The United States neglects racial disparities in this country.
The U.S. Human Rights Network, cited the treatment of Hurricane Katrina victims, discrimination in the criminal justice system including incarceration and police brutality, and unfair treatment of immigrants as some of their concerns.
The group said the U.S. is failing to comply with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, an international treaty that carries the force of law in the U.S. since it was ratified in 1969.
The report was filed with the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the treaty.
In its report to the committee, submitted in April, the State Department said the U.S. "has made significant progress in the improvement of race relations over the past half-century."
"Due in part to the extensive constitutional and legislative framework that provides for effective civil rights protections, overt discrimination is far less pervasive than it was in the early years of the second half of the Twentieth Century," the report reads. "As the United States continues to become an increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-cultural society, many racial and ethnic minorities have made strides in civic participation, employment, education, and other areas."
The U.S. Human Rights Network strenuously disagreed.
"Our analysis reveals that the Bush administration is utterly out of touch with the reality of racial discrimination in America," said Ajamu Baraka, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network. "The State Department report reads like a fantasy...that is too often experienced as a nightmare for Americans of color."
The U.S. State Department report acknowledged challenges in overcoming racism in America, including an increase in legal and illegal immigration and "subtle and overt forms of discrimination reflecting attitudes that persist from a legacy of segregation, ignorant stereotyping, and disparities in opportunity and achievement." The State Department report also cited "a lack of understanding by the public of the problem of racial discrimination, a lack of awareness of the government-funded programs and activities designed to address it and a lack of resources for enforcement."
Among the U.S. Human Rights Network's concerns, the State Department's report does not mention the race and poverty related impacts of Hurricane Katrina, ignores police brutality and racial profiling, does not attribute racial disparities in incarceration rates to the cumulative impacts of racial discrimination in the treatment of minorities in the criminal justice process and does not acknowledge widespread racially and ethnically targeted law enforcement practices such as rounding up and interviewing non-citizen Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.
In short, the U.S. is not being held to the same standards of accountability as other countries, Baraka said.
"The U.S. promotes itself as a defender of human rights, yet it has within its own borders these ongoing human rights issues," he said.
Understanding racial discrimination as a human rights issue puts the issue in an international context, Baraka explained, adding that many citizens are unaware of the treaty and that government officials do not understand their obligations under the treaty.
"If you don't know your rights, then you cannot claim them," Baraka said. "This administration and others have not done their due diligence in publicizing the existence of this human rights framework."
Instead, Baraka said, the government has hidden behind the Constitution, arguing that the country's laws adequately address racism and discrimination.
According to the State Department report, information about human rights is "readily available" in the U.S., as the issue is discussed in the media, debated by political parties and litigated in the judicial system. The government said it has also used the Internet to distribute information in multiple languages, and its report to the U.N. committee is available online.
The U.N. treaty committee will meet in February to review reports from around the world, including the United States and will question the government on its compliance with the treaty.
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