U.N. Human Rights Body Issues Decisive Observations On Racial Discrimination In U.S.

October 8, 2009

Committee On The Elimination Of Racial Discrimination Finds Progress Lacking And Calls For Legislation

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NEW YORK – In a letter to the Obama administration made public by the American Civil Liberties Union today, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns over a lack of progress to end racial discrimination in the United States. The letter urged the Obama administration and Congress to do more to end racial profiling, strengthen efforts to provide adequate and affordable housing to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, end the practice of sentencing juveniles – most of whom are persons of color – to life sentences without parole and address the deprivation of Western Shoshone American Indians of their ancestral lands.

"The message from the committee is a stark reminder of how much remains to be done to achieve racial equality. Full implementation and enforcement of human rights treaty obligations are critical for making real progress at home and for U.S. leadership on human rights abroad," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The Obama administration must change gears and prioritize human rights at home. The committee's recommendations offer a blueprint to end racial discrimination and promote equal opportunity."

The committee's observations came after reviewing a one-year follow-up report submitted by the U.S. government to the committee in January 2009, days before the end of the Bush administration. That report aimed to demonstrate compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which the U.S. ratified in 1994. Based on shadow reports from nongovernmental organizations – including an ACLU and Rights Working Group (RWG) report on racial profiling – the committee, in its letter to the Obama administration, urged the U.S. to "make all efforts to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)" and to review the 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, "with a view to avoiding any ambiguous language that may provide a loophole allowing for actions to constitute racial profiling."
 
In its letter, the CERD committee also urged the U.S. government "to review the National Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS), with the view of avoiding racial profiling in migration policies," and to reconsider a program – known as 287(g) – that allows certain state and local law enforcement agencies to engage in federal immigration enforcement activities and has been widely criticized as fostering racial profiling and draining local police resources.

"After 9/11, the U.S. government has increasingly used immigration enforcement as a proxy to target Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities," said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of the Rights Working Group. "The conflation of immigration law with 'national security' concerns has resulted in immigration enforcement programs that foster illegal racial profiling for immigrant communities across the board. The United States government should implement the committee's recommendations and should work to end programs like NSEERS and 287(g) which have been applied discriminatorily, resulting in racial and religious profiling and numerous human rights violations."

"The best way to rid the nation of the scourge of racial and ethnic profiling and bring this country into conformity with both the Constitution and international human rights obligations is to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)," said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "ERPA would ban the practice of racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal funding to state and local police departments if they adopt policies to prohibit the practice. Passing this act would demonstrate that the U.S. is committed to meeting the standards set by the CERD."

The committee is an independent group of 18 human rights experts that oversee compliance with CERD. In March 2008, the committee issued a strongly worded critique of the U.S. record on racial discrimination and recommendations for U.S. compliance with the CERD treaty. The Bush administration report submitted in January to demonstrate compliance was criticized by many human rights groups as a last-minute whitewash report and full of omissions.

The CERD letter to the U.S. Government is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/racialjustice/41258res20090928.html

The Bush administration's January submission to CERD is available online at: www.state.gov/documents/organization/113905.pdf

The ACLU and RWG's report to CERD is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/racialjustice/40055pub20090629.html

The CERD 2008 concluding recommendations are available online at:
www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/racialjustice/34375res20080307.html

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