Email #266: “failure at the highest political level”?

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination monitors implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the U.S. ratified in 1994. The Committee sometimes issues statements through its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures.  Last year, it issued two about Burundi. It also warned about Iraq in 2014, Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, and Kyrghystan and Nigeria in 2010. The Committee issued its first warning statement of 2017 just last week. It was about the U.S.

The Committee was responding to “the horrific events in Charlottesville of 11-12 August, 2017 leading to the death of Ms. Heather Heyer, and the injuries inflicted on many other protestors, as well as the terrible beating of Mr. Deandre Harris by white supremacists.”

It was alarmed “by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by individuals belonging to groups of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred.”

It was also 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 led by the aforementioned groups, thereby potentially fuelling the proliferation of racist discourse and incidents throughout the State party, and deeply concerned by the example this failure could set for the rest of the world.”

The Committee reiterated the United Nations position that “there should be no place in the world for racist white supremacist ideas or any similar ideologies that reject the core human rights principles of human dignity and equality and seek to degrade the standing of individuals and groups on the grounds of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.”

As a result, it called on the U.S. “to fully respect its international obligations and in particular those arising from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to combat and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.”

It also called upon our “high-level politicians and public officials, not only to unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and racist crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country, but also to actively contribute to the promotion of understanding, tolerance, and diversity between ethnic groups, and acknowledge their contribution to the history and diversity of the United States of America.”

The Committee urged the U.S. “to ensure that all human rights violations which took place in Charlottesville, in particular with regards the death of Ms. Heyer, are thoroughly investigated, alleged perpetrators prosecuted and if convicted, punished with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime, and provide effective remedies to victims and their families.”

Since you are the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the UN’s urging is directed especially at you. Oversight of the Justice Department is your obligation, and so it falls on you to ensure that the Department investigates these human rights violations and prosecutes them accordingly. Have you contacted Attorney General Sessions to request information about the death of Ms. Heyer yet? You have written multiple similar letters to the Attorney General when criminal cases were of particular interest to you—when, for instance, an immigrant teen was accused (though later exonerated) for raping a fellow high school student in Maryland last year. The murder of Ms. Heyer took place right here in Virginia, just a few miles from your own district.

I am alarmed and disturbed that our country has joined the very short list of countries that have received the attention of the United Nations for failing to abide by the Elimination of Racial Discrimination convention. How did we become like Burundi and Iraq? I assume you are alarmed and disturbed too and will take appropriate action.

Fortunately a Republican member of your House Judiciary Committee has already begun this important oversight process. Representative Issa wrote to you on August 17: “As members of the committee of jurisdiction on issues related to civil rights and democracy, we too have a unique duty to examine the impact recent displays of hatred from white supremacist groups have on civil rights in America. Therefore, I write today to call for the full Committee to hold a hearing on this topic when we return in September.”

Rep. Issa’s suggested hearing would help to meet the UN’s recommendation that the U.S. government “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.”

Like a majority of your constituents, I share Rep. Issa’s and the UN’s concerns and look forward to your announcement of a hearing next week.

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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