As protests continue in Ferguson, Mo., calling for justice in the slaying of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, activists from the United States, most notably Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, were in Geneva as part of a delegation calling for a United Nations committee to review U.S. compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
“I … wanted the committee to know that [Trayvon] was killed by a person [who] is of non-African-American descent and that the person was 28 years old so that they can understand that this was a 17-year-old child, by U.S. standards, against a 28-year-old adult male, and that Trayvon was considered a threat only because of the color of his skin,” Fulton said of her son, who was killed in February 2012 by former neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. “Although ‘Stand your ground’ may seem like it’s a neutral law on the surface … it really isn’t, the way it is applied in the USA.”
The convention to eliminate racial discrimination is a treaty, approved by the U.S. in 1994, which details what countries should do and what standards should be upheld to prevent, eliminate and redress racism and discrimination. The U.N.’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination oversees implementation of the convention.
“We’re part of a process to ensure that the U.S. is upholding human rights standards in the way that addresses racial discrimination across the range of issue areas in the U.S.,” U.S. Human Rights Network Executive Director Ejim Dike, whose organization led the event, explained during a teleconference Thursday.
“As you know, we have a number of racial tensions right now flaring up in the U.S. including in Ferguson, Missouri, and issues around police violence directed at people of color, black and brown people in the U.S., which really stems from a culture where we criminalize the bodies of black and brown people in the U.S.,” Dike said.
“The tragic shooting of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson underscored the gap between what our Constitution requires and what our society currently is confronting in terms of racial discrimination,” added Chandra S. Bhatnager, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program.
“It also underscored the gap between what the U.S. obligations are under CERD and the current practice, and that’s what we’re here to highlight,” he continued. “We’re here to highlight that gap, we’re here to hold the government accountable to improve its policies to eliminate or reduce discrimination and profiling.”
Bhatnager stated that the delegation was calling on the U.S. government to create a national plan of action on racism, indicating that a lack of a plan could be the reason for the current gap between what should be versus what actually is.
The delegation also called for the creation of a national human rights institution so that people would be able to address human rights violations, as well as an update of U.S. Department of Justice guidlines on the use of race.
“That guidance was from 2003 and that has yet been updated … there’s hope for many of us who are racial-justice advocates that the guidance will be updated and that the loopholes that exist in the guidance now, which allow for profiling related to immigration or profiling related to national security, that those loopholes will be eliminated,” Bhatnager said, “and that a strong updated guidance will be issued, that the guidance will be able to be implemented, it will have teeth and it will be applicable, not only to federal police and federal law enforcement but also to state and local officials, who are often the primary interaction between communities and law enforcement.”