UN special rapporteur on racism highlights plight of Katrina survivors

Last week in a presentation before the U.N. Human Rights Council, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism offered recommendations to the United States to address its ongoing issues of racial discrimination.During May and June former UN special rapporteur on racism, DoudouDiene, toured the United States to gather information on issues relatedto racism and and discrimination. The report on his findings came the same weekthat the United States officially rejoined the Geneva-based U.N. HumanRights Council, following years of boycotts by the Bush administration.The Obama administration announced its the decision to rejoin in April.

Now as the United States begins to engage around human rights abuses across the globe, advocates urge the U.S. to also begin to work to improve human rights issues at home.

"For the U.S. to lead by example, it should heed the recommendations ofthis international expert and do more to address ongoing issues ofracism and ethnic discrimination in this country," said ChandraBhatnagar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union HumanRights Program. "The rapporteur's report offers theObama administration a path forward on justice, equality and humanrights."

Diene's report highlighted racism in the criminal justice system, abuses facing immigrant and African-American workers in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the discriminatory treatment of Katrina victims who have still not received permanent housing.

The report recommends that:
The Federal Government and the States of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi should increase its assistance to the persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina, particularly in the realm of housing. The principle that 'competent authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence' should be respected.
Facing South has reported on the racialized impact of the failed federal response to the crisis on the Gulf Coast, a response that left tens of thousands of poor people -- disproportionately African-American -- unable to return home.

Human rights groups point out that the treatment of Katrina survivors relates directly to the United State's failure to protect its citizens from racial discrimination and represents a violation of U.S. commitments under international law.

"The Katrina evictions have attracted the attention of the world body, reminding us that they are not simply a matter of civic discretion but rather a question of fundamental human rights," said Ajamu Baraka, head of the US Human Rights Network, a coalition that recently participated in a campaign calling on the Obama administration to address the evictions of Katrina residents from FEMA trailers.