NGO Coalition Slams U.S. Record at Home

NEW YORK - A coalition of more than 200 not-for-profit human rights and social justice organisations charge that the George W. Bush administration is contributing to racial, religious and ethnic discrimination in the U.S. -- and attempting to cover up its violations in a report to the United Nations they term "a complete whitewash".

The charges are contained in a "shadow report" timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day Monday, and designed to rebut a far more positive picture painted by the U.S. State Department. State's report, quietly submitted to the U.N. last spring and posted without publicity on the department's website, was a requirement under the world body's International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, to which the U.S. is a signatory.

The shadow report was prepared by the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN), a large group of non-governmental organisations ranging from Amnesty International to the People's Hurricane Relief Fund.

It charges that the U.S. government has failed both by action and inaction to promote racial and ethnic justice in a host of areas, including voting rights, health care, housing, education, homelessness, police brutality and fairness in the criminal justice system.

It says the government report "misrepresents and/or cherry picks data demonstrating ongoing racial disparities and discrimination" and "suffers from glaring gaps clearly aimed at covering up the most egregious examples of persistent racism and racial discrimination in the U.S. today."

USHRN's executive director, Ajamu Baraka, told IPS, "This report is an important effort to correct the historic record as it relates to the failure of the Bush administration and previous administrations to address the ongoing crisis of racial oppression and discrimination in the U.S."

Next March, the U.S. will be required to defend its record on race relations, persistent racial inequalities and ongoing racial discrimination, before a panel of U.N. experts.

The USHRN highlights a number of areas where it says the government report fails to confront the facts.

For example, said a USHRN spokesperson, the government's report highlights training and outreach programmes for law enforcement agencies to encourage sensitivity to Arab and Muslim communities developed in the aftermath of 9/11, "while completely failing to acknowledge widespread racially and ethnically targeted law enforcement practices such as the special registration programme and aggressive round-ups and interviews of thousands of non-citizen Muslims, Arabs and South Asians."

The USHRN report says, "Since Sep. 11, 2001, new federal laws and policies have limited non-citizens' access to due process rights, while at the same time creating an atmosphere of elevated fear and mistrust of those who are foreign-born, as well as those who are perceived to be of a particular religious or ethnic background."

It adds, "In an increasingly anti-immigrant climate, authorities have collaboratively advanced hundreds of measures denying immigrants and refugees access to employment and a living wage, labour protections, access to public benefits, health care, and education, and adequate public safety."

The USHRN warns that "the humanitarian crisis at the border has reached new heights as migrant deaths hit record numbers and the federal government pours billions of dollars into militarising the region. In the interior, workers are increasingly subject to violent and disruptive immigration raids at their workplaces and in their homes, typically targeting a population of ethnic minorities that is hugely disproportionate to the number of people actually charged with violations."

The report highlights a number of issues relating particularly to women. It charges that the U.S. government's claim that "substantial progress has been made in addressing disparities in...access to health care has been made over the years" is belied by "persistent and dramatic racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality rates, life expectancy, and prevalence and survival rates of cancer, HIV-AIDS, and heart disease shocking in a country of the United States' wealth and resources."

For example, African American women are nearly four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women and 24 times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, the report says.

It attributes these disparities to "a range of government actions and inactions, from the failure to address high rates of uninsured women of colour to restrictions on public funding for sexual and reproductive health services."

Women of colour, it says, "are more economically disadvantaged than white women and more likely to rely on government funded health insurance, are disproportionately impacted by federal and state policies that restrict access to and public funding for sexual and reproductive health care." .

It also faults the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for failing to reopen public health care facilities in the Gulf Coast communities devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, thereby contributing to "an increase in the number of deaths due to the lack of medical services."

Housing discrimination is another area underlined in the USHRN report. It says the government "has not adequately responded to private acts of housing discrimination. African Americans and Latinos frequently encounter discrimination when attempting to rent or purchase a home, or when attempting to secure funding or insurance for a home purchase."

The report also links race with predatory and subprime lending, or loans to borrowers with poor credit ratings and that often carry higher interest rates and penalties.

"The subprime mortgage market clearly adversely impacts members of minority groups seeking mortgages within the U.S. Women of colour have been victimised by subprime lending abuses more than any other group of homeowners."

The culprits, it says, include "federally regulated depository institutions, state regulated institutions, non-regulated independent mortgage bankers and brokers, secondary market institutions, private investors, rating agencies, and appraisers."

The report singles out police brutality and the negative experiences of racial and ethnic minorities throughout the criminal justice system as examples of racist practices.

Law enforcement officers "known to have engaged in even the most egregious forms of racist police torture and violence often go unprosecuted and unpunished, and lack of transparency and effectiveness in complaint and disciplinary mechanisms allows widespread abuses to go undeterred," the report says.

It accuses the Department of Justice of taking "no action to launch a comprehensive investigation into the abusive treatment of hurricane evacuees by law enforcement and military personnel, which has been documented by law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organisations. Federal courts have dismissed claims associated with these events without reaching the claims' merits."

Education is another target of USHRN's criticism of the government report. It says, "More than five decades since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education the U.S. has failed to provide equal educational opportunity and a high quality, inclusive education to all students. Public schools today are more segregated than they were in 1970."

It says that major factors contributing to racial inequality in educational opportunities include "under-performing, poorly financed schools that perpetuate minority students' underachievement due to lower teacher quality, larger class size, and inadequate facilities; student assignment policies that promote segregation."

It adds, "The legislative and executive branches of the federal government have all but abandoned school integration and diversity as a matter of policy. The public school system has become an entry point into the juvenile justice system, in particular for youth of colour."

It says this "school to prison pipeline," is fed by "historical inequities, such as segregated education, concentrated poverty, and racial disparities in law enforcement. Racial disparities exist in suspension, expulsion and arrest rates in school which contribute to disproportionately high dropout rates and referrals to the justice system."

(c) 2007 Inter Press Service

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