(CNSNews.com) – U.N. human rights appointees reviewing the United States’ record on racial justice raised concerns this week over the “pushback” against the teaching of critical race theory, and the impact of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade on racial and ethnic minorities.
They also expressed confidence that building pressure in the U.S. would ultimately lead to reparations for slavery – an issue lawmakers have been grappling with for three decades – and suggested that executive action by the president may be appropriate.
The officials -- who are appointed by the U.N. but are not U.N. staffers -- were answering questions at a briefing in Geneva about the just-completed periodical review of U.S. implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994.
A large U.S. interagency delegation took part in the CERD review in mid-August, presenting a report and fielding questions from a committee comprising what the U.N. calls “18 independent experts who are persons of high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality.”
Among the many recommendations contained in the committee’s “concluding observations” report, released on Tuesday, was one urging the U.S. government “to ensure that the history of colonialism and slavery and their legacies is part of the school curriculum at all levels, including by adopting federal national standards or guidelines in this regard.”
Alluding to tensions over the teaching of CRT, it also called on the government to “undertake additional efforts to effectively protect teachers and school personnel from harassment, threats, intimidation and violence in this context.”
Asked during the briefing about CRT the committee chair, Verene Shepherd of Jamaica, said, “we have noticed the pushback against critical race theory in the United States, and also we have noticed the issue of refusal to have a conversation around slavery.”
Not wanting to teach about the issue of the transatlantic slave trade, she said, was “not good for education.”
“People have to be anchored to their past and they have to learn about it in order to be anchored to an empowering past.”
“So I don’t see why it should be a threat to teach about this,” Shepherd said. “[The] education system will be poorer if the pushback against teaching about race is, you know, kind of sanitized.”
Among other subjects featured in the U.N. committee’s “concluding observations” report were the contentious issues of abortion and reparations for slavery.
The committee said the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision – which returned authority to regulate abortion to the states – has a “profound disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial and ethnic minorities,” and urged the federal government to “adopt all necessary measures” to address that.
It said the government should “provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion in line with the international human rights obligations of the state party” and ensure that women seeking an abortion, and those providing them, “are not subjected to criminal penalties.”
At the briefing, committee member Pansy Tlakula of South Africa said it was known that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately impacted by higher rates of maternal mortality as well as “a higher risk of unwanted pregnancy.”
“The social and economic situation of racial minorities is also something that we have to take into consideration,” she said. “That is why the committee is of the opinion that the Dobbs decision is going to affect the racial and ethnic minorities more than any other group.”
During the U.S. delegation’s presentation to the committee last month, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official told the committee the Biden administration was committed to helping women and girls, especially racial minorities, to access abortions.
Deputy assistant secretary for population affairs Jessica Swafford Marcella said the administration had “acted swiftly” in response to the court ruling, with the president issuing two executive orders focused on “securing access to reproductive and other health services.”
Despite that input, when asked on Tuesday if the committee had obtained from the U.S. delegation any assurances on mitigating the effects of the Supreme Court decision, Tlakula suggested that it had not.
“Did you get anything out of this meeting that assured you that … the federal government is acting appropriately to deal with these issues?” a reporter asked.
“Not specifically,” Tlakula replied.
On reparations, the “concluding observations” report threw its support behind H.R. 40, legislation that calls for a commission to be set up to examine the lasting impact of slavery, and make recommendations on appropriate remedies.
The U.N. committee recommended that the U.S. government take “appropriate measures” towards establishing such a commission, “including by issuing an executive order” and to do so in consultation with “relevant stakeholders, in particular people of African descent.”
Shepherd, who said she has been watching the debate in the U.S. for a long time, expressed optimism that momentum is growing.
“I fully believe that pressure in the United States now around the question of reparatory justice – that the – the federal government will act,” she said, pointing to advocacy in states like New York and California, as well as the push for H.R. 40.
The legislation has been introduced in the House almost 20 times since 1989, most recently early last year, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) with 196 co-sponsors, all Democrats. In April 2021 the House Judiciary Committee marked it up in a 25-17 vote but it has not progressed further.
Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate last year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
US Official Assures UN Panel Administration is Helping Minority Women Acquire ‘Abortion Care’ (Aug. 16, 2022)
UN Expert Tells Lawmakers US ‘Not Exempt’ From Int’l Obligations to Make Reparations For Slavery (Feb. 18, 2021)