U.N. puts its scope on U.S. racism as hu­man rights vi­o­la­tors run for coun­cil

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Betsy Pisik

NEW YORK — A U.N. ex­pert on racism and xeno­pho­bia ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton May 19 for a three­week fact-find­ing visit to ex­am­ine hu­man rights lapses in the United States.

It is the sec­ond time in re­cent weeks that in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion has fo­cused on the U.S. record on hu­man rights. Ear­lier this month, the ad­vo­cacy group Free­dom House re­leased an eval­u­a­tion crit­i­cal of the U.S. record on ac­cess to health care, ed­u­ca­tion and equal jus­tice for mi­nori­ties and im­mi­grants.

U.S. of­fi­cials pub­licly are tak­ing the high road on the visit of U.N. rap­por­teur Doudou Di­ene of Sene­gal.

“I think it’s im­por­tant for the [U.N.] Hu­man Rights Coun­cil to spend its time on real prob­lems and the prob­lems of vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights of coun­tries that are no­to­ri­ous vi­o­la­tors,” said Zal­may Khalilzad, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, of­fer­ing a list of sug­ges­tions. “But we wel­come the visit.”

Mr. Di­ene’s U.S. tour co­in­cided with the Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s an­nual elec­tions of new mem­bers to the Geneva-based Hu­man Rights Coun­cil. Sev­eral coun­tries with less-than-stel­lar hu­man rights records were in the run­ning for the May 21 vote.

The rap­por­teur plans to visit New York, Chicago, Omaha, Neb., Los An­ge­les, New Or­leans, Mi­ami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, “to gather first-hand in­for­ma­tion on is­sues re­lated to racism, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, xeno­pho­bia and re­lated in­tol­er­ance,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued two weeks ago by his of­fice.

Mr. Di­ene also will meet with fed­eral and state of­fi­cials, as well as law­mak­ers and le­gal an­a­lysts. He will hear com­plaints lodged by private ad­vo­cacy groups, politi­cians, aca­demics and ac­tivists.

U.N. of­fi­cials could not say what spe­cific is­sues Mr. Di­ene will in­ves­ti­gate, nor the of­fi­cials with whom he will be meet­ing. His staff de­clined to re­turn phone mes­sages on May 19.

Pre­vi­ous U.N. hu­man rights rap­por­teurs in the United States have come to harsh con­clu­sions about the preva­lence of racism in the U.S. jus­tice sys­tem, from in­fe­rior le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for mi­nori­ties to charges of racial bias in im­pos­ing the death penalty.

Mr. Di­ene, a lawyer by train­ing, has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about Is­lam­o­pho­bia in the 6 1/2 years since the World Trade Cen­ter at­tacks.

Hu­man rights spe­cial­ists, who are cho­sen by the Geneva-based U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil but sched­ule coun­try vis­its ac­cord­ing to their own con­cerns, gen­er­ally re­quest a visa and then await a for­mal in­vi­ta­tion from the gov­ern­ment.

The Clin­ton and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions have ac­cepted vis­its from nearly a dozen U.N. rap­por­teurs over the past decade, on top­ics rang­ing from the mal­treat­ment of women in prison and re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance to the treat­ment of de­tainees at Guan­tanamo Bay and child pornog­ra­phy.

A coali­tion of hu­man rights ad­vo­cates wel­comed Mr. Di­ene’s visit.

“The visit of the spe­cial rap­por­teur is a crit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity to shed light on the per­va­sive and sys­temic prob­lem of racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the United States,” said Jamil Dak­war, di­rec­tor of the hu­man rights pro­gram at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

“In this elec­tion year, the eyes of the world will be turned to­ward Amer­ica and its long-stand­ing prom­ise to end racial and eth­nic in­equal­i­ties.”

Mr. Di­ene, one of two dozen coun­try-spe­cific or the­matic rap­por­teurs cur­rently au­tho­rized by the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, will sub­mit his re­port dur­ing to the coun­cil next year.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has had a cool re­la­tion­ship with the coun­cil, formed two years ago to re­place the widely dis­cred­ited U.N. Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights. The coun­cil was re­vamped in part to pre­vent the world’s worst hu­man rights abusers from seek­ing seats as a way to shield them­selves from crit­i­cism.

The re­forms have not worked. Free­dom House has rated nearly a third of the cur­rent coun­cil mem­ber­ship “not free.”

Pak­istan, also rated “not free” by the hu­man rights group, is one of six can­di­dates vy­ing for four Asian seats.

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