2008 Press Releases

2.22.2008: ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann Testifies Before the U.N. on Racial Justice

Glaring Omissions In U.S. Testimony On Racial And Ethnic Discrimination, Says ACLU

Government Again Downplays Widespread Racism Before U.N. Committee

NEW YORK – The U.S. government failed to adequately address problems of widespread racial and ethnic discrimination in America at hearings before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva that ended today, despite testimony from the American Civil Liberties Union – including ACLU of Louisiana staff attorney Katie Schwartzmann - and dozens of human rights groups highlighting the existence of pervasive racism in this country. While the government delegation pointed to existing laws designed to protect civil rights, the committee noted that the U.S. often adopts narrow legal interpretations that prevent their enforcement.

"The U.N committee reinforced something we've been saying all along – when it comes to human rights and racial equality, the U.S. government can't just talk the talk, but must also walk the walk," said Laleh Ispahani, Senior Policy Counsel with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "While there is an extensive set of civil rights laws on the books, enforcement has been woefully inadequate, and there's been minimal accountability for noncompliance."

The government delegation continued to downplay the effects of widespread discrimination in this country in questioning before the committee that oversees compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, an international treatythat was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. Since its ratification, U.S. reporting on compliance has been inadequate, and this week's hearings were no exception.

Throughout the hearings, the CERD committee questioned the government delegation on several issues raised by the ACLU in its 2007 report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice. The ACLU's report examines human rights violations including events that took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, escalating police brutality and racial profiling, the dramatic increase in anti-immigrant acts and practices, the exploitation of migrant workers, and the "school to prison pipeline," whereby the criminal justice system overzealously funnels students of color out of classrooms and on a path toward prison.

"It takes more than empty words and unenforced laws to claim high moral ground and leadership on human rights," said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "To be true to its ideals and to fulfill its treaty obligations, the U.S. must take vigorous and proactive measures against racial and ethnic inequality."

The CERD committee is expected to release a final report on its findings and recommendations for U.S. compliance with the treaty on March 7. 

In addition Schwartzmann of the ACLU of Louisiana and Ispahani and Dakwar of the National ACLU, Lenora Lapidus, Dennis Parker, and Chandra Bhatnagar of the national ACLU, representatives of ACLU affiliates from Illinois, California, Texas attended the hearings in Geneva.

Blog posts from ACLU staffers in Geneva can be found on the ACLU blog at: blog.aclu.org Schwartzmann's post is dated February 21, 2008.

The ACLU's report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice, and other relevant documents are available online at:www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/racialjustice/cerd.html