(CNSNews.com) – A U.N. anti-racial discrimination committee took the U.S. government to task Thursday for not having ratified various international rights-related treaties, with one member saying that “from time to time … parliamentarians need to have their hands forced.”
“That’s an argument you could give to your Senate, to sort of force their hand a bit,” Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah told a high-level U.S. delegation in Geneva, while raising points on the treaty ratification issue.
“From time to time that needs to be done,” she said through an interpreter. “Parliamentarians need to have their hands forced.”
Dah, a retired career diplomat from Burkina Faso, is a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which on Wednesday and Thursday questioned a high-level U.S. delegation on America’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Among the myriad issues raised – including charges of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, “Stand your Ground” and voter-identification laws, migration, and profiling – was the fact that the U.S. has not ratified several U.N. treaties, including those relating to discrimination against women, rights of the child, and economic, social and cultural rights.
U.S. delegation member Deputy Assistant Secretary Paula Schriefer pointed out that treaty ratification needs support from two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, but stressed that the administration was working closely with the Senate on the issue, with particular priority given to ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The U.S. ratified CERD in 1994. All parties to the anti-racial discrimination treaty undergo periodic reviews by the committee – comprising what the U.N. calls “18 independent experts who are persons of high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality” – and this was the first review of the U.S. under the Obama administration.
Members of the U.S. delegation, headed by Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council Keith Harper, underlined that the U.S. has an African American president and attorney-general, a Latino Supreme Court Justice, that two of the last four secretaries of state were African American, and that Harper himself is a Native American.
The U.S. record, and a voluminous report presented by the administration, came under close scrutiny, with representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and committee members raising numerous areas of concern.
Committee member Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill of South Africa asked about the continued incarceration of more than 20 civil rights-era activists, stating that “most of them currently are not very well and the conditions in which they live are rather unpleasant.”
(During the NGO segment earlier, the Malcolm X Centre for Self-Determination charged that some of these prisoners, which it characterized as victims of the 1960s federal surveillance program known as COINTELPRO, have faced cruel and unusual punishment including decades of solitary confinement. The NGO asked the committee to urge the U.S. government to free them and create a truth and reconciliation mechanism.)
Committee member Afiwa-Kindena Hohoueto, a judge from Togo, raised the issue of the closure of dozens of schools in Chicago last year, noting that most affected African-Americans.
“This is discrimination against these people,” she said. “It also can lead to violence and delinquency. The American government should investigate what happened in Chicago and take measures to ensure that these actions are not repeated.”
A U.S. delegation member responded that every school closure raises serious concerns for the community, and that the Department of Education was investigating the issue.
Another committee member, Melhem Khalaf of Lebanon, asked about the treatment by U.S. authorities of tens of thousands of children from countries in Central America, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Members of the U.S. delegation spoke of the broad government response to the border situation, referring to attempts to balance the protection of the border with individual rights, and to efforts towards comprehensive immigration law reform.
Regarding unaccompanied children, a delegation member referred to steps to provide legal representation, including a program launched in June to pay 100 lawyers and paralegals to represent unaccompanied children during immigration proceedings.