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Human Rights Groups Accuse US of Racial Discrimination

  • Lisa Schlein

A coalition of human rights organizations is accusing the United States of persistent and systematic racial discrimination. The U.S.- based groups have submitted a 600-page report to the 18-member U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which begins a two-day examination of the U.S. record Thursday. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Each of the 173 states that are participating in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination has to submit periodic reports to the U.N. watchdog committee on its efforts to comply with the Convention. This is only the second time since the United States ratified the Treaty in 1994 that the committee will examine its record on human rights and race.

The U.S. government has submitted a 115-page report and sent a 25-strong high-level delegation to Geneva to defend its record.

But, a coalition of more than 250 human rights groups charges the United States has failed to live up to its obligations.

U.S. Human Rights Network Executive Director, Ajamu Baraka weighs in.

"The persistent and systematic issues of racial discrimination have not been addressed by this government," said Baraka. "From Katrina, the ongoing crisis of Katrina in the Gulf Coast in the south, migrant rights, the ongoing police brutality, housing issues-we find that these issues have escaped the scrutiny and the readjustment by the U.S. government in their obligation to the CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) treaty."

Assistant Legal Adviser for Human Rights and Refugees at the U.S. Department of State, Robert Harris, does not dismiss these charges out of hand. But, he says it is hard to imagine that racial discrimination is worse now than it was 50 years ago.

"You would have to not have a very deep understanding of American history to realize how bad racial discrimination was in the United States 50 years ago," said Harris. "And there have been big steps that have been made to address it, which is not to say that everything is perfect in the United States by any means."

Harris says some criticisms regarding police brutality and racial profiling after the terrorist attacks on September 11 may be justified. But, he says the United States holds police who attack people without cause criminally responsible.

And, he says, the United States does not condone racial profiling and tries to eliminate it. But, he calls charges that the government engaged in ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exaggerated to say the least.

"Whatever one thinks of the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina, no one can seriously call it ethnic cleansing," said Harris. "When you think of the acts that actually are ethnic cleansing around the world-in the Balkans, in Sudan. I mean, what is happening in New Orleans is not that. So, I think there is a certain element of hyperbole."

Based on previous experience, the U.S. delegation can expect some tough questioning by the 18-member U.N. Expert Committee regarding the actions Washington is taking to eliminate racial discrimination. The United States says it takes the process seriously.

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