Independent U.N. human rights experts expressed concerns Tuesday about the adverse impact on the rights of racial and ethnic minorities from the U.S. Supreme Court decision that stripped away constitutional protections for abortion in the United States.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also called on the Biden administration and state governments to do more to buttress those rights.
The committee, a group of independent experts who work with the U.N. human rights office, said it was concerned about higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity — among many concerns about the rights of Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous peoples, foreign-born migrants and others in the United States.
The calls came as part of a regular review of U.N. member states by the committee. The U.S. was among seven countries to be considered this summer. A large delegation of U.S. officials, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, traveled to Geneva this month for hearings that fed into the committee’s thinking about the rights of ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S.
“The committee was deeply concerned about the disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly those with low income,” committee member Pansy Tlakula told reporters.
“It recommended that the state party should take further steps to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
The committee said it received hundreds of submissions and comments from advocacy groups in the United States over issues like reproductive rights, police brutality, education, voting rights and reparations for slavery — an issue that was taken up for the first time by the panel amid signs that a push for such reparations may be gathering momentum.
“It would have been impossible to have an honest, interactive dialogue with the United States without including the issue of reparatory justice,” committee chairperson Verene Shepherd said, presenting the committee’s report. “I fully believe that with the pressure in the United States now around the question of reparatory justice, that the federal government will act.”
She also lamented “pushback” against critical race theory — the idea that racism is systemic in U.S. institutions that serve to perpetuate white dominance in society — and “the issue of refusal to have a conversation around slavery.” She said that issue was “impossible to ignore.”
Tlakula of South Africa, another of the committee’s 18 international members, said the United States hadn’t set any timetable for enactment of any reparations. But she did say the committee had asked the United States to report back within a year on any steps taken to mitigate the impacts of the abortion restrictions and gun violence on racial minorities.
In its report, the committee ran the gamut of concerns and assessments — including praise for recent legislation and executive orders to improve the rights of minorities, and calls for a “national action plan” to combat systemic racism and racial discrimination and an effort to limit the impact of gun violence on such minorities.
It urged consideration of new laws or a review of existing ones to help fight excessive use of force by law enforcement, and called on the U.S. to adopt “all necessary measures” — including at the federal level — to ensure that all people can vote. It expressed concerns about an increase in new legislation with a “disproportionate impact” on minorities.
While noting some steps by the White House to address high maternal mortality rates, it said: “The committee is concerned that systemic racism along with intersecting factors such as gender, race, ethnicity and migration status have a profound impact on the ability of women and girls to access the full range of sexual and reproductive health services in [the U.S.] without discrimination.”
The concerns came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strip away women’s constitutional protections for abortion that had been enshrined for nearly half a century under Roe vs. Wade, which paved the way for abortion bans in some states.
The committee, referring to the recent court decision, called on the United States to adopt “all necessary measures” at both state and federal levels “to address the profound disparate impact of [the decision] on women of racial and ethnic minorities, Indigenous women and those with low incomes,” and provide safe, legal access to abortion under existing U.S. commitments to human rights.
It called on the U.S. to ensure that women seeking abortions — or the healthcare providers who assist them — “are not subjected to criminal penalties.”
Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the committee’s conclusions “should serve as yet another wake-up call for the United States to vigorously combat and eliminate systemic racism.”
“The U.N. provided a blueprint to address structural discrimination; now the Biden administration must act to build out our domestic human rights infrastructure,” he said.
The ACLU also hailed the committee’s call to provide redress for slavery, Dakwar added.
“The legacies of colonialism and slavery have a real-world lingering impact on present day racial disparities and injustices and we must address them head on,” he said.