ACLU of Mississippi Shares U.N. Concerns About Human Rights Violations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JACKSON, MS — Saying it is gravely concerned about human rights violations by the United States, a United Nations human rights body today issued recommendations for improving conditions at home and abroad. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi welcomed the recommendations, noting that several of the violations have occurred in Mississippi, and urged the U.S. government to take immediate and vigorous steps to implement the recommendations on the state and federal level.
“It is clear that the international community recognizes ongoing problems with race, poverty and the criminal justice system in the United States,” said ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Nsombi Lambright. “It is my hope that we can utilize these recommendations to continue the fight for fair and just policies at the national, state and local levels of government.”
Lambright was a part of a delegation that traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the review of the United States’ policies by the U.N. Human Rights Committee (HRC). The recommendations issued today by the committee come at the conclusion of a three-week session in Geneva 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 said at least 10 of the recommendations from the HRC are relevant to Mississippi. Specifically, the HRC:
- 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;
- Criticized the prevalence of racial profiling and racial disparities in prosecutions and sentencing in the criminal justice system, and called for an end to such practices;
- Called for an increase in efforts towards the elimination of police brutality and excessive force by law enforcement officials;
- Called for the United States to ensure that states restore voting rights to citizens who have fully served their sentences and those who have been released on parole;
- Demanded an end to the practice of sentencing children to life without parole and called for a review of all sentences currently being served;
- Noted that the United States has not succeeded in eliminating racial discrimination in schools due to the discrepancies between the racial and ethnic composition in school districts and the manner in which school districts are created, funded and regulated;
- Called for an assessment to the extent to which the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on minorities and on low-income population groups;
- Called for assessment of maximum-security prisons with regard to guaranteeing that persons deprived of their liberty be treated in accordance with international human rights law;
- Reiterated recommendation that male officers should not be granted access to women’s quarters;
- Expressed concern that 50 percent of homeless people in the United States are African American although they constitute only 12 percent of the U.S. population.
“Mississippi should use these recommendations as an incentive for change,” said Lambright. “There is still no plan for the rebuilding of affordable housing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina survivors from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who reside in other areas in the state continue to be discriminated against in the areas of access to housing, racial profiling by law enforcement and access to a quality education.”
The disparities in the quality of education received in schools located in poor communities compared to schools located in wealthy communities are glaring, said the ACLU. Mississippi’s schools are still largely segregated by race and economic status; there are very few schools that have a proportionate number of black and white student populations. Despite the continued racial discrimination, school districts are requesting to be released from school desegregation orders. The Madison County School District was just released in May.
The ACLU further pointed to the state’s criminal justice and prison systems as two areas that urgently need improvement.
Mississippi is one of four states that permanently bars citizens who have been convicted of crimes from voting, even after they serve their sentences. The Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office recently added 11 crimes to the list of felonies that result in permanent disfranchisement, bringing the number of disfranchising crimes to 21.
There are a disproportionate number of African Americans and persons from low wealth communities in prison and on death row in Mississippi. The conditions at the state’s facilities have resulted in ongoing litigation. The state penitentiary at Parchman is currently under a court order to improve conditions on death row, and there is current litigation on conditions of confinement in Unit 32, Parchman’s maximum-security section. Furthermore, said the ACLU, there are reports of violence and discrimination against female inmates in Mississippi’s jails and prisons, and most of the allegations involve sexual abuse on the part of male correctional officers.
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
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