U.N. Experts Compare Housing Segregation in U.S. to Apartheid South Africa
At conclusion of U.N. review, activists say U.S. needs to ensure equal rights to housing.
Press Type: Press Release Associated Program: Human Rights
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, FEBRUARY 22, 2008 - The U.S. Government responded today to international experts on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, who were reviewing the U.S. performance under the International Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The U.N. review is a routine procedure that occurs every four years for countries that have ratified ICERD, as the U.S. did in 1994.
Yesterday, the U.S. Government presented its report to the Committee, and the Committee commented and asked questions. Dilip Lahiri, an Indian expert on the Committee, noted that he had lived in Chicago when he was younger, and that he was struck by the residential segregation in housing. He recalled when a friend came to visit him in Chicago and said, "You don't even need the laws they have in South Africa to achieve apartheid here, it just happens naturally."
Today the government responded to that and other questions posed by the Committee. Representatives from the U.S. State Department, Department of Justice, and other domestic agencies.
Eric Tars, a co-author of the alternative non-governmental report presented to the Committee, and Human Rights Staff Attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty compared the experience to the U.S.'s attempts to redefine torture. "When the U.S. came to the Committee Against Torture two years ago, they ignored the plain meaning of their commitment under the treaty that says 'do not torture', and instead tried to split legal hairs and redefine torture as anything but what they were doing."
"Similarly, the Race Treaty says 'do not discriminate on the basis of race', and that is clearly defined to include both instances of intentional discrimination and policies with a discriminatory effect. For example, the sub-prime mortgage crisis has hit Chicago's minorities harder than others, with African Americans having 40% of the high cost and difficult to renegotiate loans, compared to only 10% among whites, far out of proportion to the general population. The government lawyers tried to say there was a difference between racial disparities caused by intentional discrimination, and those where race and poverty merely 'correspond.' But under the treaty, there's no difference - racial disparities require a remedy regardless of cause."
Tars was one of over 120 activists and experts who were in Geneva to speak with the Committee and monitor the proceedings to hold the U.S. government accountable on a range of issues, from housing segregation to Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Lahiri told the government that it needs to take "vigorous proactive action" to combat housing segregation and its effects. The Committee will issue their final concluding observations of U.S. compliance under the treaty on March 7.
Tars concluded, "The government told us they were here because they want to be able to hold other countries accountable for their human rights violations. But when an international expert compares us unfavorably to South Africa under apartheid, it's clear it's our own government that needs to be held accountable."
To view a copy of the non-governmental Shadow Report NLCHP and others submitted to the Committee, click here.
To watch video-blog updates from Eric Tars in Geneva, visit http://www.youtube.com/NLCHP.
NLCHP is the only national legal advocacy organization solely dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness. Through impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education the organization addresses the root causes of homelessness at the local, state, and national levels.
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