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CERD Committee Grills U.S. Delegation

Katie Schwartzmann,
Legal Director,
ACLU of Louisiana
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February 21, 2008

A couple of hours ago, the ACLU delegation got to observe the delegation representing the United States government appear before the CERD committee. The delegation presented its written answers to the CERD Committee’s questions, and the Committee had the opportunity to ask them for more information and to ask follow-up questions. The interest and questions of the Committee members showed our hard work has been worth it. One member directly referred to the ACLU shadow report in asking questions, and others quoted from it, and grilled the U.S. on our issues. The impact of the ACLU’s work was obvious, both to us and to the U.S. delegation!

To give you an example of how the process works, a Committee member would say something like this to the U.S. government representatives: “In your answers you suggest that the disproportionate overrepresentation of African-Americans in the criminal justice system is due to the fact that the African-American population commits more crime than the white population. However, we have seen credible statistics that indicate that African-Americans represent 1/3 of crack cocaine users, yet 80 percent of people prosecuted under mandatory crack cocaine laws are African-American. Please explain your position.”

Members seemed especially interested in affirmative action; many Committee members asked the United States to explain its continued opposition to this “special measure” to combat racism. Members also consistently asked about the death penalty, and about juveniles serving life without parole. One member said, “I want more information about how your kids are sentenced to die in prison.” Finally, members consistently called the U.S. to task for its treatment of indigenous peoples.

As one member pointed out, we live in a country with a terrible, shameful history of slavery and institutionalized racism, but the U.S. has made a commitment to try to overcome that history. Committee members noted that we think of the U.S. as a guide in human rights, but that the U.S. has work to do. We are moving in the right direction, as tomorrow the U.S. government will be called upon to respond to the concerns of its residents, as well as the international community.

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