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U.N. Bodies Condemn Violations of Native, Minority, and Immigrant Women's Rights in the U.S.

Lenora M. Lapidus,
Former Director,
Women's Rights Project, ACLU
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March 7, 2008

This article was originally posted on HuffingtonPost.

On the eve of the celebration of the 98th Annual International Women’s Day, the international human rights community is sending a clear message to the United States government that it needs to step up and put an end to violence against and exploitation of immigrant women, Native American women, and women of color.

Today in Geneva, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Dr. Jorge Bustamante, both issued reports denouncing the U.S.’s record on human rights and highlighting numerous egregious violations. Both CERD and the Special Rapporteur issued a number of recommendations pertaining specifically to women, recognizing the compound forms of discrimination faced by women who are racial and ethnic minorities, undocumented immigrants, live in marginalized communities, and work in undervalued professions.

Of particular concern to CERD were the extraordinary rate of sexual violence against Native American women and female migrant workers, especially domestic workers, and the U.S.’s denial of justice to these women. In its concluding recommendations (PDF), the Committee outlined specific actions for the government to take, on which it must report the next time it appears before the committee. The Committee censured the government for its failure to address workplace discrimination faced by undocumented migrant women – who are routinely subjected to dangerous working conditions, excessive work hours, and wage violations – noting with concern that recent Supreme Court decisions have further eroded protections for vulnerable workers. The committee also drew attention to the racial disparities in access to healthcare, as evidenced by the elevated rates of HIV infection and maternal mortality rates among women of color, and similar disparities in the criminal justice system.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the employment and health abuses suffered by migrant workers, including domestic workers, whose advocates he met with during his fact-finding mission to the U.S. in 200 7. The Special Rapporteur denounced the U.S.’s immigrant detention policies and facilities and called for the implementation of “gender-specific detention standards that address the medical and mental health concerns of migrant women who have survived mental, physical, emotional or sexual violence.” Both the Special Rapporteur and CERD made reference to the plight of victims of human trafficking, among the most vulnerable of whom are domestic workers employed by diplomats.

The ACLU and other organizations have participated in reviews of the U.S. by international human rights mechanisms in order to shine a spotlight on the ways in which the U.S. government has repeatedly refused to acknowledge and address systemic racism, sexism, and discrimination against immigrants. In December, the ACLU published a report entitled, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice, in response to the U.S. government’s whitewash report to CERD, which swept under the rug the dramatic effects of widespread racial and ethnic discrimination in this country.

We applaud CERD and the Special Rapporteur for drawing attention to critical women’s rights issues on the eve of International Women’s Day and at the outset of Women’s History Month, and urge the U.S. government to pay heed to the recommendations of these international experts.