INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS AND HUMAN
RIGHTS SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
MEMBER CYNTHIA MCKINNEY'S
[Delivered June 6, 2001]
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
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
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
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
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
uprisingssome chose to call them riotsin 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
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
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
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
Thank you Madam Chair.
[The Hon. Cynthia McKinney (D), represents
the 2nd District of Georgia.]