US Defends Record Against Racial Discrimination

22 February 2008

A U.S. delegation has vigorously defended the U.S. record on efforts to combat racial discrimination before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The committee has just completed a two-day review of the United States compliance with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which it ratified in 1994.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. Committee of 18 independent experts peppered the U.S. delegation with numerous questions.  It challenged assertions that the government was doing enough to combat alleged racial discrimination in the detention of African-Americans and other minorities.

It questioned Washington's treatment of illegal immigrants and demanded answers to a range of issues including alleged disparities in housing, education, employment and health care.  

The Committee members also expressed concern about issues such as racial profiling, alleged racial bias in the legal system and the sentencing of African-American juveniles to life long prison terms.

Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department's civil rights division, Grace Chung Becker said the delegation shared the Committee's concerns about police brutality.

"In the civil rights division, we have increased by 25 percent the number of cases that we have brought in this area and we have increased the convictions by 53 percent over the last seven years," she said.  "In addition, on the civil side, we continue to pursue pattern and practice cases against police departments for what we perceive as unconstitutional policing.  This can include excessive uses of force, as well as biased policing and unconstitutional searches and seizures." 

Vice Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Leslie Silverman, said the goal of her agency was to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.  She said the U.S. has made substantial progress over the years.

"At the EEOC, we do believe that racial discrimination still occurs far too often in the employment context," she said.  "And, we also believe that stereotypes and unconscious bias contribute to this problem.  That is why this past year, we decided to take a new approach to combating race discrimination, which we call ERACE and it stands for eradicating racism and colorism from employment." 

Advocacy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Jamil Dakwar, was not impressed.  He said the delegation presented existing laws, Supreme Court cases and other policies to justify their actions, but did not really address the questions and concerns of the Committee.

"So, I think at times the dialogue between the Committee and the U.S. delegation was a dialogue of the deaf," he said.  "They were not communicating and there were sometimes attempts by the U.S. delegation to mislead the Committee on issues." 

A coalition of 250 U.S.-based human rights organizations accuses the United States of persistent and systematic racial discrimination.  The Committee based many of its questions on a 600-page report the coalition presented to it.

The Committee will present its final observations and conclusions in two weeks.