Every few years, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination meets to consider US accession to the racial justice treaty of the same name ratified by the United States in 1994.
Given that the last U.S. review took place under the Obama administration in 2014, this year’s review was a first for the Biden administration. As expected, the Biden administration claimed significant progress on racial justice in its report and presentation to the committee. However, more than a year into his term, few of President Biden’s commitments to racial justice and human rights have been fulfilled.
The U.S. Position on Racial Justice Today
When President Biden took office, he promised to reverse years of Trump-era disengagement on the international stage and center racial justice and equality at home and abroad. One of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order aimed at achieving racial equity in the United States. In announcing the executive order, Biden called systemic racism “corrosive”, “destructive” and “expensive”.
We agree – but these remarks do not excuse the meager progress the United States has made toward fulfilling the treaty’s promise: to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
The United States has intentionally exempted itself from the human rights requirements it has imposed on other countries, while allowing structural racism and xenophobia to operate as pervasive and unbridled forces in the American company.
In a joint submission ahead of the review, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch called U.S. progress toward compliance with the convention “elusive — in fact, grossly insufficient” in various areas, including restorative justice. , discrimination in the criminal justice system, use of force by law enforcement, discrimination in immigration enforcement, and racial discrimination in public services and social welfare. Additionally, the report offers the Biden administration a roadmap to implement measures to address stark racial disparities without having to confront the US Congress.
Presenting itself as a moral leader in the defense of human rights, the United States has intentionally exempted itself from the human rights requirements it has imposed on other countries while allowing structural racism and xenophobia to operate as pervasive and unbridled forces in American society.
What we tell the committee
American civil society groups, including the ACLU, our state affiliates, and partners like Human Rights Watch and the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been on the ground in Geneva to show the committee the lackluster progress on human rights and racial justice, and what steps our government can take now to reverse the trend.
While international pressure has frequently contributed to national victories on issues of racial justice throughout history, American civil organizations maximize international mechanisms to enrich their advocacy efforts.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s human rights program, and Stephanie Amiotte, legal director for the ACLU of North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, testified before the committee to highlight systemic police violence and the lack of American education on Native American history in schools, respectively.
Next steps for the United States
After six hours of failing to provide adequate answers and leaving many questions unanswered to the committee’s frustration, it has become abundantly clear that the United States has much more to do at the local, tribal, state, and federal levels to claim world leadership on racial matters. Justice.
The committee pressed the US delegation on a number of important issues previously raised by US civil society: racial disparities in sentencing, health and reproductive rights; impunity for police violence; anti-black racism in immigration enforcement; housing segregation; educational inequalities; discriminatory child protection system; environmental racism; and the lack of progress in respecting the treaty rights and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.
President Biden can act today – by creating a commission to explore the creation of a national human rights institution and a federal body capable of implementing a national plan to meet international obligations in matters of human rights.
Echoing demands from American civil society, the committee also urged the Biden administration to issue an executive order to create a federal commission to study reparations for slavery.
The US delegation has 48 hours to submit additional information and responses to the committee, which will release its final report and recommendations on August 30.
This process provides another opportunity for the Biden administration to transcend the limitations of the American civil rights framework and dismantle structural racism in the United States through a robust international and universal human rights lens. It is also an opportunity to raise the voices of directly affected communities and address how the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism inform our contemporary world, a gap in the United States identified by the committee.
The committee held the United States to account with its strong questioning. We urge our leaders to embrace the committee’s recommendations and comprehensively address systemic racism in the United States
President Biden can act today – including creating a federal commission to explore the creation of a national human rights institution and the creation of a federal coordinating body to implement a plan to national action to fulfill international human rights obligations.
In her closing remarks, committee member Faith Pansy Tlakula quoted Nelson Mandela: “The very fact that racism degrades both perpetrator and victim dictates that, if we are true to our commitment to protect the dignity human, we fight until victory. We should end the scourge of racism.
It is time for the United States to heed its racist history.