The Trump Administration Is Ignoring an International Treaty to End Racial Discrimination

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced that the United States was withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018, Haley said she wanted “to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments.”

But the Trump administration had already retreated.

As the administration rolled back civil and human rights protections at home, they were also ignoring the U.S. government’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – an international human rights treaty, ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin and sets forth comprehensive guidelines to promote equality and racial justice.

The administration was required to submit a periodic report to the UN Committee on November 20, 2017, describing how the United States is complying with the treaty – but they violated reporting obligations and still haven’t submitted a report. They also have not acknowledged the International Decade for People of African Descent or taken any affirmative steps to advance the goals of the decade.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has worked with urgency to turn back the clock on civil and human rights in America – supporting efforts to restrict the right to vote for people of color, proposing rules that would gut the landmark Fair Housing Act, rescinding policies to reduce racial disparities in school discipline, backing proposals to take health care away from millions of Americans, taking action after action to demonize immigrant communities, and rolling back meaningful justice and policing reform measures implemented during the previous administration. And that is just a sliver. At the same time, with the help of the Republican-controlled Senate, Trump is appointing lifetime federal judges with records of deep hostility to civil and human rights – and who represent a gigantic setback for judicial diversity in America.

This is not what we advocated for in 2014 when we led a delegation of civil and human rights advocates to Geneva to provide our recommendations to the CERD Committee. Along with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP, we submitted a shadow report to put forward a positive vision for implementation of CERD with concrete policy goals that provide a blueprint for reforming our laws and policies to better combat racial discrimination in the United States. The previous administration began to implement policies to support our recommendations, but the Trump administration has ignored our advice and undermined those gains.

Our delegation to Geneva in August 2014 included two parents of young people who had been killed in 2012 – Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis. And while we were in Geneva, a painful event unfolded in the United States.

As our former president and CEO Wade Henderson recently explained: “When we went to testify before the ICERD commission, something unexpected happened. On that afternoon, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was killed by police, and his picture, where he laid in the street for over four hours, was broadcast worldwide. Geneva erupted. The commission was horrified to see an example of the way U.S. gun laws and hostility toward African Americans in particular played itself out in the most dramatic fashion we had seen. It was a very powerful moment, and out of that moment was a commitment to advance the goals of the Decade, which had not yet been announced, but to promote issues of reparative justice worldwide.”

In the days and weeks that followed, the Movement for Black Lives forced a necessary national conversation about race, public safety, and justice – one that our nation continues to grapple with in 2020.

Today, we continue our advocacy: When the administration convened a consultation with civil society in July 2017 to discuss the upcoming review on the implementation of its obligations under CERD, we provided input to help. When the administration missed the deadline to submit its report four months later, we were dismayed. And when the administration continued to ignore its reporting requirements, we continued to speak out. We won’t stop.

Whether it is disregarding our compliance with treaties to end racial discrimination, or across the board hostility to protecting and enforcing federal civil rights laws in America, this administration has failed us. Our nation deserves a fierce commitment to compliance with international human rights obligations and a federal government that will protect the civil rights of all people in America. Nothing less will suffice.