NAACP Asking U.N. Human Rights Council to Condemn American Voter ID Laws

Patrick Goodenough | March 9, 2012 | 4:35am EST
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Benjamin Jealous. (AP Photo)

( – Riled by state-level voting law changes that it alleges are designed to suppress “the political participation of people of color, the poor, the elderly, and the young,” the NAACP is turning to the U.N. Human Rights Council for support.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president Benjamin Jealous and other association representatives plan to visit Geneva next week to address the HRC, a forum that frequently witnesses clashes between Western democracies and repressive states.

The NAACP delegation hopes the HRC will take up its concerns about legal initiatives such as voter ID laws passed by more than a dozen states, which proponents say are designed to prevent voter fraud but the NAACP charges are part of an orchestrated campaign to disenfranchise minority groups.

“We are hoping they will come over here, look at the impact of these laws, look at the intent, and actually render their recommendations about what actions we should take with regard to these laws,” USA Today quoted Jealous as saying during a media conference call on Thursday

The NAACP’s “Stand For Freedom Pledge,” the centerpiece of its campaign, includes a appeal for “[t]he United Nations to investigate and condemn voter suppression tactics in the United States.”

Jealous said the HRC would also be given a copy of an NAACP report released in December, which the association says reveals “direct connections between the trend of increasing, unprecedented African American and Latino voter turnout and an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.”

The report charges that states which have passed the measures are, not coincidentally, those with fast-growing black and Latino populations.

“It is no mistake that the groups who are behind this are simultaneously attacking very basic women’s rights, environmental protections, labor rights, and educational access for working people and minorities,” Jealous said at the time of the report’s release.

The HRC is currently in the middle of a month-long session. Next week’s agenda includes, on Tuesday and Wednesday, discussions on “issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.”

Of the council’s 47 members, 12 rank as “not free” and another 14 as “partly free” in annual rankings by Freedom House. Longstanding members include China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, three of the world’s 17 most repressive regimes according to the Washington-based democracy watchdog. The Obama administration joined in 2009, reversing its predecessor’s policy of shunning the council.

What action the U.N. body may take in response to the NAACP visit is unclear. The HRC has two specialists who may conceivably be called in – the “independent expert on minority issues,” currently Rita Izsak of Hungary; and the “special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” currently Mutuma Ruteere of Kenya.

The minority issues mandate holder has not visited the U.S. in an official capacity before, but a predecessor of the current Kenyan special rapporteur, Doudou Diene of Senegal, paid a formal visit in May-June 2008.

In a report he prepared for the HRC afterwards, Diene said he had visited Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Omaha, Los Angeles, New Orleans and the Gulf coast, Miami and Puerto Rico, and had held meetings with state institutions, civil society organizations, minority communities and “victims of racism.”

Although he cited “decisive progress” in the legal and political fight against racism, Diene also declared that “the historical, cultural and human depth of racism still permeates all dimensions of life of American society.”

Among his recommendations:

--Congress should establish a bipartisan commission to evaluate progress and failures in the fight against racism;

--The government should reassess existing legislation on racism and intensify its efforts to enforce federal civil rights laws; and

--The government should clarify to law enforcement officials the obligation of equal treatment and, in particular, the prohibition of racial profiling.

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