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UN panel voices deep concern over abortion, racial justice in America

Undertaking its regular review of the United States’ obligations under a treaty aimed at eliminating race discrimination, the U.N. expressed concern over a rise in hate crimes, lack of access to reproductive rights and racial disparities in the justice system.

GENEVA (CN) —  The review committee of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination expressed deep concern Wednesday about the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, citing the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights and continued brutality of law enforcement against people of color. 

All 182 countries that belong to convention are required to undergo a regular review of the treaty’s implementation. This year, Azerbaijan, Benin, Nicaragua, Slovakia, Suriname, Zimbabwe and the U.S. were up for review. 

The CERD committee undertook that regular review in August. The final report, published on Wednesday, notes a worrying increase in U.S. hate crimes and a lack of institutional support for minority groups. 

The 18-person committee, composed of excerpts from across the globe, wrote that it is “concerned that the lingering legacies of colonialism and slavery continue to fuel racism and racial discrimination.”

Hundreds of activists traveled to the committee’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to participate in the monthlong review that started earlier this month. Advocacy organizations presented evidence of racial inequities in the criminal justice system, socioeconomic disparities and access to reproductive rights. “Our joint report showed how the U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination,” Lisa Borden, senior policy counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. 

Her organization highlighted the disproportionate number of Black people who are incarcerated in the U.S. According to their research, Black people are five times more likely to be jailed and eight times more likely to be held in solitary confinement. Systemic racism in the criminal justice system was “one of the issues of particular importance,” committee member Mehrdad Payandeh told reporters on Wednesday. 

The report criticizes U.S. law enforcement for continuing to engage in racial profiling, failing to prevent excessive force by law enforcement and harassment of racial justice activists. The committee “remains concerned at the brutality and use of excessive or deadly force by law enforcement officials against members of racial and ethnic minorities,” the report says. 

The committee also expressed worry about the June 2020 Supreme Court ruling overturning the right to abortion. “The committee was deeply concerned about the disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial minorities, particularly those with low income,” committee member Pansy Tlakula said during a press conference following the report’s publication. She called on the U.S. to take measures to ensure access to reproductive rights, including providing access to abortion.

Tlakula did praise the U.S. for passing Executive Order 13985, which directs agencies to account for racial inequities in their work. It was the first executive order issued by President Joe Biden when he took office in 2021. 

Following an uptick of anti-Semitic incidents in the late 1950s, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution condemning racial, religious and national hatred, and declared such incidents as violations of the U.N. Charter. A group of African nations pushed for the U.N. to do more, calling on the organization to create treaty obligations for countries to act against discrimination. In 1965, the U.N. ratified the CERD, creating the first U.N. human rights treaty. It took effect in 1969, and the U.S. ratified it in 1994. This is the first time in 14 years the U.S. has undergone a review. 

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