Oppressors at the Rein: Has the
UN Commission on Human Rights
Lost its Course? A Review of
its Mission, Operations, and Structure.
June 6, 2001
June 6th, 2001 - Ranking Member Cynthia McKinney's Hearing Statement
Oppressors at the Rein: Has the UN Commission on Human Rights Lost its
Course? A Review of its Mission, Operations, and Structure.
International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee of the House
International Relations Committee
Thank you Madam Chair:
We are here today to question whether or not the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights has lost its course.
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 murderand disappearance of their citizens is only a harbinger of things to
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
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 GenevaConvention 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 targets.
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
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
However, today, for just a few moments, I want to talk about human
rights at home.
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
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 citizens.
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 uprisings--some chose to
call them riots--in 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
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 government.
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
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 black woman.
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
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 and
Britain don't want to talk about slavery and its vestiges. Africans and African
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 certainlycannot 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 standing.
Thank you Madam Chair.