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ACLU of Louisiana Echoes Call to Hold Officials Responsible
NEW ORLEANS — A United Nations human rights body today criticized Louisiana officials for their actions during Hurricane Katrina, including a police blockade on Gretna New Orleans Bridge, which left thousands of mostly black residents trapped in the city, and the failure to evacuate prisoners from the flooded Orleans Parish Prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which has long called for investigations into the conditions at the prison and on the bridge, welcomed the report and its recommendations.
"The state of Louisiana should be ashamed of its dismal human rights record as showcased to the world on its handling of the evacuation of those left behind after Katrina and the flood, mainly people of color and the poor," said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "We have twice called for the Attorney General to complete his investigation of the Gretna Bridge incident and for the Department of Justice to look into the matter as well."
The full U.N. report expressed grave concerns over the human rights policies of the United States government, from the use of torture to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The report specifically acknowledged the disadvantages suffered by poor people and African Americans in rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina and in reconstruction efforts, and called on the United States to increase its efforts to provide equal access to housing, education and healthcare.
"The fact that the United Nations highlighted this 'disaster within a disaster' in its observations affirms the basic value of all human beings; it is unacceptable to treat any segment of society as 'disposable,'" said Katie Schwartzmann, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Louisiana. "The experience of the more than 6,000 men, women and children who were in Orleans Parish Prison during Katrina was tragic. These people were incapable of fending for themselves, and they were locked behind bars as the floodwaters rose. Hopefully the international attention will help to prevent this from ever being repeated."
The U.N. Human Rights Committee (HRC), which issued the report, called upon the United States to intensify its efforts to end racial profiling by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and criticized the prevalence of racial profiling and racial disparities in prosecutions and sentencing in the criminal justice system.
The recommendations come at the conclusion of a three-week session of the HRC and after two days of meetings on July 17 and 18 with a high level U.S. delegation that answered questions about the United States' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The ACLU's Shadow Report to the HRC, Dimming the Beacon of Freedom: U.S. Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is available online at www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/25924pub20060620.html