The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released a scathing assessment of United States’ racial justice record today. The committee’s concluding observations acknowledged many positive actions taken by the Biden administration, but urged the United States government to implement broader policies to address systemic racism and structural racial discrimination at the federal, state, local, and tribal level.
Notably, for the first time since the U.S. ratified the treaty in 1994, the committee called on the United States to establish — either through legislation or executive order — a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for slavery. The committee expressed concern that “the lingering legacies of colonialism and slavery continue to fuel racism and racial discrimination … undermining the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all individuals and communities.”
The committee’s further urges the United States to adopt a national plan of action to combat systemic racism and racial disparities in accessing a wide range of social and economic rights, including equal access to health care and safe abortion; to address pervasive racial profiling and use of excessive and deadly use of force by law enforcement, including immigration agents; to protect voting rights and end the disenfranchisement of Washington, D.C., residents; and to defend the right to protest and speak freely, including in the classroom, among many other recommendations.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, had the following reaction to today’s release:
“The committee’s strong conclusions and poignant concerns should serve as yet another wake up call for the United States to vigorously combat and eliminate systemic racism. The U.N. provided a blueprint to address structural discrimination; now the Biden administration must act to build out our domestic human rights infrastructure.
“We welcome the committee’s first-ever call to provide redress for slavery — the legacies of colonialism and slavery have a real-world lingering impact on present day racial disparities and injustices and we must address them head on.
“President Biden doesn’t have to wait for Congress to combat racial discrimination. Through executive action and incentives and oversight of state, local, and tribal governments, the U.S. government can and should take bold actions to remedy racial injustices.”
Stephanie Amiotte, legal director of the ACLU of North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, had the following reaction to today’s release:
“The committee has accurately identified the generations of harm to Indigenous peoples from the history of colonialism, which continues to seriously impact housing, health care, education, food, child welfare, maternal mortality, voting rights, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and persons.
“The U.S., at all levels — federal, state and local — should, as the committee recommended, guarantee in law and in practice, the principle of free, prior and informed consent of Tribes when decisions are made affecting Indigenous persons. This includes decisions regarding education of Indigenous students who face disparate rates of discipline, school arrests and lack of equal access to quality education that meets their unique cultural needs.
“Classroom censorship laws, the closing of diversity centers on college campuses and the erasure of the accurate history of Indigenous, Black and brown people — including the legacy of colonialism and slavery — are contrary to the rights of all students to learn and receive information under the First Amendment and human rights law and can lead to hostile learning environments.”
The American Civil Liberties Union provided several statements and submissions to the committee, including a joint report with Human Rights Watch and statements from Jamil Dakwar on systemic police violence and racial profiling and Stephanie Amiotte on the lack of U.S. education on Native American history in schools.
The UN Committee’s concluding observations are here: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/USA/CERD_C_USA_CO_10-12_49769_E.pdf