U.S. needs to ensure rights for poor and blacks after Katrina relief efforts, U.N. body says

Published 6:03 pm Friday, July 28, 2006

The United States should increase its efforts to ensure the rights of poor people and blacks are respected in relief and reconstruction efforts, a U.N. rights body said Friday, noting its concern that both were “disadvantaged” after Hurricane Katrina.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people and in particular African-Americans are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to access to housing, education and health care,” the U.N. Human Rights Committee said.

The United States said many of the suggestions by the committee concern matters already being examined by federal and state authorities.

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The panel of 18 independent experts, which review compliance with a 40-year-old treaty guaranteeing everyone civil and political rights, said it was concerned about information that both groups “were disadvantaged by the rescue and evacuation plans implemented when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States of America.”

It said information indicated that they “continue to be disadvantaged under the reconstruction plans.”

The U.S. “should review its practices and policies to ensure the full implementation of its obligation to protect life and of the prohibition of discrimination, whether direct or indirect,” the panel said.

The committee also said it wants to be informed on the results of inquiries into the alleged failure to evacuate inmates from a prison, and into allegations that authorities did not allow New Orleans residents to cross a bridge into Gretna, La.

The panel reviews the practices of the 149 countries who have ratified the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Officials from Washington met with the body last week after filing a 120-page report almost seven years late. Criticism by the panel brings no penalties beyond international scrutiny. The committee consulted with many human rights organizations in connection with the review.

The committee’s 12-page release of findings also included recommendations on U.S. policies in the war on terror.

The U.S. mission to the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva criticized the committee’s examination of many issues it said were outside the scope of its mandate, particularly dealing with the war on terror.

On domestic issues, it said “the committee has made recommendations in matters under its competence, including efforts to address race and sex discrimination, capital punishment, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and voting rights.”

The mission added that “many of these suggestions appear to address matters that are under active consideration by federal and state courts under U.S. law, and by state and federal agencies.”

The committee also addressed reports of de facto racial segregation in how public school districts are created, funded and regulated.

“Despite measures adopted, (the U.S.) has not succeeded in eliminating racial discrimination such as regarding the wide disparities in the quality of education across school districts in metropolitan areas, to the detriment of minority students,” it said.

The panel said the United States “should take measures, including adequate and adequately implemented policies, to ensure the cessation of this form of de facto and historically generated racial discrimination.”