International Human Rights Experts Denounce U.S. Record On Racial And Ethnic Discrimination

March 7, 2008 12:00 am

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GENEVA — A United Nations committee today issued a strongly worded critique of the United States’ record on racial discrimination and urged the government to make sweeping reforms to policies affecting racial and ethnic minorities, women, and immigrants in this country. The American Civil Liberties Union called on the U.S. government to take vigorous steps to implement the committee’s recommendations and fulfill its human rights treaty obligations.

“The message from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is clear when it comes to the U.S.’ record on human rights and racial equality — the government can’t just talk the talk, it must also walk the walk,” said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “To claim the high moral ground and assert leadership on the issue of human rights, the U.S government must address the systemic discrimination and injustice that exists in its own backyard.”

The CERD committee, which oversees compliance with an international treaty to end racial discrimination that was ratified by the U.S. in 1994, reviewed testimony and research by the ACLU and other human rights groups before issuing its final report. Representatives of the ACLU were in Geneva last month to testify before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the state of racial and ethnic discrimination in the U.S.

Among its recommendations, the committee called on the U.S. to:

  • Pass the federal End Racial Profiling Act or similar legislation and combat widespread ethnic and racial profiling practices by law enforcement, especially against Arabs, Muslims and South Asians in the wake of the 9/11 attacks;
  • Protect non-citizens from being subjected to torture and abuse by means of transfer or rendition to foreign countries for torture;
  • Adopt and strengthen the use of affirmative action programs to eliminate discrimination, and allow school districts to voluntarily promote school integration;
  • Eliminate systemic inadequacies in criminal defense programs that have a disproportionate effect on indigent minorities and ensure competent counsel in all cases;
  • Address the problem of the school-to-prison pipeline — the trend of funneling minority children into prison;
  • Restrict felony disfranchisement policies and eliminate barriers to post-sentence voting rights restoration;
  • Address the problem of violence against indigenous, minority and immigrant women, including migrant workers, and especially domestic workers; and
  • Pass the Civil Rights Act of 2008 or similar legislation, and otherwise ensure the rights of minority and immigrant workers, including undocumented migrant workers, to effective protection and remedies when their employers have violated their human rights.

Also in Geneva today, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante, presented a report on the injustices faced by migrants and immigrants in the U.S., denouncing immigrant detention policies and facilities that fail to meet international standards and have few protections for the rights of migrant workers.

Bustamante’s report also expresses concern about employment and health abuses suffered by migrant workers, specifically pointing to labor issues in post-Katrina New Orleans that he calls a “human right crisis.”

“The U.S. should heed the recommendations of this international expert and do more to create fair, humane policies and conditions for immigrant communities in this country,” said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “It’s time for the government to match its soaring rhetoric on the importance of human rights globally with a renewed commitment to protecting the rights of vulnerable immigrants here at home.”

The ACLU is calling on the government to adopt the recommendations made by Bustamante in his report, including:

  • Eliminating mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants and determining whether non-citizens pose a risk to society on a case-by-case basis;
  • Allowing immigrants in detention the chance to have their custody reviewed before an immigration judge;
  • Creating binding human rights standards governing the treatment of immigration detainees in all facilities, including the removal of non-citizen children from jail-like detention centers;
  • Establishing standards for the mental and medical health needs of migrant women who have been the victims of mental, physical, or sexual abuse;
  • Ending harassment and racial profiling of migrant workers by local and federal law enforcement agents; and
  • Ensuring health, safety and labor protections for migrant workers and providing health benefits for migrant workers injured on the job.

Last year, Bustamante conducted a three-week fact finding mission at the request of the U.S. government, visiting a detention center in Arizona and meeting with migrant communities and government officials in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, New York and Washington D.C. During that time Bustamante was denied entrance to New Jersey’s Monmouth County Correctional Institution and Texas’s Hutto immigration detention center, a converted prison that currently houses about 150 immigrants, including children and asylum seekers. In 2007, the ACLU filed successful federal lawsuits that resulted in the release of 26children and greatly improved conditions at the Hutto facility. The U.S. has a history of blocking international experts from access to controversial detention facilities.

The ACLU’s report on the state of racial discrimination in the U.S. and other relevant documents can be found online

The ACLU’s statement on the U.N. Special Rapporteur’s report on the human rights of migrants is available here:

More information about the ACLU’s advocacy to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants can be found online here:

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