WASHINGTON – An international human rights group has called for the United States to investigate scandals of New York Police surveillance of Muslims and their worship places.
"New York City police have engaged in a pattern of surveillance of mosques and Muslim student groups without suspicion of criminal activity," Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said in a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, Reuters reported.
"Since New York's mayor and the state attorney general won't act, the Justice Department needs to step in and properly investigate these allegations of discrimination."
Last year, the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track their daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.
It also revealed that the NYPD intelligence had established so-called Demographics Unit using plainclothes police officers to monitor ethnic groups in the metropolitan region.
The AP also found that the NYPD kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims.
According to the agency, police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops.
Using this information, the police department built databases showing where Muslims live, pray, buy groceries, and use internet cafes.
The revelations angered US Muslims, who described the police surveillance as a violation of their civil and religious rights.
But officials of New York City and New York State have refused to investigate the police over these allegations.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also publicly defended the NYPD surveillance of Muslims, describing the operation as "legal," "appropriate," and "constitutional."
Under federal law, the US Justice Department has authority to investigate complaints of violations of civil rights by individuals, as well as by entities that receive federal funds, such as the New York City police.
HRW said an investigation into the Muslim surveillance program would help rebuild the public trust in the New York Police.
"Police should be protecting the public from religion-based discrimination, not engaging in it," Prasow said.
"A full and transparent investigation of New York City's surveillance program would be an important first step toward rebuilding the public's trust."
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the United States ratified in 1992, protects the rights to freedom of religious belief, expression, and association, and the right to privacy.
Governments are obligated to respect and ensure to everyone the rights recognized in the ICCPR, without distinction of any kind, such as religion or other status, and to investigate any alleged violations.
Responsibility to enforce the ICCPR extends to state and local authorities, as well as federal officials.
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark has called for an independent investigation of the Muslim surveillance program.
"We must be vigilant in protecting our citizens from crime and terrorism, but to put large segments of a religious community under surveillance with no legitimate cause or provocation clearly crosses a line," Mayor Cory Booker of Newark said.
He said the NYPD had told his police department it was entering Newark as part of an ongoing terrorism investigation, but not that it was "a blanket investigation of individuals based on nothing but their religion."
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of between seven to eight million.Since 9/11, US Muslims have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
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