The U.S. is up for review this week before the 18-member UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), on February 21 and 22. Below is a summary of the American submissions to the Committee, the panel’s questions posed to the U.S., and two of the many NGO reports.
U.S. Submission to CERD
The U.S. submitted a 115-page report answering the standard CERD questionnaire about domestic laws and policies on racism. It includes:
• “The United States is a vibrant, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural democracy in which individuals have the right to be protected against discrimination based, inter alia, on race, color, and national origin in virtually every aspect of social and economic life. The U.S. Constitution and federal law prohibit discrimination in a broad array of areas, including education, employment, public accommodation, transportation, voting, housing and mortgage credit access, as well as in the military, and in programs receiving federal financial assistance. In addition, nondiscrimination obligations are imposed on federal contractors and subcontractors by Executive Order.”
• “Two subjects of concern have been particularly acute in the years since 2000. The first involves the increase in bias crimes and related discriminatory actions against persons perceived to be Muslim, or of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The second involves the impacts of the changing demographic caused by high rates of immigration into the United States – both legal and illegal. The continuing legacies described above, in addition to these more recent issues, create on-going challenges for the institutions in the United States that are charged with the elimination of discrimination. Thus, despite significant progress, numerous challenges still exist, and the United States recognizes that a great deal of work remains to be done.”
CERD Questions to U.S.
Following the standard procedure, the CERD asked the U.S. for clarifications, including the following:
- The application of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to non-citizens (possibly a veiled to Guantanamo Bay detainees)
- Conformity of US civil rights statutes – which provide that claims on racial discrimination must be accompanied by proof of intentional discrimination — with the Convention
- Racial profiling
- Residential segregation
- Racial re-segregation of public schools
- Police brutality against people belonging to racial, ethnic or national minorities
- Various measures adopted in the wake of 9/11 to prevent and punish all forms of discrimination against Muslims and Arabs, South Asians and persons perceived as Muslims or Arabs
- Ill-treatment of undocumented migrants crossing the Mexican-American border
- Equal and effective enjoyment of rights for indigenous peoples
- Adequate health care and services to people belonging to minorities
- Rehabilitation of minorities after Hurricane Katrina
May NGOs also filed their own submissions to the panel, which can be viewed here. Following are two examples.
Amnesty International (click here for report) expressed serious concerns about “the discriminatory treatment of non-US nationals held by the US military in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ the latter an issue not touched upon in the USA’s report.” Amnesty also addressed the U.S. government’s “failure to protect indigenous women from sexual violence and concerns about the treatment of displaced residents of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” It also expressed deep concerns about death penalty and racial minorities.
Human Rights Watch (click here for report) raised three specific issues as a complement to the other NGO submissions:
· “First, we provide specific evidence of the United States government’s failure to inform the constituent states about ICERD [International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination] and its provisions and to seek information from the states, so that it can review their policies and practices in light of the treaty. We believe these failures constitute violations of Article 2.1 of ICERD.”
· “Second, we view the discriminatory treatment of Haitian refugees as a violation of the right to equality before the law as provided in Article 5.”
· “Third, in the context of racial disparities in the sentencing of black and white youth to life without the possibility of parole … Human Rights Watch presents the Committee with new data that challenge the US government’s assertion that ‘disparities are related primarily to differential involvement in crime by the various groups … rather than to differential handling of persons in the criminal justice system.’ Our data demonstrate that in at least 10 states black youth arrested for murder are significantly more likely to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole than white youth arrested for the same crime. We believe these data provide an egregious example of unequal treatment before the courts, in violation of the United States’ treaty obligations under Article 5(a).”
Following the session this week, the panel will prepare its concluding observations, which will be available here.