When the UN examined racial discrimination in the U.S. this week, some experts could not withhold their anti-American sentiments.
CERD, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is a body of “independent experts that monitors [the] implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its State parties,” obliging states to submit regular reports on the implementation of the rights of the Convention.
The United States was questioned on a vast amount of topics, centered on the rights of minorities, with many Committee members providing fair criticism. Noureddine Amir, vice-chair person, headed CERDs’ review which citied racial profiling by U.S. law enforcement officers, a “lack of respect” for indigenous rights and extremist hate crimes against minorities among key concerns, with many CERD experts also imploring the U.S. federal government to further engage with state and local authorities, citing disparate state statistics and laws with regards to minority rights.
At times, however, it felt as if the Committee members were placing the U.S. delegates, and the United States in turn, on trial. Mr. Yong‘an Huang, a former Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China and now CERD expert, commented on how “the U.S. likes to play the role of world’s police but never to talk about the human rights situation in the country.” Another expert, Mr. Jose Lindgren Alves of Brazil, even compared the U.S. census data collection to the Nazis, “jokingly” stating that “whites call themselves Caucasian…are they all Georgian or Armenian?”, a categorization style which he felt was similar to “Aryan, like Hitler said.”
After a bombardment of questions and comments from the experts, midway through the second meeting on August 14, Chairperson Jose Francisco Cali Tzay of Guatemala, himself of indigenous American origin, had to remind Committee members that they had “questioned the U.S. delegation for four hours,” and that the latter only had “one hour and a half” to respond.
In its response, the United States attempted to address as many queries and criticisms as possible, reiterating current law and touching on future possibilities or difficulties relating to the separation of powers. At one point, Ms. Veronica Venture of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had to correct Mr. Amir on statistics relating to detention times, which the latter had reported as double the actual figure.
As expected, there was mass interest in the review from the media and the civil society, leading the UN to reschedule it to a larger room in the grand Palais des Nations, while Iraq and Japan which are soon to be reviewed are relegated to the relatively smaller Palais Wilson. While it is completely legitimate to review the record of countries such as the U.S., regrettably, as is often the case, much more serious situations in many parts of world, including China, Russia and many countries in the Middle East, do not attract a comparable spotlight and remain largely ignored.