TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Aug17/06)
30 August 2017
Third World Network

Rights: UN body criticises US failure to condemn recent racist violent events
Published in SUNS #8522 dated 29 August 2017

Geneva, 28 Aug (Kanaga Raja) -- A key United Nations body has called upon the government of the United States, including its high-level politicians and public officials, to unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and racist crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country.

The call was made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its States parties.

The Committee held its ninety-third session here from 31 July to 25 August 2017.

The US had ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination back in 1994.

In a decision issued under its "Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures", the Committee, composed of independent human rights experts, pointed to the "horrific events" that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on 11-12 August 2017 leading to the death of Ms. Heather Heyer, and the injuries inflicted on many other protestors, as well as the terrible beating of Mr. Deandre Harris by white supremacists.

"We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred," said Ms Anastasia Crickley, the Committee Chairperson, in a UN news release.

"We call on the US Government to investigate thoroughly the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting, in particular, people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants," she added.

In its decision, the Committee said that it was disturbed by the failure at the highest political level of the United States (government) to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations led by the aforementioned groups, thereby potentially fuelling the proliferation of racist discourse and incidents throughout the United States.

It was deeply concerned by the example this failure could set for the rest of the world.

The Committee noted the criminal investigation launched against, and the ongoing prosecution of, the individual implicated in the ploughing of his car into the crowd of peaceful protestors which led to the death of Ms. Heyer.

It emphasised that there should be no place in the world for racist white supremacist ideas or any similar ideologies that reject the core human rights principles of human dignity and equality and seek to degrade the standing of individuals and groups on the grounds of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

The Committee called upon the United States to fully respect its international obligations and in particular those arising from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to combat and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

It urged the United States to ensure that all human rights violations which took place in Charlottesville, in particular with regards the death of Ms. Heyer, are thoroughly investigated, alleged perpetrators prosecuted and if convicted, punished with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime, and provide effective remedies to victims and their families.

The Committee recommended that the Government of the United States identify and take concrete measures to address the root causes of the proliferation of such racist manifestations, and thoroughly investigate the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting in particular people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants.

It recommended that the United States ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are not exercised with the aim of destroying or denying the rights and freedoms of others, especially the right to equality and non-discrimination.

It further recommended that the Government of the United States provide the necessary guarantees so that such rights are not misused to promote racist hate speech and racist crimes.

Earlier, on 16 August, a joint statement was issued by a group of UN human rights experts in the wake of the far-right demonstrations and violence in Charlottesville.

"We are outraged by the violence in Charlottesville and the racial hatred displayed by right-wing extremists, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups," said the experts in the joint statement.

"We view these events as the latest examples of increasing racism, racial discrimination, Afro-phobia, racist violence and xenophobia observed in demonstrations across the USA," they added.

The rights experts are Mr. Sabelo Gumedze, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and Ms. Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"We are deeply concerned at the proliferation and increasing prominence of organized hate and racist groups. Acts of hatred and racist hate speech must be unequivocally condemned. Hate crimes must be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted," said the UN experts.

"We call upon the US Government and State authorities to adopt effective policies as a matter of priority, to urgently tackle the manifestations of incitement to racial violence, and to understand how they affect social cohesion."

"The government must be vigilant in combating all acts of racism, xenophobia and racist violence, wherever they occur. Recent incidents in California, Oregon, New Orleans and Kentucky, as well as Charlottesville, demonstrate the geographical spread of the problem," the experts said.

According to a UN news release, noting that the far-right demonstrators in Charlottesville had chanted anti- Black, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant slogans, the rights experts said it was of critical importance for those who had committed racist crimes or violence to be held to account.

"We call for the prosecution and adequate punishment of all perpetrators and the prompt establishment of an independent investigation into the events," they underlined.

[Since the incidents at Charlottesville, US President Donald Trump has been issuing some controversial and contradictory statements and remarks - some equating the actions of white supremacists and those opposing it there - while other remarks of his came out condemning racism.

[These equivocal and contradictory remarks, as well as his pardoning of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has resulted in prominent members of his administration either criticising the president or distancing themselves from his remarks and actions.

[Arpaio has been found guilty of contempt of court over ignoring US Federal court orders against racial profiling and arresting Latino-Americans indiscriminately and holding them in inhuman conditions and was awaiting sentencing.

[According to media reports, the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, appearing on a Sunday programme of Fox News, responded to the UN statement that there had been "failure at the highest political level" to condemn the racism witnessed in the Virginia city over two weeks ago.

[Tillerson told Fox News that the State Department always expressed American values. Pressed on whether he was distancing himself from his boss, Mr Tillerson said he had made his own comments about values in a recent speech - in which he had said the US should protect freedom of speech but condemn racism, while adding that those who embrace hate speech "damage the very country they claim to love".

[In an administration where key members seemed to be frequently expressing themselves contrary to the president, at least two other prominent members of the Trump administration seemed to differ and distance themselves from Trump's remarks and actions, but without mentioning Trump.

[Two days earlier, Gary Cohn, the White House National Economic Council Director, in an interview to the Financial Times, seemed to be indirectly rebuking the president, by saying that the Trump administration "must do better" in condemning neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.

[Separately, James Mattis, US Secretary of Defence, during a meeting with US troops in Jordan, also made comments on divisions in America. Calling the troops "tough hombres", Mattis told them that America has "some problems", and urged them to "hold the line ... until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other".

[In some very sharp comments in his weekly column in the New York Times on 28 August, economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman also focussed on the pardon of Arpaio and the failure of most Republican leaders to condemn it, and viewed it as part of "Fascism, American style". SUNS] +