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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of the United States

14 August 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined seventh to ninth periodic report of the United States on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Leading the delegation’s presentation of the report, Keith Harper, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council, said the United States was a vibrant, multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural democracy, in which individuals were protected against discrimination based on race, colour and national origin under the constitution and federal laws, as well as under the constitutions and laws of the states and other governmental units. The United States had made great strides towards eliminating racial discrimination. Thirty years ago the idea of having an African American president would not have seemed possible. Today, it was the reality. While the United States had made visible progress reflected in the leadership of the society, it recognized that there was much left to do.

Other delegates presenting the report were Paula Schriefer, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Department of State; Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, United States Department of Justice; Mark Kappelhoff, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice; Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education; Dustin McDaniel, Attorney General of the State of Arkansas; and William Bell, Mayor, City of Birmingham, Alabama.

Issues raised during the discussion included the high levels of gun violence in the United States, and its disparate impact on minorities. Millions of United States citizens who held a gun licence also believed they had a licence to kill because of Stand Your Ground laws, Experts said. The excessive use of force by law enforcement agents against racial minorities, racial disparities in the criminal justice system and in education, particularly that racial segregation in public schools was reportedly worse today than in the 1970s, were also discussed. Discrimination against indigenous peoples, and violence against women, particularly indigenous women, as well as discrimination against non-citizens, particularly migrants from the southern border, were highlighted, as was the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The delegation was also asked about racial hate speech, racial profiling, obstacles to voting, child labour, racial biases within the child welfare system, environmental pollution and racial disparities in access to healthcare and housing.

In concluding remarks, Noureddine Amir, Country Rapporteur, said given the limited time there had been an impressive number of questions and answers and that the dialogue had been very constructive and of high quality. In its endeavour to eliminate racial discrimination, the Committee would never forget one name: Doctor Martin Luther King.

Mr. Harper, speaking in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for hosting the dialogue on their common commitment to eradicate racial discrimination. He shared the Committee’s disappointment to not have more time for the dialogue, given the size and high-level of the delegation that had travelled to Geneva. However, the Government looked forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations, and reflecting upon them.

The delegation of the United States included representatives of the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labour, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Education, Department of the Interior, and from the private sector, the Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama and his staff, and the Attorney General of Arkansas and his staff, as well as from the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon at the Palais Wilson for the review of the combined eighteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Peru (CERD/C/PER/18-21).


The Committee is reviewing the combined seventh to ninth periodic report (CERD/C/USA/7-9) of the United States.

Presentation of the Report

KEITH HARPER, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council, said the United States strongly supported the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination as part of its commitment to build a country and a world characterized by, in the words of President Obama, “a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual”. The United States was a vibrant, multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural democracy in which individuals were protected against discrimination based on race, colour and national origin under the constitution and federal laws, as well as under the constitutions and laws of the states and other governmental units.

The United States had made great strides towards eliminating racial discrimination. That progress was reflected at many levels in its society, but one notable indicator was the country’s political leadership. Thirty years ago the idea of having an African American president would not have seemed possible, said Mr. Harper. Today, it was the reality. The nation’s top law enforcement officer, the Attorney General, was also African American. Three of the last five Secretaries of State were women, and two of the last four were also African American. The first Latino Supreme Court Justice, also a woman, had just been appointed. As a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Mr. Harper said he was proud to be the first Native American to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Human Rights Council. He also congratulated the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr. Cali Tzay, on being the first indigenous Chairperson of a human rights body.

While the United States had made visible progress that was reflected in the leadership of the society, it recognized that there was much left to do, said Mr. Harper. Issues covered by the Convention were of such fundamental importance that the United States valued the opportunity for dialogue with the Committee, and hoped and expected it to generate new ideas, to identify new ways to address persistent challenges, and to assist the United States in its ongoing efforts to improve.

PAULA SCHRIEFER, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Department of State, spoke about how implementation of United States obligations under the Convention must be a true collective effort among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments. Since the United States’ last report in 2008, it had significantly stepped up efforts to communicate and coordinate with those partners. It had also worked to improve coordination with members of civil society, who served as vital partners and constructive critics in the implementation of obligations, and had held several consultations with civil society specifically on the report. The United States greatly appreciated the efforts of civil society to coordinate and organize their concerns and recommendations.

LORETTA LYNCH, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, United States Department of Justice, spoke about the great reforms made in reforming America’s criminal justice system. The focus was not just on the prosecution of crime but on eradicating its causes as well as providing support for those re-entering society after having paid their debt to it. There was of course still much work to be done. Currently the United States imprisoned approximately 2.2 million people, disproportionately people of colour. The situation was a drain on both precious resources and human capital. The new Smart on Crime initiative ensured that stringent mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal drug crimes would now be reserved for the most serious criminals, and alternatives to incarceration were being advanced. That was not an abandonment of prison as a means to reduce crime, but rather a recognition that, quite often, less prison could also work to reduce crime. The Department of Justice was also committed to giving fair opportunities to formally incarcerated people to re-join their communities and become productive, law-abiding citizens. From the reduction of the use of solitary confinement, to the expansion of the federal clemency programme, to support for the retroactive reduction of penalties for non-violent drug offenders, to the reduction in sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the United States was working to improve its criminal justice system in furtherance of its human rights treaty obligations.

MARK KAPPELHOFF, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice, said last month the United States celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark law which relegated the age of legal segregation to the history books. The nation had made great progress over the last five decades but the journey was not yet complete. The right to vote was one of the most fundamental promises of the United States democracy. Among the highest priorities was ensuring equal access to the ballot box. The Civil Rights Division was currently challenging discriminatory state election laws in North Carolina and Texas. The Attorney General was also taking steps to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives had meaningful access to the polls.

On education, Mr. Kappelhoff said the Division continued work to dismantle racial discrimination in schools, to ensure that school districts fulfilled their legal obligation to provide equal educational opportunity for all students. It had also targeted racial disparities in school discipline in an effort to end the “school to prison pipeline”. Guidance had been issued to inform schools nationwide of their responsibility to establish non-discriminatory policies and practises aimed at keeping young people in the classroom and out of the criminal justice system.

The Civil Rights Division continued to handle a large volume of housing and employment discrimination complaints which was a stark reminder that, despite the end of legal segregation, its work must continue to combat unfair treatment. The Division responded forcefully to the housing and foreclosure crisis in the United States, which hit African American and Latino families especially hard. They paid more for their loans because of their race or national origin, or were steered to more expensive and riskier subprime loans. The United States brought legal action to remedy those abuses resulting in the three largest residential lending discrimination settlements in the Justice Department’s history.

The Justice Department was aggressively prosecuting hate crimes. Mr. Kappelhoff said. As a long-time federal prosecutor, he could tell first-hand that the devastation caused by a single act of hate could reverberate through families, communities and the entire nation. No one should live in fear that they might be attacked simply because of their skin colour, the country they were born in, their faith or whom they loved. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, was a powerful tool which had led to over 160 convictions on hate crime charges in the last five years – amounting to nearly a 50 per cent increase over the previous five years.

CATHERINE LHAMON, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, said her Office’s mission was to ensure that students could attend schools free from discrimination based on race, colour, national origin, sex, age and disability. It vigorously enforced federal civil rights laws in all aspects of the education system, from preschool to postsecondary education and in career, technical and adult education. Ms. Lhamon described several examples where her Office had guided and intervened in schools to eliminate racial discrimination, such as the suspension rate of black students in Los Angeles school district. The Office had also issued policy guidance on the equal right of all students to elementary and secondary level education regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, as well as guidance on response to bullying and harassment based on a student’s race, colour or national origin.

DUSTIN MCDANIEL, Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, spoke about recent, historic, legislation designed to ensure non-discriminatory access to housing, consistent with Article 5 of the Convention. When the United States housing market collapsed a pattern of fraudulent mortgages that targeted homebuyers who were unable to pay their debt was exposed. A global economic crisis followed, and more than four million families lost their homes. Mr. McDaniel said that along with his fellow state Attorney Generals and others, a US$26 billion settlement was reached with America’s five largest banks related to mortgage fraud. Minority borrowers were specifically targeted and disproportionately impacted by the fraud and were more than 70 per cent more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure than non-minority borrowers. To date the settlement had resulted in more than US$10.7 billion in principal reductions, allowing families to stay in their homes.

Mr. McDaniel also spoke about his administration’s work to set a national standard to prohibit short-term, cash-advance lenders known as “payday lenders” who targeted minorities, veterans and the elderly. He also spoke about the focus of significant resources to education litigation designed to use the court system to end and remedy a shameful history of racial segregation and an inherently unequal school funding system. Decades of poor policy had led to inadequacies that disadvantaged minority and underprivileged students, but today the litigation was over, he told the Committee. The law now established student foundation funding, meaning that education funding was no longer exclusively tied to property taxes.

WILLIAM BELL, Mayor, City of Birmingham, Alabama, told the Committee that just 50 short years ago his city had been part of the segregated south. Brave men and women had cried out for equality and the world had listened. Today the city was a thriving example of what change brought. With over US$1 billion in capital projects over the last five years, a thriving University and biomedical centre, and an effort to establish itself as the Civil Rights Centre for the United States, Birmingham stood as an example of what citizens could do when they came together in unity. Mr. Bell said a few programmes put in place deserved special mention, such as a civil reintegration after incarceration programmes within the municipal court system, an incorporated human rights curriculum at all levels of public schools, and work with colleges and universities to successfully encourage them to offer human rights studies programmes so that all Birmingham’s young leaders could graduate with an awareness of human rights issues around the world.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of the United States, extended his warm welcome to the large and high-level delegation of the United States and expressed his appreciation for the high quality of their combined reports which frankly acknowledged areas that needed to be improved. The United States was one of the most multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies in the world, and since the election of President Obama in 2008 the State party had taken commendable steps to promote racial equality. However, as noted by the State party itself, much work remained to be done to meet the goal of ensuring equality for all. Mr. Amir also expressed his appreciation to the representatives of civil society organizations who had committed their time to submit extensive reports to inform the Committee, and for their presence today.

The Committee was concerned about the high levels of gun violence in the United States, and its disparate impact on minorities. According to information received, African Americans made up 13 per cent of the population, but were 50 per cent of homicide victims, of which 82 per cent were committed using firearms. African American males were reportedly seven times more likely to die by firearm homicide than White males. Those disparities arose from factors such as subconscious racial bias in shootings, the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws and the existence of predominantly African American and economically depressed neighbourhoods with escalated levels of violence. What measures were being taken to address the discriminatory effect of Stand Your Ground laws?

The Committee welcomed efforts to address discrimination against indigenous peoples, including support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, high-level conferences organized by President Obama with more than 350 tribal leaders and efforts to promote the culture and traditions of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Peoples. Nevertheless the plight of indigenous peoples remained a serious matter of concern. Those included disproportionately high levels of suicide, unemployment and violence against women which was the highest among all ethnic or racial groups in the United States, as well as expropriation of ancestral lands and lack of respect for treaties signed between Indian Nations and the United States Government. Could the delegation provide concrete information on measures taken to combat those issues?

The Committee was additionally concerned at the large number of tribes that remained unrecognized by the federal Government and the obstacles to recognition, such as the high cost and lengthy and burdensome procedural requirements, and ongoing problems to guarantee the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples based on their free, prior and informed consent.

Regarding violence against women, Mr. Amir said while the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act increased the length of sentences tribal courts could issue in criminal cases, the Committee was concerned about its limited jurisdiction. He also noted with concern that the Violence against Women Act of 2013 covered only certain domestic violence crimes, not crimes of rape, stalking or trafficking of Native American women.

The Committee was also concerned about discrimination against non-citizens. It was concerned that asylum seekers and migrants were detained for a prolonged period of time in prison-like facilities with inadequate healthcare and treatment. In 2013 an asylum claim allegedly took on average 111 days to process, despite the 10 day deadline mandated by federal law. More than two million persons had reportedly been deported from the United States since President Obama took office. Mr. Amir expressed concern that deportees often had no hearing before an immigration judge, particularly given the surge in unaccompanied children who recently arrived at the southern United States border.

Mr. Amir expressed his concern that, despite the commitment made by President Obama to close all detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, and the reiteration of that commitment following the Universal Periodic Review of 2008, foreigners continued to be detained and denied access to justice. Could the delegation comment on the lack of progress in closing the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and concrete measures taken to ensure that all detainees had prompt and effective recourse to justice?

On the subject of discrimination against national or ethnic minorities, Mr. Amir said racial and ethnic disparities continued to exist in the criminal justice system, and expressed concern at the persistence of racial disparities throughout all stages of the criminal justice system, including overrepresentation of individuals from minority communities, in particular African Americans, especially for non-violent offences. While the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Law in 2010 was welcomed, the Committee was concerned that racial disparities in sentencing had not been eliminated, and about racial disparities in the use of prosecutorial discretion. Moreover, following its 2008 Universal Periodic Review the United States accepted recommendations to review racial disparities in the application of the death penalty.

Racial disparities in the treatment of minority youth in the criminal justice system was also a continuing matter of concern, particularly the disproportionate rate of which they were prosecuted as adults, incarcerated in adult prisons and sentenced to life without parole. The Committee welcomed the Supreme Court decision in Graham v Florida which held that sentencing juveniles found guilty of non-homicide offences to life without the possibility of parole violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. However, 15 states had not yet changed their laws to comply with that and other Supreme Court rulings. Did the State party have a disaggregated data collection system indicating the number of juveniles imprisoned in adult facilities, including demographic data and time spent in solitary confinement?

On the prohibition of racist hate speech and the reservation to Articles 4 and 7 of the Convention, Mr. Amir said the State party’s view and importance given to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association was well known. However, given the lack of legal regulation of racist hate speech, except for instances amounting to incitement to imminent violence, could the delegation elaborate on measures to reduce instances of racist hate speech and provide relevant statistics.

Turning to racial disparities in education, the Committee remained concerned that despite the promise of Brown v Board of Education decision adopted 60 years ago, far too many students still attended segregated schools with segregated or unequal facilities. Could the delegation elaborate on what action had been taken following the recommendations of the Equity and Excellence Commission? Mr. Amir also spoke about special measures, or affirmative action and expressed concern at measures passed in eight States against the use of affirmative action in school admissions which had reportedly led to drastic decreases in minority enrolment.

The Committee remained concerned at obstacles to voting imposed on individuals belonging to national or ethnic minorities, including voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and disenfranchisement of convicted felons who were disproportionately from minority backgrounds. The Committee was also concerned that several states had passed restrictive voting laws that increased obstacles for disadvantaged minority communities to exercise their vote – could the delegation please comment?

The continued use of racial profiling, including stop-and-frisk policies, and surveillance by law enforcement officials targeting certain ethnic minorities, as well as Muslims, was another concern of the Committee, said Mr. Amir. He also expressed concern about abusive conduct and excessive use of force by law enforcement agents against racial minorities.

On issues related to the status of the Convention within domestic law, Mr. Amir expressed concern that racial discrimination complaints continued to require proof of discriminatory intent, and that the scope of the application of the disparate impact doctrine remained limited. Did the State party intend to adopt comprehensive legislation at the federal level to prohibit indirect discrimination in all fields of life?

Given the unique federal structure of the United States, ensuring that the provisions of the Convention were respected throughout the State party at the federal, state and local levels was a challenge. Could the delegation comment on progress in establishing a national human rights institution, as per the recommendation it accepted at its 2010 Universal Periodic Review?

Questions by the Experts

An Expert took the floor and expressed his delight at seeing two indigenous citizens presiding over the dialogue, and also at the number of non-governmental organizations present today. He spoke about racial discrimination in relation to the death penalty. Out of the 140 death row prisoners who were found to be innocent in recent years, most were African American. In 2001, 50 per cent of people on death row were black. The disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system was an indicator of structural discrimination. The Committee looked forward to hearing about measures taken to end the sentencing to death of minors and mentally ill persons.

It was painful to hear the father of Jordan Davies describe how his son was killed just because he was black, said an Expert. Millions of United States citizens had a licence to hold a gun, and they believed they also had a licence to kill. That was because under Stand Your Ground laws they believed they could legally kill anyone who presented a threat to them. Could the delegation give its view on that?

How could it happen that segregation in United States schools was worse today than it was in the 1970s? Perhaps it indeed stemmed from lack of funds, but why were schools being closed in non-Caucasian areas, an Expert asked.

On child labour, an Expert said the Committee was very concerned to hear reports of high numbers of minors, specifically from the Latino and African American communities, who were forced to work, and asked the delegation to comment.

The United States co-sponsored General Assembly resolution 64/169 which proclaimed 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent, the idea of which gave rise to the proclamation of an International Decade of People of African Descent which began this year. What role did the United States intend to play in that endeavour to recognize justice and development for people of African descent?

There were reports that the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was not known by officials in most of the 50 states of the United States. Could the delegation please comment on that?

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/150 on combating glorification of Nazism and other practices that contributed to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, was raised by an Expert who expressed disappointment that the United States was one of a handful of States that voted against it. Could the delegation please comment, as that resolution was very important to the Committee, he said.

An Expert expressed alarm at the reported rise of hate crime, the majority of which targeted African Americans, and the increase in the number of extremist groups, which reportedly was 939. Did the delegation have hate crime data disaggregated in terms of gender and age, as well as race and ethnicity, to better understand hate crime with regard to children?

Implicit biases within the child welfare system were also raised, including the over-representation of indigenous children in foster care, who were prevented from access to their culture. She also spoke about concerning reports of biases within adoption arrangements, as well as the continuing impact of historic boarding school arrangements.

An Expert said she was conscious of the United States’ place as a destination for migrants, including the famous inscription of the Statue of Liberty. Today, the situation was very different. Why was migration criminalized, she asked, and in particular why were children being held as criminals at the American border?

The Affordable Health Care Act was a major step forward, but it seemed that only half the states had decided to join the system and seven million people did not have healthcare. Could the delegation comment on racial disparity in access to healthcare?

An Expert expressed disappointment in the United States, which he said was a country that liked to play the role of world human rights policeman, but did not have a national mechanism in line with the Paris Principles, and had signed and ratified only a handful of crucial human rights instruments - as a super-power it should be a better example to the world.

Another Expert took the floor to say it might seem to outsiders that today’s dialogue amounted to a session of “United States bashing” but that there were so many questions was testimony to the size and complexity of the country. He added that the very impressive delegation, not only in size but also composition, was proof of the advances already achieved by the United States in the elimination of racial discrimination. Reservations held by the State party to the Convention, such as on Article 4 on freedom of expression, were raised. The Expert also said that in many areas, what was often interpreted as racism was actually a social problem, and that poverty could be the worst case of discrimination of all.

On terminology and political correctness, an Expert noted that the report used both terms Black and African American, and wondered whether the State party saw any difference between them. He also asked what the difference between Hispanic and Latino was and why did Whites term themselves as Caucasian?

Other Experts asked questions about related issues including exposure of low income and minority communities to high levels of environmental pollution, bans on gender selective abortions which seemed to specifically target American women of Asian origin, the situation of migrant workers, and the effectiveness of training and other measures to combat racial discrimination. Concerns were also raised about the criminalization of homelessness, and about racial disparities in access to housing.

The Expert regretted that the United States had not ratified the United Nations Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Was ratification of those instruments in the pipeline? Given that the high level of violence against women was against minority women, and the many issues of concern regarding children, it was time the State party signed those conventions.

The Convention was born out of the United Nations declaration that apartheid was a crime against humanity, an Expert recalled. Was it true that more than 20 civil rights era activists were still in prison? Would those African American activists, who were mostly aged and unwell, linger in prison for the rest of their lives?

What happened to the person who killed the teenager Trayvon Martin, an Expert asked. Was he free? Racial hate speech on the internet was raised by an Expert who asked what mechanism the United States had to regulate illegal behaviour on the internet as much as possible?

The Chairperson of the Committee also raised concerns, asking for more information on the loss of criminal jurisdiction by tribes in 1978.

Civil society was concerned about the criminalization of homeless persons; global warming affected all persons, but there was disproportionate risk for many indigenous peoples, particularly those in Alaska.

Response by the Delegation

The United States viewed the participation of civil society to be an absolutely essential element in ensuring that it lived up to its human rights obligations, said a delegate, and for that reason dedicated tremendous effort to engaging with civil society and ensuring that civil society around the world could engage with the United Nations system, including with all treaty bodies, free from intimidation or reprisals. The United States expressed its hope that the Committee would raise that important issue in reviews of all States parties to the treaty and to the Committee Members’ own Governments.

Regarding the United States ratification of human rights treaties to which it was not already a party, including those to which it was already signatory, a delegate said two were in particular a priority, namely the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but noted that ratification required signature by two thirds of the Senate, a parliamentary majority, which was hard to get. Nevertheless, the administration was working closely with the Senate.

A delegate spoke about the events in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown. He offered his greatest condolences to Mr. Brown’s family and community. The delegate said the Department of Justice had opened a civil rights investigation into the case, which was in addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, and pledged that a thorough and complete investigation of the matter would be conducted.

The case of Trayvon Martin, the seventeen-year-old shot and killed in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, was raised by a delegate, who acknowledged the presence of Trayvon’s parents
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin in the room, and said he had met with them earlier in the week. The delegate informed the Committee that the case was currently under investigation by the Federal Authorities.

Regarding Stand Your Ground laws and gun violence, a delegate said the Attorney General had stated that localities with Stand Your Ground laws were obliged to review them to ensure they did not go further than providing an individual with a legal defence when there was no safe retreat. The delegate spoke about other legal organizations which were also looking at further reviews to those laws.

Gun violence was a serious problem in the United States, particularly among communities of colour, said a delegate. President Obama was currently looking at the adoption of new legislation to keep citizens safe, but in its absence, he had already signed Executive Actions to review gun safety.

On police misconduct, a delegate said unconstitutional policing practices, including racial profiling, undermined public trust. Over 300 individual officers had been prosecuted for misconduct over the last five years, and 14 ground-breaking settlement agreements had been reached. The United States Government would continue to work to eliminate discrimination and abuse in law enforcement.

The United States was committed to ensuring that the civil rights and liberties of all individuals were not compromised by law enforcement officers carrying out their work. All good law enforcement officers recognized that racial profiling was an ineffective policing tool, a delegate said. When systemic abuses of power were found, legal action was taken against the individuals concerned and policies were changed. However, the deeper issue was that by the time such action had been taken, much damage had been done. A new National Centre for Building Community Trust and Justice, funded by the Department of Justice, sought to work with communities on issues ranging from ‘stop and search’ to wrongful convictions.

The United States was deeply committed to eliminating ethnic hatred and intolerance but did not believe that banning racial hate speech was an effective way to do it, a delegate said. The United States protected freedom of expression because the cost of stripping away individual rights was far greater than tolerating hateful words. However, it did use many tools to combat intolerance, ranging from legislation to leaders speaking out on the subject.

Many Committee Members had raised the issue of hate speech; the United States did prosecute cases of hate speech, including threats made on the internet, a delegate confirmed. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act greatly expanded the Government’s ability to prosecute the cases, a delegate said, adding that that law was signed into action in 2009 by President Obama as a result of lobbying from civil society and bodies such as this Committee. Prevention was critically important; it was not possible to prosecute the way out of the problems, and coordination and outreach to break down stereotypes and increase dialogue among different ethnic and racial communities was crucial.

Data on hate crimes had been collected since 1990, a delegate confirmed, saying she was pleased to tell the Committee the data was now additionally disaggregated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and on crimes committed by or targeting juveniles. The latest statistics would be published later this year under the annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act. The delegate added that FBI data collection on hate crimes had also recently expanded to include disaggregated figures relating to Sikh, Hindu and Arab individuals.

On voting rights, a delegate said the United States was committed to ensuring every citizen could cast their ballot free from discrimination. The Government was disappointed by the Shelby County v Holder decision, but was committed to using all remaining tools under federal law to address discrimination in voting. Those tools included provisions of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. He noted that three legal challenges had been filed in Texas and North Carolina, and other challenges had been filed in Ohio and Wisconsin, and that the Attorney General had called on state leaders to restore voting rights to those who had paid their debt to society.

A delegate spoke about how some Arab, Muslim and Sikh members of communities had felt unfairly targeted and surveyed after 9/11. She emphasized that the United States did not survey any individual based solely on race or ethnicity. The delegate spoke about how the State Department had been regularly meeting with Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities, since 2003, to rebuild trust, as well as to provide protection from hate crime, bullying and other forms of discrimination.

The overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice system was indeed a serious issue, particularly for African Americans, said a delegate. He spoke about the Smart on Crime initiative which instructed prosecutors to reserve the strongest sentences for violent criminals, about plans to review legislation to reform mandatory minimum statutes, as well as sentences for narcotic offences, including retroactively.

Re-entry Councils were developing strategies, including training for officials, to help the children of incarcerated parents maintain the chances of success that all children should have and ensure they were not negatively impacted by their parent’s incarceration, as well as to help them and their parents maintain their bonds and relationship. That important and ongoing issue had been greatly informed by the non-governmental organization community.

Regarding the imposition of the death penalty, a delegate said the Department of Justice worked very hard to establish individualized reviews for each case, with demographic data to remove from the file to hide the ethnic or racial identity of the victim. There was also an exhaustive system of due process at the federal level, she added.

A delegate spoke about minority women as victims of crime and said the 1994 Violence against Women Act provided services to victims as well as financial services to law enforcement agencies to help victims gain access to courts, treatment, and other services.

A delegate spoke about child labour, particularly in the field of agriculture. He recalled that in 2011 the Department of Labour proposed a regulation to expand the list of agricultural occupations considered too hazardous for the employment of children under the age of 16. By law such a regulation must take into account the views of stakeholders and be opened to public consultation. The Department received some 10,000 comments, mostly from parents who believed that the rule would impact upon the running of their farms, and from those who believed it would impact upon the development of the next generation of farmers. Therefore the department listened to public opinion and withdrew the proposed regulation, and instead resolved to focus on the promotion of health and safety for child workers in the field of agriculture, especially in the handling of pesticides.

Migration was a major challenge to the United States; as so many crossing the border were children, there was a humanitarian aspect to the problem which the United States was bound to respect. The United States was committed to applying charity, decency and fairness as it enforced its migration laws. It was increasing capacity and resources to effectively manage that vulnerable population. It was also working closely with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to share responsibilities. The United States was also working towards comprehensive immigration law reform in order to uphold its proud tradition as a nation of migrants, concluded the delegate.

Concerning the criminal charges faced by people crossing United States borders without documentation, a delegate said it was a very difficult issue as they strove to balance the protection of borders with individual rights. Defendants were afforded full due process, from legal representation to the right to trial to the right to appeal.

Another delegate from the Department of Homeland Security spoke about the proceedings, including of deportation, and the services accorded to migrants. Regarding unaccompanied children at United States borders, the delegate said several steps had been taken to provide legal representation to those children. On 6 June 2014 a new programme was launched to pay 100 lawyers and paralegals to represent unaccompanied children during their immigration proceedings. Training had been offered to immigration lawyers and judges on issues such as child-sensitive questioning and proceedings.

On Guantanamo detainees, a delegate said a periodic review board had been established to determine whether their ongoing detention was essential and if they could be transferred. So far, nine hearings had been conducted, in which detainees could participate with their legal counsel and personal representatives. Of those, the hearings had determined that the detention of four detainees was now no longer essential.

On indigenous persons, the Head of the Delegation took the floor to say where possible tribes should be governed by their own laws and practices, which meant tribes should be key decision makers on matters affecting their community. The paradigm was in synchronicity with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons, he said, adding that a power of a governing body should be to decide who was or was not a member of an indigenous community. The Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Persons had raised important issues about the federal acknowledgement of tribal nations, which led to several recognized powers. Not just any conglomeration of individuals should be so recognized, or it would water down those powers and make them less powerful. Accordingly there was a complex process to determine which tribes should have the powers, which it was acknowledged needed reform, and so the Bureau of Indian Affairs was in the process of reforming the process of Federal Acknowledgement to make it more streamlined and fair.

Another delegate took the floor to say as a tribal leader he was honoured to work with President Obama, the only President to meet annually with tribal leaders and who had taken other measures towards their empowerment. Self-governance and self-determination of indigenous tribes was a positive move. The Indian Child Welfare Act included provisions that promoted and encouraged tribal self-governance for the welfare of children. With respect to reports of bias in child welfare, the Government was working hard to deal with the issues, including with non-governmental organizations. The guidelines needed to be updated, and that was being done hand in hand with partners. The 1960s practice of removing indigenous children from their families and placing them in boarding schools with the express aim of eliminating tribal communities and their traditions had caused intergenerational harm, said the delegate. Today, the President understood that the best solutions for Native American children came from their communities that knew the children best, and to that end the Bureau for Indian Education was being reformed.

Recovery and protection of tribal lands was a hallmark priority for this administration, said a delegate. The Government has entered into a settlement that established a US$1.9 billion fund to purchase land interest and return it to indigenous peoples. It aimed to take 500,000 acres of land into trust on behalf of tribes. So far over 260,000 acres of land had been taken into trust, and additionally over 240,000 acres of land has been returned to indigenous ownership. Indian treaties were the supreme law of the land, including the treaty on the right to fish, he added, giving examples from around the country.

The Head of the Delegation said violence against indigenous women was one of the most important issues raised and was an intolerable problem. Violence against indigenous women was a worldwide scourge. Every State should take affirmative steps to address it, including the United States. The enactment of the Tribal Law And Order Act, which provided additional tools to law enforcement officials, and the watershed development of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization empowered tribal nations to criminally prosecute non-Indians. The majority of perpetrators were non-natives themselves. The Alaska exception should be revoked and key senators, including those from the state of Alaska, had agreed on the repeal of that provision, he confirmed. There was no country in the world that had taken such a forward-leaning approach to providing jurisdiction to tribal nations. Indigenous peoples had to be empowered so they themselves could address their own problems, but the United States was committed to also addressing them.

On juvenile sentencing, the United States Supreme Court recognized the unique nature of juvenile offenders, and the trend was to afford ever greater protection to juveniles. In 2005 the Court abolished any death penalty for juvenile offenders regardless of the crime; in 2010 life without parole was banned for juvenile offenders in non-capital offences; and in 2012 the Supreme Court invalidated life without parole as a mandatory sentence even in capital offences. States that continued to try juveniles as adults were increasingly sceptical about its effectiveness. The law was evolving towards more protection to juvenile offenders.

A delegate, who was the Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama and President of the African American Mayors Association, spoke about programmes in his state to support persons upon their release from prison and to help them reintegrate back into society, and recalled the visit of Nelson Mandela to Birmingham upon his release from prison, and how he had inspired many programmes and initiatives.

On education, a delegate said the President recently approved a US$300 million programme on responding to the Equity and Excellence Commission report. Priorities included offering high-rigour courses, as an alternative to remedial courses, to minority secondary level students as well as offering equal access to gifted and talented students. A new nationwide Equity Initiative called on states to tell how they were going to better distribute teachers among schools that needed them most, and share best practices with schools around the country.

On the Government’s response to the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, a delegate spoke of how they had repeatedly issued guidance on how this administration actively supported ways of achieving racial diversity and equality in schools. The most recent guidance was issued in May, directing all states to continue to achieve racial diversity. The eight states that had outlawed affirmative action had been directed to turn to their Attorney Generals to find out what they could do. The delegate confirmed that there were no quotas. The view on school closures in Chicago was that every school closure raised extremely serious concerns for the community, and the Department of Education was investigating those.

Responding to the question for data on pre-school activities, a delegate said they did collect such data biannually, and read out the latest figures: 60 per cent of the 16,500 school districts in the country were pre-schools, and of those 18 per cent of children attending were Black, 29 per cent were Latino, four per cent were Asian, 43 per cent were white, two per cent were American Indian or Alaska native, one per cent was native Hawaiian and the others identified as two or more ethnicities.

The Affordable Health Care Act was a transformative act, the most significant health legislation enacted in 50 years to address disparities in health care. The Government was working nationwide to combat health disparities, addressing factors such as poverty, access to services and health issues which disproportionately impacted racial minorities.

On women’s health, a delegate spoke of her expertise as a domestic violence medical health worker, and talked about training and medical assistance, and domestic violence health programmes to address and prevent the injuries and chronic problems caused by the problem. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was established earlier this year to support schools in preventing sexual violence upon the campuses. Furthermore, healthcare providers from the Native American population were being trained on domestic violence, as well as reducing suicide among that population.

The Affordable Health Care Act provided the largest expansion of mental health care in a generation. The Government was actively working to promoting prevention and wellness in mental health in various areas. The Government was committed to ensuring appropriate use of psychotropic medications to treaty people with mental health problems. A delegate also responded to questions on the banning of sex and race selective abortions, and a recent case being brought on the issue.

Given that the United States federal system implementation of its human rights obligations was a collective effort among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, it had increased its engagement with those actors in recent years. Answering questions about the lack of a national human rights institution, which was being considered, the United States did have multiple complementary protections and mechanisms to reinforce its respect for human rights. At the federal level, the White House led a high-level Interagency Policy Committee on Human Rights, while the Equality Working Group expanded federal leadership and communication specifically on issues related to racial discrimination. The Equality Working Group encouraged federal agencies to work together and share best practice, and was an additional forum for civil society and other stakeholders. Federal agencies regularly monitored developments at state and local levels to ensure they complied with United States laws through which the Convention was implemented, he said, giving an example of the Justice Department challenging laws in Texas and North Carolina under the Voting Rights Act.

On dissemination of the Convention, a delegate said the Department of State recently wrote to state, local, territorial and tribal officials to remind them of United States treaty obligations and upcoming presentations, including this one. It would also post the concluding observations of the Committee on its website as soon as they came available.

Answering the question about American corporations whose operations may affect the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, a delegate said the United States strongly supported accountability for corporate wrongdoing regardless of who was affected, and implemented that commitment through many domestic laws and regulations, as well as engagement with stakeholders.

A delegate spoke about work to combat racial disparities in housing, which led to school segregation and minority communities to suffer disproportionately from crime and other issues. Housing segregation was key as too often life decisions were led by the neighbourhood a person lived in. The Government took seriously obligations to ensure desegregated housing, and had adopted Fair Housing Laws to make affordable housing available to communities.

Concluding Remarks

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the dialogue and for answering almost all of the questions put to them. He noted that due to the demands of time some questions remained unanswered, and asked that the State party submit the answers in writing within 24 hours.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of the United States, said given the limited time there had been an impressive number of questions and answers, and thanked the delegation for the specific and concise responses. Mr. Amir said the Committee’s concluding observations would be submitted to the Government of the United States. The dialogue had been very constructive and of high quality. The Committee, in its endeavour to eliminate racial discrimination, would never forget one name – that of Doctor Martin Luther King, he concluded.

KEITH HARPER, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council, said on behalf of the Government of the United States he thanked the Committee for hosting the dialogue on their common commitment to eradicate racial discrimination. The United States understood the level of interest by Committee Members and shared its disappointment to not have more time for the dialogue, given the size and high-level of the delegation that had travelled to Geneva. There would be much to reflect upon as work continued on this important topic, and the Government looked forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations.


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