By Chandra Bhatnagar, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Human Rights Program
Last Monday, our country commemorated the life and work of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought tirelessly for racial and economic justice.
Last Wednesday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) — part of the Organization of American States — issued a report on “The Situation of People of African Descent in the Americas.”
The report, written in the context of the International Year for People of African Descent, found that Black people living in the Americas continue to “face major obstacles for the exercise and guarantee of their civil and political, economic, social, and cultural rights” and are “deeply affected by the persistence of racism, which strategically prevents them from enjoying and exercising their human rights.”
The report concluded that Black people are “adversely affected by multiple levels of discrimination, bearing in mind the close links between poverty and race and between race and social class,” and observing the “special vulnerability” of Black women who face “triple historical discrimination based on their sex, extreme poverty, and race.”
The IACHR report documents human rights abuses facing Black people throughout the Americas, including the United States, and mirrors and cites the many conclusions and detailed recommendations of other international experts, who have assessed the human rights record of the U.S. in recent years.
In 2010, after an official fact-finding visit to the U.S., the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent found that "due partially to the legacy of slavery, racism and discrimination, African Americans have had economic, social and educational disadvantages, as well as challenges to the enjoyment of basic human rights."
Similarly, in 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance issued a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council finding that despite progress against racial discrimination, “the historical, cultural and human depth of racism still permeates all dimensions of life and American society.”
More importantly, in 2008, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which assesses adherence to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the key international anti-racism treaty (and a treaty which the U.S. ratified in 1994), provided specific and detailed recommendations about the need for the U.S. to implement human rights obligations domestically in order to address systemic forms of racism and discrimination and come into compliance with the requirements of the convention.
Unfortunately, without any transparent federal mechanism in place to coordinate U.S. follow-up to these reports and more broadly integrate international human rights into domestic policy, these important recommendations have yet to be fully carried out.
That is why the ACLU and other groups have long called for full implementation of U.S. obligations under ICERD, including the creation of a task force led by the Department of Justice to develop a plan to implement the treaty at all government levels.
While we recognize the important civil rights enforcement work carried out by the Department of Justice in many areas including voter suppression, racial profiling, mortgage fraud and police misconduct, it is high time for the Obama administration to lead by example and live up to its promise of “holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves”. We need our government to take up Dr. King’s struggle for human rights and racial equality and fully integrate and incorporate international human rights into domestic policies.