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[Delivered June 6, 2001]

Oppressors at the Rhine : Has the UN Commission on Human Rights Lost its Course? A Review of its Mission, Operations, and Structure.

Thank you Madam Chair:

We are here today to question whether or not the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has lost its course.

Too many times I have found myself, bound by conscience, to speak out against the United Nations and the countries that set its policies. Too many times, those policies with which I have been forced to disagree have sadly been set by Washington, DC.

The fact that Argentina and France have both issued subpoenas for the attendance in court of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for the U.S. role in the murder and disappearance of their citizens is only a harbinger of things to come.

As a matter of policy, our government seems to have routinely done to the poor and people of color abroad what it has done to the poor and people of color at home.

We know too little about decisions that were made in the name of the United States, decisions that were made for me and for you, yet are now shaken off as merely responses to the exigencies of the Cold War.

Decisions that in some instances led to the overthrow of elected governments, but in all instances to U.S. support of heinous dictatorships with U.S. taxpayer dollars: like in Indonesia, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Ghana, and Congo/Zaire.

The Pan-African News Agency cites a report on an alleged plan by the U.S. and other European countries to dump 29 million tons of toxic waste in 11 African countries. The materials to be dumped included industrial and chemical wastes, pesticide sludge, radioactive wastes, as well as other hazardous wastes.

I ask you, how can this country dump toxic waste on the poor and consider itself to be a champion of human rights across the globe?

On the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency website is a document uncovered by Professor Thomas J. Nagy which discusses how allied forces could block Iraqi efforts to purify its contaminated drinking water and so lead to the full degradation of the Iraqi water treatment system within six months. Attacking the Iraqi public drinking water supply flagrantly targets civilians and is a violation of the Geneva Convention and of the fundamental laws of civilized nations.

In contravention of even our own laws, U.S. weapons are used around the world in human rights abuses as states suppress their own people or their neighbors. Only a few days ago Dick Cheney stated that Israel should stop using U.S.-built F-16 warplanes against Palestinian targets.

In its conduct of foreign policy, my government has not always taken the high road.

The actions launched against Henry Kissinger suggest that other countries will no longer tolerate the failure of the United States to consider human rights in its actions abroad.

But human rights is not only about foreign policy. Human rights is about domestic policy, too.

When we in this country talk about human rights, those words are usually intoned with an outward vision. We speak of human rights around the world. However, today, for just a few moments, I want to talk about human rights at home.

On too many occasions, blacks in the United States have felt compelled to step outside of the political and judicial system in this country and appeal to the global community for the protection of their human rights. On too many occasions, the United States has failed to protect the human rights of black Americans.

And until this issue is addressed and addressed appropriately, when we speak to others about the failures in their human rights, they see hypocrisy dripping from our lips as we berate them about the treatment of their citizens.

In 1947, at the dawn of the United Nations' organization, W.E.B. Du Bois registered the UN's first such complaint in an address entitled, "Petition on Behalf of Negroes." Julian Bond, Chairman of the Board of the NAACP, along with dozens of civil rights groups and activists during the UN's Jubilee Conference recognized the need still to petition on behalf of black suffering in the U.S. today.

And then again in 1951 Paul Robeson returned to the United Nations with the first call for reparations entitled "We Call Genocide," which demanded compensatory damages over the slave trade.

In 1967, in response to approximately 150 uprisings—some chose to call them riots—in this country, the United States Government called on a national commission to conduct a study to determine the cause of this phenomenon and how to prevent it from continuing. The resulting report is popularly known as the "Kerner Report," which stated that the cause of these uprisings was white racism, racism being defined as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

One of the recommendations resulting from this report was that the United States government needed highly trained intelligence officers to counter the effects and stop the continuance of these uprisings.

In the FBI's own words, its counterintelligence program, then known as COINTELPRO, had as a goal, "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of black organizations and to prevent black leaders from "gaining respectability."

Why is it that today, in 2001, I can read a headline that states, "Citizens Group Sues Pentagon for the Release of Surveillance Files on the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?" What does our Pentagon have to hide?

Madam Chair, let me be clear when I say this: racism in this country is a human rights issue. It is an issue that has permeated every crack and crevice of our society from our playgrounds to the highest levels of our government.

Today, black federal employees have filed discrimination lawsuits against the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, State, Treasury, and EPA. Swift and commendable action on the part of then-Secretary of Education Richard Riley, prevented a full-blown demonstration on the part of that Department's black employees.

If blacks inside the U.S. government receive such treatment, how do you think blacks outside the government are treated? I'll tell you. Our Department of Justice admits that blacks are more likely than whites to be pulled over by police, imprisoned, and put to death. And though blacks and whites have about the same rate of drug use, blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites and are more likely to receive longer prison sentences than whites.

Can we ignore the fact that this country continues to counter the world trend against the death penalty, executing 85 prisoners in 2000, many of whom were mentally impaired as well as those who were under the age of 18 at the time they committed a crime? Twenty-six of those who were executed were black men.

We began this year by executing a retarded black woman.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all have provisions that prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime being sentenced to death, and yet we continue to stand in direct and clear violation of these international treaties.

Government studies on health disparities confirm that blacks are less likely to receive surgery, transplants, and prescription drugs than whites. Physicians are less likely to prescribe appropriate treatment for blacks than for whites and black scientists, physicians, and institutions that might prevent or change this are shut out of the funding stream. A black baby boy born today in Harlem has less chance of reaching age 65 than a baby born in Bangladesh.

I watch every year as the Congressional Black Caucus shrinks while important sections of the Voting Rights Act will soon expire. And quite frankly, after crippling Supreme Court decisions, there is not much left of affirmative action to mend. From August 31st to September 7th of this year, the United Nations will host the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. The United States and Britain don't want to talk about slavery and its vestiges. Africans and African Americans do.

Even as Britain's streets light up with Asian rage, Britain and the United States would rather not talk about racism. Recently, Human Rights Watch stated that the United States' being voted out of the UN Commission on Human Rights is a sign that "people are watching the U.S. very closely." It is my belief that people are indeed watching and we certainly cannot and will not continue to command respect across the world on the issue of human rights if we do not attend to our human rights issues here at home.

Bobby Kennedy said that we used to be a force for good in the world. And, indeed we were. What has gone wrong? On the Memorial of D-Day, June 6th, when we helped bring freedom to Europe, we have been thrown off the UN Human Rights Commission.

I hope this panel today can help to tell me what has gone wrong and what we can do to return our international standing.

Thank you Madam Chair.

[The Hon. Cynthia McKinney (D), represents the 2nd District of Georgia.]

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