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White House Response to Charlottesville Draws Global Fire

As the world takes Wednesday to remember slavery and its abolition, a United Nations panel marked the occasion by denouncing the “failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn” recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

UNITED NATIONS (CN) – President Donald Trump insisted at rally in Phoenix on Tuesday that he spoke out “forcefully” against white supremacists, and the international community has now added its voice to the chorus of those who found his response woefully insufficient.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was “disturbed by the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations.” The 18-member committee released its statement, dated Aug. 18, to coincide with global commemorations of the International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery and Its Abolition on Wednesday.

As far-right militias terrorized synagogues and black churches at a torchlight rally around a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump seemed to equate fascists and their sympathizers with the protesters speaking out against them.

First blaming “many sides” for the violence, Trump backtracked in the face of criticism by issuing another statement condemning far-right groups by name, before redirecting his vitriol to an anti-fascist group that he labeled the “alt-left” during a press conference at Trump Tower last week.

The U.N. committee’s chairwoman Anastasia Crickley did not mention Trump by name, but she repudiated the president’s view that “both sides” bear the blame.

“We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred,” she said in a statement.

Her committee paid tribute to the victims of those extremists at the start of their two-page document, which opens with a reference to protester Heather Heyer’s death at age 32 and the assault of 20-year-old Deandre Harris by a group of white supremacists.

While the man who ran over Heyer in his car faces a number of charges including a murder charge, the white supremacist gang that brutalized Harris with clubs and poles remains at large.

Calling for justice, the U.N. group urged prosecutors to ensure that “all human rights violations which took place in Charlottesville are thoroughly investigated, alleged perpetrators prosecuted and if convicted, punished with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime.”

Emphasizing that criminal prosecution is not enough, the committee recommended that the United States “take concrete measures to address the root causes of the proliferation of such racist manifestations, and thoroughly investigate the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting in particular against people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants.”

The U.N. committee includes independent experts from 18 nations, including Algeria, Russia, Belgium, Guatemala, Ireland, Burkina Faso, Togo, Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Mauritania, Colombia, Jamaica, China, Mauritius and the United States.

In the wake of terror in Charlottesville, many say the root causes noted by the U.N. committee involve slavery and the nation's refusal to expunge its symbols from public squares.

Several U.S. cities, including Madison, Wisconsin; New York; Lexington, Kentucky; Baltimore, Maryland; and Tampa, Florida, have focused their attention on removing the more than 700 Confederate monuments to those who fought to perpetuate slavery as an institution.

Ali Moussa Iye, who heads UNESCO’s Slavery Project, has helped countries throughout the slave trade's route navigate the delicate path he calls the "management of painful memory."

In an interview from the organization’s headquarters in Paris, Moussa Iye noted that today’s U.N. slavery remembrance falls on the 226th anniversary of an uprising in Saint-Domingue, a successful revolt by self-freed slaves that led to the Haiti’s independence.

“This was the first time in human history that enslaved people succeeded and overthrew the system of slavery,” Moussa Iye said. “It never happened before that.”

Connecting the international remembrance with recent U.S. events, Moussa Iye hoped that Charlottesville would inspire grappling with the nation’s history.

“America, which is the result of slavery and the slave trade, does not have sufficient monuments, museums, and statues dedicated to the heroes of the fight against slavery, and you have 700 statues dedicated to people who really wanted to keep the slavery system in the country, and I think that’s a problem,” he said.

Quoting expert advice from UNESCO and specialists in international justice, Courthouse News will explore how the United States can mine its own history and international models to confront how it memorializes slavery in an upcoming investigation.

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