Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Overview of Geneva

Update on Geneva

by Ejim Dike, The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center

Last week, an unprecedented number of United States NGOs traveled to Geneva to participate in the United States government review by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee). The review was to monitor US progress in combating racial discrimination as per its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The week culminated in a powerful review session where the United States delegation found itself seated in a room jam-packed with activists. Informed and probably bolstered by the impressive NGO presence in the room, the CERD Committee asked pointed questions and challenged the United States stance of exceptionalism with respect to international law. Below is a synopsis of some of the week's events. Please bear in mind that these are brief notes to give you a sense of the week. We will be scheduling a report back in a couple weeks where the New Yorkers who were in Geneva can describe the week in more detail.

Monday, February 18, 2008

NGO Briefing with CERD Committee

The US Human Rights Network scheduled an informal briefing with the CERD Committee members to hear from the NGO community on key issues relating to racial discrimination. The goal was to inform the Committee members of important race problems and guide their questioning of the United States government delegation during the review scheduled for later in the week. The session was scheduled for an hour and each speaker was allotted about 4 minutes to speak. Members of the New York delegation spoke on reproductive rights of women of color, school suspensions, and the impact of school to prison pipeline on immigrant youth. Other topics covered were Hurricane Katrina, police brutality, mass incarceration of people of color, school to prison pipeline, conditions in juvenile detention centers, immigrant workers' rights, post 9/11 racial profiling and abuse, access to health care, public housing, Western Shoshone Urgent Action, racial discrimination against transgender women of color, American Indian boarding schools, and sexual and domestic violence against Native women.

Meeting with the Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr. Doudou Diene

The United Nations Special Rapporteur (special expert) on racism, Mr. Doudou Diene met with the US NGO delegation to discuss his planned visit to the United States this spring. He explained that he had asked to visit the United States because a visit was long overdue. The visit is yet to be confirmed by the US government. During his visit, he will be meeting with government representatives, as well as NGOs. He is scheduled to come to New York and is interested in seeing how people are actually living and will be looking at prisons, housing, employment, health, and other issues we bring up. We presented on a range of issues including: homelessness, war on drugs, school to prison pipeline (indigenous youth and racial discrimination, Arab Americans/migrants and racial discrimination, and racial discrimination and alternative programs), local anti-immigrant ordinances, and discrimination against immigrant women. We also reported on some of the local working group reports including the NYC CERD Shadow Report. Because several of the issues in the New York City report had been covered, I used the two minutes allotted to give a brief overview of the NYC CERD Shadow Report, but highlighted the child welfare section as it was missing from the rest of the dialogue. The Special Rapporteur asked specifically for more time to hear about the problems arising from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We will be circulating more information on his visit and hope that you can all participate in some of the planning.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NGO Training

The Human Rights Project, along with some other organizations contributed in a training session for the NGOs in Geneva providing an overview of the UN, and discussing different strategies for local implementation. This session also allowed time for introductions and a brief summary of the work organizations are currently involved in.

Meeting with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Universal Periodic Review

Some of you may know that in 2006, the United Nations General Assembly established the Human Rights Council to replace the former UN Commission on Human Rights. The idea was that the Human Rights Council would have a higher profile and increased power to hold all countries accountable to guaranteeing human rights. Ms. Miriam Tebourbi, a representative from OHCHR, met with us to discuss a new monitoring mechanism that has been created under the Human Rights Council. She explained that the Human Rights Council has undertaken the mandate of a universal periodic review of the fulfillment by each country of its human rights obligations and commitments. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) would be guided by a few key principles including:

  • Universal treatment (i.e. all countries will be considered)
  • Equal treatment (i.e. all countries will be considered equally in modality)
  • UPR will be used to identify needs for capacity building in a non-accusatory capacity
  • States under review will be involved in all stages of the review process
  • UPR will be a peer review (i.e. will not be done by experts). This raises questions on how states will be educated on issues

The UPR is based on the charter of the UN, the UDHR, all treaties and international human rights law. The UPR will be conducted by a working group of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council. As in the treaty process, civil society (i.e. NGOs) will not be allowed to take the floor in the discussions of the working group session. While all the details are yet to be worked out, they currently foresee appointment of 3 rapporteurs per country to facilitate its review. The UPR of all 192 countries is scheduled to take place in 4 years starting this year. There will 3 sessions per year, and each session will review 16 countries—48 countries a year. The UPR will be based on three documents:

  1. A State Report which will be no more than 20 pages (no annex or attachments, to ensure equality)
  2. OHCHR Compilations which will be no more than 10 pages
  3. Summary of stakeholders submissions, a maximum of 10 pages (NGO submissions no more than 5 pages)

The UPR will include a 3-hour interactive session with working group, a ½ hour of report from country, and 1 hour debate when civil society can take floor. The United States is scheduled to undergo the UPR in 2010.

NGO-to-NGO Meeting

The US Human Rights Network also scheduled a meeting with NGOs from Italy who were also in Geneva to participate in Italy's review by the CERD Committee.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Second NGO Briefing with CERD Committee

The second informal briefing with the CERD Committee was designed to enable Committee members to ask questions of the NGO delegation. This format was more a bit more dynamic as Committee members were more engaged and came prepared with specific questions. Representatives from the Indian American Council, the Cherokee Nation, and the Sovereign Native Nation began the session and spoke about different injustices visited on Native Americans by the United States government including the denial of spiritual and cultural rights, environmental racism and violence against women. Other NGO delegates spoke on racial disparities in criminal convictions, pregnancy behind bars, and the lack of legislative protection for women against shackling, and long term solitary confinement particularly for mental health patients.

Committee Member Mr. Morten Kjaerum asked questions about voting rights and transgender health rights. He was interested in the current problems around voting rights in the United States particularly in light of the elections. Mr. Patrick Thornberry asked about what level of criminal activity resulted in voter disenfranchisement, and language access in voting rights. Mr. Jose Francisco Calitzay asked about immigrant rights and discriminatory actions of companies. Mr. Linos-Alexander Sicilianos (the country rapporteur) asked for more examples of when Congress has intervened on judicial decisions in spite of the separation of powers. He also asked about the new racial profiling law in the United States and was informed that it had not yet been passed. Mr. Anwar KEMAL asked for clarification on whether special measures (e.g. affirmative action) are now illegal or unconstitutional in the United States. Ms. Fatimata-Binta Victoria DAH, chairperson for the CERD Committee was present at both NGO briefings, as were some other committee members.

Meeting with OHCHR, Anti-Discrimination Unit, Research and Right to Development Branch

Mr. Jose Dougan-Beaca from the OHCHR met with us to discuss the upcoming Durban Review Conference. He explained that the purpose of the conference is to review the commitments made during the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Many of you may recall that the United States government pulled out of that conference. The Durban Review conference is scheduled to take place in 2009 (most likely in June) in either Geneva or New York, although it is more likely to take place in Geneva. Other important dates to note include April 21-May 2, 2008 (1st substantive session of preparatory committee in Geneva) and October 2008 (2nd substantive session of preparatory committee in Geneva). A regional preparatory meeting is also scheduled for June 2008 in Brazil.

To participate in the conference, NGOs must get accreditation. There are separate processes for accreditation for three different categories of NGOs. 1) NGOs with special UN consultative status are automatically accredited for the conference as long as they communicate their interest with the OHCHR, 2) all NGOs admitted to participate in preparatory committee of Durban Conference are also accredited unless a government raises questions about that particular NGO within 14 days (he explained that questions have to be reasonable e.g. questions around legitimacy of NGO. If questions are raised, the NGO will be notified to give response), 3) new NGOs need to fill out form which will be on their website. Please check their website for updated accreditation information.

He confirmed that while the United States had not endorsed the Durban Review conference, NGO participation is not connected to participation of their governments.

The NGOs organized a couple evening panel sessions including one on indigenous rights, and another on economic, social and cultural rights.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Briefing by the Members of the U.S. Delegation to CERD

The NGO delegation was invited to a briefing by the members of the United States government delegation on "The U.S. Presentation of the periodic Reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination" at the US Mission to the UN in Geneva. The United States delegation comprised about 24 people including the United States Ambassador to the UN, Warren Tichenor, and representatives from Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of State, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Labor. Oddly, the delegation also included "private sector advisers" including Ralph Boyd, who used to serve as a conservative CERD Committee member. The briefing lasted an hour and consisted mainly of NGOs asking questions of the delegation. Beyond giving the NGOs an opportunity to see the delegation before the actual CERD review, the briefing did not produce any new or helpful information.

United States Review by CERD – First Day (3pm – 6pm)

The CERD Committee chairperson, and the only female member of the committee, Ms. Fatimata-Binta Victoria Dah, opened the review session noting the unprecedented number of NGOs and students present. As per the usual practice, she gave the floor to the United States delegation to respond to written questions that had been previously submitted by the CERD committee. Ambassador Tichenor made brief introductory comments rather disingenuously observing that the large delegation from civil society (i.e. NGOs) is an indication of the seriousness with which "the American people treat the elimination of racial discrimination." Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice gave an oral summary of the questions posed to the United States by the Committee. Please see attached written responses by the US delegation.

In his response to the US presentation, the Country Rapporteur, Mr. Linos-Alexander Sicilianos started by saying that he received the written responses late the previous night which did not give him enough time to thoroughly review them. Several other committee members noted the late submission of the responses as well as the overwhelming amount of information submitted. Mr. Sicilianos also thanked the NGOs for their contribution, and commended the vibrant civil society in US. Among other things, he noted the discrepancy between the United States government report to CERD and the shadow reports also submitted to CERD. He asked a number of questions including on the limited definition of discrimination in the United States; the status of the Civil Rights Act of 2008 introduced by Senator Edwards; clarification on reach and enforcement of federal racial profiling guidelines which he noted seemed to provide guidelines on how to do racial profiling. He noted that the United States seems to lack any mechanisms to coordinate and review disparate impact cases. He called on the United States to remove or limit its reservation to CERD on racial discrimination in the private domain and to article 4 of CERD. Several other committee members asked pointed questions about the lack of United States compliance with CERD. Subjects covered included over-representation in the criminal justice system, police brutality, sentencing of juvenile to life without parole, death penalty, targeted discrimination suffered by immigrant communities, residential segregation, voter disenfranchisement including in DC, the US role in the Durban Review Conference (US responded that it would not be participating but would be "observing" the process), environmental racism, delay in resolving education cases, human right violations against indigenous people, Hurricane Katrina and a number of other issues. As mentioned previously, we will circulate video-tape of session once it is available. Chairperson Dah closed the session by emphasizing that all countries are dealt with on an equal basis. I think she was trying to reassure the United States.

Friday, February 22, 2008

United States Review by CERD – Second Day (10am – 1pm)

The second day started with the US delegation responding to questions asked the previous day. The US responses were carefully worded and made it clear that they were not willing to admit any failures in meeting their obligations under CERD. They insisted that the United States government did not believe that voting limitations for residents of DC, voter disenfranchisement of convicted felons, and sentencing of juveniles to life without parole, was in violation of CERD when it decided to ratify the convention. They confirmed that the United States will not be participating in preparatory committee for the Durban Review Conference but will be observing to keep track of important issues. They also said that the United States would make a decision on whether to participate in Durban in 2009, although Secretary Rice had made clear that they have no interest in participating. In response to persistent disparities in a number of areas, the delegation said they were "very vexed." They insisted that factors other than race drive these disparities including poverty, and that NGOs have an equal role to play in addressing them. With respect to voter disenfranchisement, they tried to offer State jurisdiction over voting laws as an excuse for the current situation. In response to the voter disenfranchisement respond, the Committee states that the answer provided by the US delegation could not be accepted by an international body. The US delegation did concede that racial minorities bore a disproportionate number of the housing and healthcare problems related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The US delegation also made an attempt to distinguish between "correlation and causation" of race and negative treatment. The committee members responded numerous times to this latter point insisting that both article 1 of CERD and General Recommendation 31 both clarify that direct and indirect forms of discrimination dovetail and are subject to the mandate of CERD. Committee members asked more questions which can be viewed on the video-tape of the session.

Due to the limited time, Mr. Sicilianos gave very brief closing comments and said that he could not give his conclusions at that stage but that the US government would be the first to hear the concluding comments. We (i.e. the NGO delegation) have sent in our suggestions for what should be contained in the concluding comments. Chairperson Dah closed the session by thanking the United States government for an interactive session and the NGOs for being dynamic.

The week in Geneva was quite productive but the bulk of the work begins now. We will be setting up a meeting to strategize on how to keep the US and NYC governments accountable to CERD over the course of the year, as well as our engagement in the Durban Review Conference and the Universal Periodic Review. We will also be posting photographs from the week on our website. Stay tuned!

Below, please find some press related to the CERD Review

Friday, February 22, 2008

REUTERS NEWS STORY - US Defends Record to Eliminate Racial Discrimination

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The United States, in the dock at a U.N. forum accused of racial discrimination, said on Thursday it was combating hate crimes such as displays of hangman's nooses as well as police brutality against minorities.

A U.S. delegation defended Washington's record at the start of a two-day debate at the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The committee's 18 independent experts grilled U.S. officials on issues including racial profiling in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, police brutality against minorities, and the high proportion of African-Americans on death row.

"We note that sadly, racial discrimination exists all over the world, including the United States," Grace Chung Becker, acting assistant attorney-general at the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division, told the meeting.

"The United States is committed to continuing its hard work to combat racial discrimination," she declared.

Substantial progress had been made over the years in addressing disparities in housing, education, employment and health care, according to a U.S. report submitted to the body.
Last year, the United States launched a "racial threats initiative" to facilitate investigations of nooses and other racially-motivated threats around the country, Becker said.

It was prosecuting a case involving nooses hung from the back of a truck which circled around a group of peaceful civil rights demonstrators waiting at a bus stop, she added.

U.S. President George W. Bush last week condemned as "deeply offensive" a spate of incidents involving hangman's nooses, a potent symbol of racist lynchings and hatred of blacks.

Some 47 states have laws against hate crimes, which they actively enforce, according to the U.S. delegation on Thursday.

U.S. officials had investigated more than 800 racially-motivated incidents against people perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Sikh or South Asian since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Despite a drop in the number and seriousness of such crimes, identifying and prosecuting them remained a priority.

The Bush administration had been "the first to issue racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement officers and remains committed to the elimination of unlawful racial profiling by law enforcement agencies", Becker said.

Linos-Alexander Sicilianos, the U.N. committee's rapporteur on the United States, replied that instead of ending the practice, the government appeared to be giving guidance to police to show them how to carry out racial profiling.

He also cited "overwhelming evidence" of police brutality against racial and ethnic minorities, including African- Americans, Latinos, Arabs and Muslims.

Experts also raised questions on the rights of Native Americans, the disproportionate number of people of colour in prison, juveniles serving life sentences without parole, and the estimated 5.3 million felons who have lost their voting rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in its own shadow report issued earlier this week, blasted what it called "the persistent structural racism and inequality" in the country.

The U.N. committee upholds compliance with a 1965 treaty ratified by 173 countries including the United States. It is to issue its findings on seven countries on March 7. (Editing by Andrew Roche)

AP NEWS STORY - UN to US: Do More Against Racism

UN to US: Do More Against Racism

By ELIANE ENGELER, Associate Press

GENEVA (AP) — U.N. human rights experts told the United States on Thursday to step up efforts to combat racial discrimination in the detention of African-Americans and Hispanics and questioned the treatment of illegal immigrants.

U.S. Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor said United States had made great strides toward equality but he conceded that "we still have significant work to do."

The United States was making its first appearance since 2001 before the experts of the U.N. panel on the elimination of racial discrimination. The 18 independent experts, who are unpaid, periodically review the performance of countries that have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Linos-Alexander Sicilianos, who led the questioning, said there was overwhelming evidence of police brutality against African-Americans, Arabs and Muslims, Hispanics and other minority groups.

"You need to intensify your efforts at all levels to combat this very alarming phenomenon," Sicilianos, a Greek lawyer on the panel, told the U.S. delegation.

Grace Chung Becker, a U.S. assistant attorney general, told the committee that U.S. law prohibits the use of excessive force by any law enforcement officer against any individual in the United States. The offenders can be punished under criminal law or the victims can bring a civil lawsuit, she said.

Sicilianos said he was pleased that the United States was committed to protect the rights of foreigners regardless of their immigration status, but he said there were numerous failures in living up to its commitments.

"Especially since 9/11, immigrants and refugee communities in the United States have been subjected ... to a range of systematic human rights violations directed by the federal government, local county and state governments, law enforcement agents, employers and private actors," he said.

Sicilianos said he based the accusation on evidence submitted by a large coalition of American human rights groups.

Several other experts on the panel said people of color suffer from racial profiling — being stopped, searched and arrested by police much more than whites are.

"Especially Muslims are suffering from this, and measures are necessary to prevent this from continuing," said Kokou Mawuena Ika Kana Ewomsan, a human rights expert from Togo.

Becker noted that President Bush has said racial profiling "is wrong and we will end it in America."

"The current administration was the first to issue racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement officers," she added.

As one of the 173 countries which have ratified the treaty, the United States was taking its turn before the committee this week. A second session is planned for Friday. The United States has submitted a 119-page report to the panel.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chicago Residential Segregation Likened to Apartheid

By Brian Gladstein

Today we observed the first of two hearings between representatives from the United States Government and members of the ICERD Committee. Many interesting comments were made during the 3-hour session, but none more amazing than the comment made by ICERD Committee member Dillip Lahiri from India. In his 5 minute opportunity to question the U.S. representatives, he discussed his experience of living in Chicago. He described that the residential segregation in Chicago was awful and that vigorous proactive action needs to be taken. Further, he discussed that he had a friend visiting him that said that you don’t need South African laws to achieve Apartheid.

These comments were both alarming and exciting to hear. Alarming that an international figure would express such truths about our city and yet it is exciting for the opportunity it provides for us. In response to his comments, with the help of Eric Tars from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, we drafted a letter to Mr. Lahiri. Our hope is that he will continue to ask questions regarding Chicago’s policies of housing discrimination and police abuses. Below is the letter we drafted and are sending to Dillip Lahiri in preparation for the second hearing to be held tomorrow morning.

Dear Mr. Lahiri,

Those of us who are here from Chicago thank you for your comments and questions to the U.S. delegation earlier today. Sadly the apartheid-like situation of housing segregation you experienced when you were in Chicago continues today, and the isolation of people of color is, if anything, worse.

We would like to ensure you aware that one of the members of the U.S. delegation is the Manager of the Fair Housing Division of the Illinois Department of Human Rights, Marian Homel, and may be available for follow up questions tomorrow.

The U.S. Report cites the civil rights mechanisms of Illinois and its largest city, Chicago, as one of its case studies in Appendix 1 to its report. While it describes the many laudable aspects of the state and city human rights commissions, which enforce the negative prohibitions against racial discrimination, it fails to cite any positive measures taken to combat the defacto discrimination in housing and homelessness. Below are a few facts and figures we would like to make available to you as you prepare for tomorrow and think about drafting Concluding Observations.

· Following national trends, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has sought to demolish the existing stock of affordable housing in favor of mixed-income development. 19,000 units of public housing have already been demolished without replacement. The dislocation of residents of Chicago public housing is an issue of racial justice given that approximately 84% of residents are African-American and 5.4% Latino.
[1].[2] The CHA plan for affordable housing falls well short of the estimated need for 153,000 affordable housing units for people earning less than $20,000 a year.[3] Nearly six years into the plan, evidence confirms that many families remain without housing or have been re-segregated into very poor and underserved neighborhoods.[4] Project-based Section 8 contracts in buildings housing thousands of people are set to expire in the next few years, and already many have moved into housing with lead contamination and other problems.[5]

· The national subprime mortgage crisis has hit Chicago particularly hard. In September 2006, Chicago’s foreclosure rate was more than twice the national average.
[6] African-American mortgage-holders in Chicago are hardest hit with 40% receiving high cost and difficult to renegotiate loans, compared to only 10% among whites.[7]

· In Chicago’s rapidly changing housing market, the people suffering most from a lack of affordable housing are those without any housing at all By one estimate, over 90% of Chicago's 21,000 homeless persons are people of color - 80% African-American, 9% Latino, 1% Native American, and 1% Asian.
[8] A17 percent increase over the previous year, 10,516 are homeless students.

Apartheid conditions are not limited to housing. Torture of black men and impunity enjoyed by those police officers who perpetrated it linger in Chicago. After torturing over 135 black men from 1972-1991, there have been no prosecutions of former police chief Jon Burge and his detectives, no reparations to the victims, and 25 of his victims who were tortured into false confessions remain in prison.

The U.S. government should work with state and local officials to ensure as a matter of policy that for every unit of public housing lost (including Section 8 voucher holders), public housing residents will have an equivalently affordable replacement unit immediately available.
Congress should create a National Housing Trust Fund by passing the HEARTH Act, to create more affordable housing and homeless services.
The state of Illinois should be encouraged to pass the pending “Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission Bill.”

We would welcome any questions you may have, and invite you to visit us if you are ever in Chicago again!

With thanks,

Eric Tars, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, (mobile in Geneva: 079 477 97 56)
Brian Gladstein, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs,
Nancy J. Bothne, Human Rights Activist,
Standish Willis, Black People Against Torture,

[1] “Our Readership.” We the People Media. Available at
[2] “Chicago Housing Authority: Plan for Transformation.” Chicago Housing Authority January 6, 2000. The Plan for Transformation guaranteed the Chicago Housing Authority $1.6 billion in federal funds to demolish 51 high-rise buildings over a 10-year period and to replace them with lower-density, mixed income housing. However, when completed, the plan will have a total of 25,000 units – 13,000 fewer than Chicago had when the plan was approved in 2000.
[3] “For Rent: Housing Options in the Chicago Region.” Great Cities Institute University of Illinois at Chicago 1999.

[4] “Chicago Housing Authority and Housing Advocates Settle Lawsuit over Resident Relocation,” Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, available at Based on Wallace v. Chicago Housing Authority, No. 03 C 491 (N.D. III.) settled June 2, 2005.
[5] Antonio Olivo, John Bebow and Darnell Little, “Landlords fail to fix poor’s housing woes.” Chicago Tribune May 22, 2005.
[6] Yue, Lorene. “Chicago foreclosure rate twice national average.” Crain’s Chicago Business October 24, 2006.
[7] Hughes, Zondra. “Middle Class and Homeless – Unlikely Families Face Foreclosure.” Chicago Defender. May 21, 2007. Available at
[8] “Hunger and Homelessness Survey.” United States Conference of Mayors, December 2006, available at

PRESS RELEASE: Chicago and the Olympics - International City Must Abide By International Standards

Contact: Michaela Purdue FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tel: 312-663-0960
Cell: 773-425-4784

Chicago Activists Demand the U.N. to Consider Human Rights Violations in Chicago in light of the Mayor Daley’s bid for the 2016 Olympics

Geneva, Switzerland - Chicago activists are part of a delegation demanding accountability from the United States at a hearing of the United Nations Committee overseeing state parties’ compliance with the International Convention to Eliminate all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Human rights attorney Standish E. Willis of the National Conference of Black Lawyers/ Black People Against Police Torture and Jewish Council on Urban Affairs representatives, Brian Gladstein and Nancy Bothne have presented an extensive record of racially motivated human rights violations in Chicago. The U.S. delegation of over 100 activists is led by the United States Human Rights Network. The hearing is taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Hear the screams of those who suffered at the hands of Jon Burge”, testified attorney Standish E. Willis. Willis provided testimony about the police abuse of African American men in Chicago, who continue to suffer the effects of torture perpetrated by police officers led by former Police Commander Jon Burge. Willis asked the Committee to recommend that reparations be provided those victims, and that US action be taken to end the impunity from prosecution enjoyed by Burge and others.

“Often community leaders throughout Chicago don’t feel that their voices are heard by our local government. This is well documented in our Report Card for Chicago 2006. This is why we are here. To represent those that are being victimized by our government’s discriminatory policies and practices,” said Brian Gladstein from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

“The city of Chicago wants to host an international Olympics but has yet to learn the international language of human rights” added Nancy Bothne, human rights consultant. “Consider the impact on low income people of color who have no housing options. Over 19,000 public housing units have been demolished and fewer than 2,000 have been built to replace them. Communities are decimated and families destroyed.”

The Chicago shadow report, part of the official record submitted to the Committee, documents that people of color in Chicago are disproportionately poor and disproportionally affected by a system that perpetuates historical patterns of discrimination in housing, education, economic deprivation, and police abuse. The cost of political corruption is a denial of human rights to those in need.

The United States is a party to the International Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The ICERD has the force of law in the United States. This marks only the second time since the U.S. approved the treaty in 1994 that it has produced a report and subjected its domestic record on human rights and race to international scrutiny. The hearing provides Chicagoans an international venue to spotlight the institutional racist and classist practices of our local and national governments. This trip builds off the release of a Chicago-focused shadow report by 30 organizations, which charges the city of Chicago with failure to comply with its obligations under the treaty and with whitewashing the reality of racial inequality in Chicago. (For a copy of the Chicago shadow report go to and for the USHRN national report go to …)

# # #

The Day of Reckoning: the U.S. Defends its "Progress" in Eliminating Racial Discrimination

By Nancy Bothne

Thursday, February 21, 2008, GENEVA: Today is the day we came here for: the hearing on the United States’ record of racial discrimination. Representatives of the U.S. government will present their report. Already we know that their main point will be that incidents of racial discrimination are not systemic and that people of color have the same equal opportunities as others. Despite the U.S. record - which demonstrates that people of color have a lesser quality of life in education and health outcomes, are exposed to greater environmental hazards and are segregated into substandard housing, where poverty is greater and unemployment higher - the U.S. will defend itself as having achieved progress in eliminating racial discrimination. Among one of their more amusing anecdotes, the US has cited the movie "Crash" as evidence of progress because it represents a cultural change in how race is experienced.

We spent the last 3 days educating the UN Committee of the U.S. record as experienced by people of color. We expect there to be questions about U.S. torture at Guantanamo, deprival of land of the Western Shoshone, and examination of the way in which racial discrimination impacts women, LBGTI, youth and poor people differentially.

We here in Chicago have focused on justice for those tortured by former police commander Jon Burge, advancing rights of displaced persons for those whose homes have been decimated by the Plan for Transformation, and linking racial discrimination with sustained poverty that deprives people of a minimum standard of living. Coming out of this, we hope to see the UN pressure the United States government to encourage and monitor local government compliance with international human rights treaties. If Chicago wants to host an international Olympics - it must learn the international language of human rights.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Brian Gladstein Speaks before the Special Rapporteur on Racism

Listen to the speech!!

Statement of Brian Gladstein
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and
Developing Governmental Accountability to the People network
Chicago, Illinois USA

This statement is submitted on behalf of the many communities in Chicago who wish to see racial discrimination named for what it is, and eradicated so that we can move beyond its legacy. We unite across racial divides that mark Chicago as one of the most segregated and politically corrupt cities in the U.S. We seek the facilitative intervention that the presence of the international human rights system might promise.

The legacy of torture that remains from the impunity enjoyed by Jon Burge extends beyond the over 100 African American men who he and his cronies tortured. Between 2002 and 2004, over 18,000 reports of misconduct were alleged against police officers. Only 18 officers received any kind of meaningful discipline. We need your help to provide reparations for victims, and to help hold accountable those police officers who engage in torture.

An estimated 90% of Chicago’s homeless are people of color. Those who live in public housing are 80% African American and Latino and over 50% are women. Nonetheless, 19,000 public housing units have been demolished and fewer than 300 have been built to replace them. Communities are decimated and families destroyed. The children of these displaced families risk their rights as they seek education, made more difficult by the City of Chicago’s plans to close over 70 schools that provide education to African American and Latino students. The promise of a partnership of local, state and federal government can help facilitate respect for human rights.

People of color in Chicago are disproportionately poor and disproportionally affected by a system that perpetuates historical patterns of discrimination in housing, education, economic deprivation, police abuse and many other human rights. The politically corrupt system of government in Chicago often benefits people with money and clout at the expense of communities of color. There is a groundswell in Chicago that seeks the enlightened consciousness that human rights mechanisms can provide. We want to work in partnership with you to ensure that our local, state and the federal governments ensure that the City of Chicago protects human rights. We urge you to visit Chicago, to help facilitate the understanding of human rights from which we can develop concrete measures to hold our government accountable.