on healing, training and advocacy concerning instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. At CVT, we believe that in the U.S., the criminal legal system and policing system often violate human rights, including these very types of violations that can amount to torture.

Driven by this belief, in 2021 CVT opened a portfolio of work influenced particularly by Minnesota advocates and the work done in our communities concerning police-inflicted brutality, criminal legal system reform and other related issues. The current status of policing and the criminal legal system in the U.S. perpetuates violations of human rights and furthers discrimination. CVT, in partnership with community organizations and advocates, supports reform and public safety initiatives that put community first and end mistreatment, brutality and murder inflicted by state actors on people who call the United States home. Read more about trauma inflicted by the criminal legal system here and CVT's work on these issues here. Get details on CVT's Minnesota State Legislative Priorities for Spring 2022 here.

What You Should Know

Criminal Legal System Reform

Every year the U.S. spends $80 billion to keep over two million people imprisoned. The U.S. makes up five percent of the world’s population, but houses 20 percent of the world’s prisoners, making the country the global leader in incarceration. The current criminal legal system fails communities and those who are imprisoned, and reform is needed at every stage of the legal/criminal process (arrests, bail, criminal defense, trial, sentencing, incarceration and release/parole).

To work for these much-needed reforms, at CVT we focus on issues such as:

  1. Ending excessive and/or indefinite detention.
  2. Genuine rehabilitation and healing of those who are incarcerated.
  3. Youth justice and incarceration.
  4. Solitary confinement/ prison living conditions.
  5. Legal servitude (an exception to the 13th Amendment).
  6. 6th Amendment violations (the right to a speedy and fair trial).
  7. Restoring the right to vote for those convicted of felonies, who have served their prison sentence.


CVT believes that excessive force, violence and brutality at the hands of police are violations of human rights and can constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Washington Post has compiled data since 2015, showing that U.S. police officers have killed between 888 and 1,021 people annually. However, the data show that police killings of Black Americans occur disproportionately: while only 13 percent of the population, Black people are killed at twice the rate of white people, and Hispanic Americans, too, are killed at rates disproportionate to population size.

And though the federal government does not compile data for injuries or deaths from police interactions, an independent study in Intervention Journal shows that in 2012 alone, 54,300 people were hospitalized for injuries that resulted after interactions with police. Recent research suggests that injuries or deaths of civilians as a result of police interactions have been consistently underreported (by over 17,000 deaths from 1980-2018)

Read an op ed article in Teen Vogue, written by Ta'mara Hill, CVT policy officer, in honor of 26 June, UN Int'l Day in Support of Victims of Torture. She writes,“It’s time to start envisioning a new normal for policing, incarceration, and accountability; not just in our country, but globally."

Structural Bias Racial Disparities

CVT recognizes that historic institutions and systems were founded on racism and still operate from a place of violent discrimination. We bring this understanding into the development of our work and advocate with an intersectional approach.

For example, as reported by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, arrests and incarceration in the U.S. are enacted in much higher percentages with people who are Black and Hispanic.


In addition, Roland G. Fryer, Jr. with Harvard University has written about use of force by police, showing a greater likelihood for violence in interactions with Black and Hispanic people, as great as 50 percent higher than for white people.  

Taking the Issue to the United Nations

Advocates in the U.S. have long tried to bring issues facing BIPOC communities to the UN, often with little to no success. This timeline, though not all-inclusive, shows some of the major highlights of U.S. BIPOC advocacy at the UN, with some insight into how CVT has been working to bring this issues to the global stage. Click to read more details in the PDF.


We heal victims of torture through unique services and professional care worldwide.

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We strengthen partners who heal torture survivors and work to prevent torture.

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We advocate for the protection & care of torture survivors and an end to torture.

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