UN Investigator on Racism Completes U.S. Tour

Saeed Shabazz, Louisiana Weekly (New Orleans), July 14, 2008

Doudou Diene, a Sengalese lawyer and the United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur on racism, has completed a tour of eight American cities, where he gathered firsthand information on issues related to racial discrimination and xenophobia.

At a June 6 press conference in the UN Information Center in Washington, D.C., Diene talked with reporters about some preliminary findings of his three week tour. While citing some positive things such as the nomination of Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as the Democratic Party candidate for the presidency, Diene focused on U.S. shortcomings such as re-segregation of minority communities. The expert on racism and special investigator cited racial bias in the criminal justice system and talked about how underfunding of public education plays a role in deepening racial inequality. Diene explained he is not a UN employee and that he would be reporting to the UN General Assembly in the spring of 2009, but that his findings would be shared with U.S. government officials.

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Baraka told The Final Call the Diene tour was an “opportunity to expose the underbelly of White supremacy in the country.” The number one fight for people of color in the 21st century is the fight for human rights, Baraka said.

In March, his organization charged the Bush administration with failing to comply with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, an international treaty that the United States signed.

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In Miami, Diene heard testimony from Sofian Abdelaziz Zakkout, director of the American Muslim Association of North America, who discussed issues related to immigration, racial profiling and discrimination against the dress of Muslim women.

Aesop Ameen, director of the association’s prison committee, talked about the difficulties Muslims experience in prison when trying to adhere to their faith, including challenges when trying to pray.

Muslim civil rights advocate Ahmed Bedier explained to Diene how “Islamaphobia” and “anti-Muslim rhetoric” from officials and pundits are contributing to hate crimes against Muslims across Florida.

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Damon Hewitt, an NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney, said Diene also got a look into the workings of the prison system through testimony about conditions at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, a former 18,000 acre slave plantation. Testimony delivered before the special rapporteur showed little has changed in the last several hundred years of the prison’s existence. Even Congress recently heard complaints about the prison’s practice of keeping some inmates in solitary confinement for decades, said advocates.

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