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Implementing CERD: A Call for Immediate Activist Input

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In 1994 the United States ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), an international treaty which commits nations to promote racial understanding and eliminate racism in all its manifestations. Originally approved by the U.N. in 1965, the CERD has now been ratified by 173 countries. The CERD treaty is notable for its scope and breadth.

The treaty not only condemns intentional discrimination, but it also requires states to review and amend practices or policies which may inadvertently promote racial exclusion or racial segregation. In addition, it requires states to take affirmative steps to promote racial understanding, including the use of race-conscious measures when appropriate. As part of the monitoring process, states are required to submit period reports to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. After receiving the official state report, the Committee then reviews shadow reports submitted by domestic advocacy groups responding to the official state report.

After a four year delay, the Bush Administration submitted its second official state report in April 2007. In preparation for the Committee's review of compliance by the U.S. with the Convention, the Kirwan Institute joined a coalition of more than 250 civic groups and scholars coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network, which submitted a joint shadow report detailing the persistence of racial inequality and racial discrimination in the U.S.

On February 22nd and 23rd of 2008, the CERD Committee examined the U.S. delegation based upon the information in the Kirwan report and other shadow reports. Of particular importance to the CERD committee was the way in which the U.S. had not only failed to implement the CERD, but also how it demonstrated outright rejection of affirmative, race-conscious measures to help remedy unjustifiable racial disparities. The Committee called on the U.S. specifically to explain its hostility to school integration in the recent Supreme Court Parents Involved decision.

The Committee noted that compliance with CERD requires efforts like school integration in order to achieve the goal of eliminating racial discrimination and that Parents Involved amounted to defiance of the treaty. Thus, the shadow reports gave Kirwan and other activist organizations a forum and an audience to express what the U.S. did not wish to admit; racism exists beyond the intentional act and within the interactions of private and public institutions, and the U.S. government has an obligation to address racism in all of its forms. The U.S. is required by CERD to eliminate racial discrimination in all forms and we must continue to hold the government to this international obligation.

However, there is a gap between the ideal and inspirational and the cold hard reality of the situation. Even with the election of a Democratic executive and legislative branch, this nation is woefully behind on issues of race and racism. The economic recession has hurt racial minorities more than whites, as does lack of heath care, economic and racial isolation in schools, and ignoring race in favor of color blind policies. Under the CERD, the United States would have to own up to these disparities and eliminate them. Under current U.S. law, there is no obligation to do so.

Recently, Senator Dick Durbin and the subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law announced that they will be holding a hearing on U.S. treaty implementation on December 16th. It will be the first oversight hearing on human rights treaty implementation since 1992 when the Senate ratified the ICCPR. Durban's committee will be accepting written statements on the U.S.'s record on implementation and recommendations to aid in creating a Congressional record on implementation practices.

This could be a great opportunity to open Congress' eyes to 21st Century discrimination, to the state's responsibility for creating policies and practices that entrench and reproduce old forms of discrimination, and creating so-called "race blind" policies that have disparate impact on minority populations.

Advocates and activists should take this opportunity to make their voices heard on the pressing need to implement CERD's mandate to eliminate all forms of discrimination at this crucial turning point in American history.

Statements are due by Dec. 14 and should be submitted to Heloisa Griggs,Counsel to U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin, at Heloisa_griggs@judiciary-dem.senate.gov.

Cross-posted from Race-Talk.

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