Later this month, representatives of the Bush administration will travel to Geneva, Switzerland to defend the the United States' human rights record before a United Nations committee. Meanwhile, human rights advocates charge that the administration is not only failing to comply with a treaty to eliminate racial discrimination but is trying to whitewash the reality of racial inequality in America -- particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
On Feb. 21 and 22, officials with the U.S. State Department and the Department of Justice will appear before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is examining compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. When the United States signed the ICERD treaty in 1994, it agreed -- though with some reservations -- to eliminate "any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."
Under the treaty, the United States is obligated to prepare a report every two years documenting its compliance and steps it's taking to remedy racism. However, the United States has submitted only two such reports, the first [PDF] in 2000. The second report [PDF], released last April, met with widespread criticism among human rights advocacy groups -- including many associated with the Atlanta-based U.S. Human Rights Network, which produced its own so-called "shadow report" documenting problems the Bush administration's report fails to acknowledge or discuss in depth. Said USHRN Executive Director Ajamu Baraka:
"Our analysis reveals that the Bush Administration is utterly out of touch with the reality of racial discrimination in America. From failing to address the chronic persistence of structural racism to even acknowledging the disparate racial impact on people of color of Hurricane Katrina, the State Department reports reads like a fantasy; unfortunately a fantasy that is to often experienced as a nightmare for Americans of color."
According to USHRN, the U.S. government's report:
* does not mention the race- and poverty-related impacts of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath;
* ignores the issue of policy brutality, which it calls "one of the most blatant and common forms of ongoing differential treatment based on race";
* does not discuss the "school to prison pipeline," in which discriminatorily applied "zero tolerance" policies and criminal justice-based responses to overcrowding and under-resourcing of public schools drive children of color out of the educational system and into the prison system;
* provides information about compliance with the Convention at the state level only for Oregon, South Carolina, Illinois and New Mexico while overlooking states with some of the country's largest populations of people of color and immigrants as well as the Gulf Coast States impacted by Katrina;
* suggests that racial disparities in incarceration rates may be "related to differential involvement in crime" rather than the cumulative impacts of racial disparities in the treatment of minorities at every stage of the criminal justice process;
* fails to acknowledge widespread racially and ethnically targeted law enforcement practices since 9/11 such as the special registration program and aggressive round-ups and interviews of thousands of non-citizen Muslims, Arabs and South Asians; and
* ignores the profound and ongoing effects of colonialism and racial discrimination on indigenous people in the United States.
Activists and experts affiliated with the Network will be attending the Geneva hearings to monitor the U.S. presentation and hold press briefings.
Last month the Institute for Southern Studies released its own report documenting U.S. non-compliance with international human rights standards in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, focusing specifically on the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.