PHRGE in Geneva: Concluding Observations Released

On Friday, The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released its Concluding Observations, following its review of the United States on August 13 and 14.  Northeastern Law student Hannah Adams represented PHRGE at the review and lobbied the committee on the issue of access to justice in civil cases, and the negative outcomes experienced disproportionately by people of color when unrepresented in civil matters where basic human needs are at stake.  In their Concluding Observations the Committee made strong recommendations about this issue in Paragraph 23:

Access to Legal Aid

While welcoming the steps taken by the State party to improve access to justice by indigent persons, such as the Access to Justice Initiative launched in March 2010, the Committee remains concerned at the ongoing challenges faced by indigent persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities to effectively access legal counsel in criminal proceedings in practice. It also reiterates its concern at the lack of a generally recognized right to counsel in civil proceedings (CERD/C/USA/CO/6, para.22), which disproportionately affects indigent persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities to seek an effective remedy in matters such as evictions, foreclosures, domestic violence, discrimination in employment, termination of subsistence income or medical assistance, loss of child custody, and deportation (art. 6).

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation that the State party adopt all necessary measures to eliminate the disproportionate impact of systemic inadequacies in criminal defence programmes on indigent defendants belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, including by improving the quality of legal representation provided to indigent defendants and ensuring that public legal aid systems are adequately funded and supervised. It also recommends that the State party allocate sufficient resources to ensure effective access to legal representation for indigent persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in civil proceedings, particularly with regard to proceedings that have serious consequences for their security and stability, such as evictions, foreclosures, domestic violence, discrimination in employment, termination of subsistence income or medical assistance, loss of child custody, and deportation proceedings.

The Committee also recommended that the U.S. provide for legal assistance in all immigration-related matters in Paragraph 18.  Read the full Concluding Observations.

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 5

Today’s video blog is an update from the second and final day of the CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) review of the U.S. in Geneva where I am representing PHRGE as part of the U.S. civil society delegation.  Today the Committee again brought up concerns about access to counsel in civil cases, the issue I’ve been focused on here.  The committee also raised concerns about the racially disparate impact of the foreclosure crisis, and the criminalization of homelessness, two issues the housing group I’ve been working with were hoping would get some attention.  Here is some more media coverage and the UN’s press release about the second day of review.  This is my last post, as I am leaving tomorrow.  Thanks for tuning in- I will keep you updated on our follow-up activities, and post the Concluding Observations when they come out!

Unfortunately in this video I am sitting directly in front of the direct sunlight, so apologies for the poor quality.  Here are some better pictures of the Palais de Nations.

Palais de Nations 3Palais de Nations 1 Palais de Nations 2

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 4

Today was an exciting day in Geneva at the review of the U.S.’s compliance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).   The Civil Society delegation had an informal briefing with the CERD Committee this morning, and then this afternoon the official review of the United States with the US government delegation began.  Here is a picture of my colleague Erin Smith from Columbia Human Rights Institute and I speaking with CERD Committee member Ion Diaconu at the civil society briefing about access to justice.  Spoiler alert: after this conversation Mr. Diaconu raised the issue of access to counsel in civil cases with the US government in the review this afternoon!  It is important that committee members raise the issue because they are then likely to publish a “concluding observation” on it.  Concluding observations represent the comments and recommendations of an international human rights body on the U.S.’s treaty compliance, and can be used in domestic advocacy and accountability efforts.

CERD advocacy

Also, on a slightly different note, I mentioned in a previous blog entry that Ron Davis (the father of Jordan Davis) is in Geneva advocating against racial gun violence and Stand Your Ground laws- here is an article in Al Jazeera about his advocacy at CERD, in the context of the recent killing of Michael Brown in Furguson, MO.  Today the CERD Committee specifically spoke of Mr. Davis’ testimony in their comments to the United States.

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 3

Here’s a rundown on my third day in Geneva representing PHRGE as part of the civil society delegation to the UN for the review of the U.S.’s compliance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).  Today we had our formal briefing with the CERD committee and a consultation with the U.S. government.   Here is a link to the UN press release on the briefing this am.  Hopefully we made an impression!  Also here are some pictures of me and my colleague Erin Smith from the Columbia University School of Law Human Rights Institute at the UN.

UN 1 UN 2

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 2

Here’s the rundown on my second day in Geneva where I am representing PHRGE at the civil society consultation with the Committee overseeing implementation of the International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  In this video post I go over parts of the Convention language and UN commentary we are using in our advocacy about access to justice in civil cases.  If you want to follow along, here is the text of the Convention, and here are the 2008 Concluding Observations.  Also here are some photos of the Palais Wilson, where today’s opening session was held.

 Palais Wilson Opening Session Palais Wilson

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 1

Hannah Adams, a student at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL).  She is in Geneva representing  NUSL’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at the United Nations review of U.S. fulfillment of treaty obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  PHRGE and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute‘s have collaborated on a shadow report on access to justice in civil cases here.  Such shadow reports provide a civil society perspective on information included in the U.S. government in its report to the CERD Committee. Both PHRGE and the Columbia institute are affiliated with the U.S. Human Rights Network, which is coordinating U.S. civil society participation in the CERD review.