The U.S. Record on Racial Discrimination is on the Whole World's Agenda

As the United Nations this week debated America's record on race, one name was on everyone's minds: Michael Brown. Not only Americans have been riveted this week by the tragic killing of the unarmed teenager, the subsequent protests, and the militarized response of law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo.

The events in the overwhelmingly black suburb of St. Louis came as the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed U.S. compliance with the world's leading anti-discrimination legal instrument, which the United States ratified 20 years ago. The gap between the rights guaranteed by our Constitution on one hand, and the reality of the persistent racism that continues to plague our society on the other, could not have been made more relevant by current events.

That gap is just as stark when viewed from the lens of international human rights law. This week, in Geneva, Switzerland, the U.N. committee that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination placed the U.S. record under the spotlight. The committee, comprised of leading human rights and race discrimination experts from all over the world, heard from high-level representatives of the U.S. government in a large delegation as well as from advocates and victims of human rights abuses.

The committee expressed deep concern at the circumstances surrounding Mr. Brown's shooting as well as over other recent deaths of unarmed African-American men – like Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, and others – at the hands of law enforcement. They heard heartbreaking testimony from the mother of Trayvon Martin and the father of Jordan Davis, both of whom lost their sons in violent circumstances that underscored the overt and subconscious forms of racism that our country continues to face. Mark Kappelhoff, the deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice said in response to the committee's questions that the Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the Brown case.

The United States was represented by a high-level delegation led by Ambassador Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma and the first Native American U.S. ambassador to represent the United States at the U.N. Human Rights Council. In Ambassador Harper's words:

The United States has made...visible progress that is reflected in the leadership of our society, [but] we recognize that we have much left to do. Issues covered by this Convention are of such fundamental and deep importance that we must continue to make progress. For this reason, we value the opportunity for dialogue with the Committee.

That dialogue was a rich one, with the committee questioning the United States on a variety of issues, including deaths on the Southern border, the unaccompanied minor crisis, family detention, lack of access to justice for individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay, education, and violence against women, amongst many other topics. The committee also asked specific questions about lack of implementation of the treaty at federal, state, and local levels and echoed many concerns raised in the ACLU shadow report submitted to the committee. Those include:

The committee's final report and recommendations will be issued on August 29. We hope that they serve as a guide for how our government can better comply with its obligations under the convention and – more importantly – take further steps to address persistent forms of discrimination and prevent any more unnecessary deaths.

The world is watching.

Learn more about racial discrimination and other civil liberties issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (8)
Read the Terms of Use

Edwin Bonilla

Michael Brown was a young man and not a "teen". No one who is 18 or older is a "teen". Disrespecting Michael Brown by calling him a "teen" when he was not a "teen" is wrong. He should not be subjected to this intolerance. The U.S. has made huge strides in reducing racial discrimination.


Sure ignore the racial discrimination in China, japan, korea, India, the rest of asia, Russia, france, all of Africa, the middle east or Australia. Just blame the country with the most races in one country force upon them for racial discrimination


Thank you. This is a start. We gotta start somewhere. let us not forget the same terrorist laws we have against terrorist that try to destroy this country needs to be filed against the police, who use terrorist tactics and brutality to create fear in the citizens used by police officers who outright violate our Civil Rights and our Human Rights as well.


The United States of America will again brush aside any international recommendations. We need prosecutions against our officials; but, which of the world's former or current non-imperial powers will take a stand against the militarized, psychopath bully everyone knows the United States of America to be.


just what we need, UN approbation, l o l

here's a clue:
just because this administration is blatantly bigoted, doesn't mean the whole US is.


This is none of the UN's business.

from Richard, V...

Edwin Bonilla is IMO completely full of noodles. Find any person in their later years who will tell you they thought exactly the same as when they were 18 to 20 and I might be persuaded to change my mind.
Speaking as an individual who decided something at 20 years of age that to this very day I regret being forced to decide upon it. But it was either that or another even less desirable choice. This was in 1970 when nobody knew that draft dodgers would be treated like the big heroes actual war veterans never have received. Consequently the choice at the time was 1) Go and serve my country or 2) Flee and give up my entire citizenship, plus never be allowed back into the United States.
I chose Number 1 and live with memories that haunt me to this day.


The UN member Nations need to clean their own "nests" before anyone in the USA listens to them.

Stay Informed