WASHINGTON — On this day 70 years ago, the NAACP submitted a petition, “An Appeal to the World” edited by W.E.B. Du Bois to the United Nations to address the denial of human rights to African Americans in the United States.
Today, four civil and human rights organizations commemorate the 70th anniversary of this historic document and affirm their commitment to the goals of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the significance of the upcoming U.N. review of U.S. record on ending racism and racial discrimination in the United States.
The ICERD is the principal human rights treaty designed to protect individuals and groups from discrimination based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, whether the discrimination is intentional or the result of seemingly neutral policies. After the last U.N. review in 2014, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — which monitors compliance with the treaty — issued Concluding Observations expressing concerns over prevalent racial discrimination in the United States that Du Bois first voiced in 1947.
Among other observations, the committee expressed concern over, but not limited to:
- The practice of racial profiling of and police violence against racial and ethnic minorities
- Lack of equal access to quality education and the ongoing segregation in schools
- The unfair and disproportionate use of discipline in schools based on race, including more frequent referral of racial and ethnic minorities to the criminal justice system
- The ongoing weakening of the Voting Rights Act and the obstacles to the vote such as restrictive voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and felony disfranchisement laws.
The U.S. ratified the ICERD in 1994 and is obligated to uphold and promote the human rights protections detailed in the treaty, including in the areas of education, housing, criminal justice, health, voting, labor, access to justice, and more. The deadline for the Trump administration to submit its report to the U.N. CERD committee is November 20, 2017.
The four groups urged the Trump administration to submit a comprehensive report, which thoroughly reviews both U.S. progress and setbacks in implementing the ICERD and 2014 Concluding Observations on the federal, state, and local levels. The CERD periodic review process is the world’s answer to W.E.B. DuBois’ Appeal and the U.S. still has a long way to go to address structural discrimination and the inequities DuBois detailed in his historic appeal.
The groups issued the following comments:
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
“Seventy years ago, W.E.B. DuBois spearheaded an Appeal to the World that detailed the discrimination faced by racial minorities in the United States. Today, the fight against discrimination is ongoing as many fear the country is heading in the wrong direction. The review of U.S. compliance with the CERD treaty offers an opportunity for both reflection and action. We must continue to move our nation towards the ideals of democracy and work to be the exemplar for all democracies across the globe.
Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP:
“We request that the American government pay heed to the racial injustices that Du Bois and his NAACP colleagues exposed seventy years ago. Du Bois’ warning, that a ‘great nation, which today ought to be in the forefront of the march toward peace and democracy, finds itself continuously making common cause with race hate,’ rings all too true today. America’s greatness can only be realized if it models integrity and inclusivity and is willing to confront the inequities that still persist within its democracy and society.”
Jamil Dakwar, director of American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program:
“We continue to be inspired by DuBois’ vision and actions of holding the United States internationally accountable for failure to end structural racism and racial discrimination. Today, we are especially concerned about the rise of white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia. We are also troubled by federal government statements and actions such as rollback of civil rights enforcement efforts since January 2017 that will only widen existing racial disparities. The world is and will continue to be watching and we will not rest until DuBois’ vision for racial equality is fully realized.”
Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network:
“Now more than ever we must heed the appeal of Dr. W.E.B Dubois and connect the human rights movement in the US to the struggle for justice across the global south. What was true 70 years ago holds true today, we must support the voice and follow the vision of those most directly impacted if we are to see long-term change for a better America.”