The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, acting under its “Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures,” intervened in the ongoing controversy over the deadly violence in Charlottesville and the Trump administration’s response. The urgent warning procedure is supposed to short circuit the normal periodic country human rights review process, which takes place about every five years. It is to be invoked only in those situations that could “spiral into terrible events” and require immediate action, according to Anastasia Crickley, chair of the committee, which monitors implementation of the global convention on prohibiting racial discrimination.
The early warning procedure has been used only 20 times since 2003. It was invoked two times regarding Sudan in 2004 and 2005 without any specific condemnation of the Sudanese leaders for their racist incitements and ethnic cleaning. It was used twice to condemn a law in Israel, the UN’s perennial punching bag, which restricted marriage between an Israeli citizen and a person residing in the West Bank or Gaza. The procedure was used once before in 2006 regarding the United States when the committee criticized the U.S. government for not respecting the alleged rights of an Indian tribe. Moral equivalence was the UN committee’s calling card then and it remains so today.
Indeed, the UN committee was so anxious to pillory the Trump administration that it decided to lump the United States together with Burundi, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria as the only UN member states, out of a total of 193 states, meriting its “early warning” notice during the last decade.
“We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred,” said Ms. Crickley. “We call on the US Government to investigate thoroughly the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting, in particular, people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants,” she added.
The UN committee demanded that the “highest level politicians and officers” of the United States government “unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and racist crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country.” While not mentioning President Trump by name, he was the committee’s obvious target of criticism for not going far enough in “unequivocally condemning” the events in Charlottesville, as Ms. Crickley herself declared.
The UN committee also recommended that there be some constraints on the rights of free speech and assembly so that they are not abused to promote “racist hate speech” or used to destroy the rights of others to “equality and non-discrimination.” The committee chair, Ms. Crickley, elaborated on this point in remarks quoted by the New York Times.
“We believe it is time that the United States considered these matters and considered seriously that balance, between freedom of expression and hate speech,” Ms. Crickley said. “Whether freedom to publicly and collectively express neo-Nazi views and to chant racist hate speech in effect constitutes freedom of expression — I think that’s a question that needs to be seriously addressed in the U.S.A.”
This “question” has already been “seriously addressed” by the U.S. Supreme Court and resolved. No matter how odious and offensive the views of white supremacists, neo-Nazis or others may be, their expression is protected speech under the First Amendment unless it is calculated to incite imminent violence. Unlike other countries, including in Western Europe, the United States does not balance freedom of speech against other values such as human dignity as equivalents. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo expressed the primacy accorded to freedom of expression in the United States this way: “Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.”
Americans protected by the First Amendment do not need any lecturing from Ms. Crickley, her committee or the United Nations as a whole regarding the appropriate boundaries for free expression in the United States. That is a matter solely for adjudication by U.S. courts exercising their proper judicial authority under the U.S. Constitution.
Ms. Crickley recognizes that her UN committee is not a “court of justice.“ Hallelujah! However, she claims that the committee has “moral authority” behind its decisions that the United States should respect. To the contrary, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination lacks even a modicum of “moral authority” in how it has applied its “early warning” process. Sudan provides a perfect example.
In its August 2004 early warning notice on Sudan, the UN committee simply took note of the UN Security Council’s prior resolution in July 2004 condemning acts of indiscriminate violence against civilians “by all parties to the crisis.” It ignored the fact that just one party, the racist Arab regime in Sudan, had embarked on a campaign of murdering, ethnically cleansing and enslaving millions of indigenous black Africans. Yet the specific complaint by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination against the regime in its 2004 early warning notice was its failure to provide the committee with information on the situation in Darfur that it had requested. The UN committee’s 2005 early warning notice regarding Sudan simply recommended “the deployment, without further delay, of a sufficiently enlarged African Union force in Darfur with a Security Council mandate to protect the civilian population.”
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued no further early warning notices calling out the Sudanese leaders for their continued racist statements and crimes. Ten years following its first early warning notice on Sudan, there were an estimated 429,000 enslaved citizens in Sudan. According to the Global Slavery Index, Sudan has the sixth highest prevalence of slavery in the world, which includes trafficking in persons and the abusive servitude of minority groups and migrant workers. Yet President Trump, not Sudan’s racist dictator, has alarmed the committee so much that it skipped over Sudan and decided to ring its warning bell against the United States instead.
The Trump administration should completely disregard what the United Nations has to say regarding the Charlottesville tragedy. Its human rights apparatus, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is a living example of double standards on steroids.
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