Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State
for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Remarks at a Public Release of the Initial Report of the United States of
America to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms
of Racial Discrimination
Washington, DC, September 21, 2000
On behalf of Secretary Albright, I am pleased to introduce the initial report prepared by the United States of America on its compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This report was submitted today in Geneva to the Convention's eighteen-member Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Let me thank my friend and colleague Bill Lann Lee, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, for joining me to help answer your questions today.
The U.S. played a leading role in developing and drafting the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, signing it in 1992. In October 1994, the United States ratified the Convention, which entered into force for the United States on November 20, 1994. Under its terms, States Parties are required to report to the treaty's committee of experts regarding their efforts to comply with their obligations under the Convention. Written to United Nations specifications and covering up to August 2000, the report was prepared by the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, with extensive input from the White House, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and other Executive Branch departments and agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and concerned individuals. In addition to my colleagues at the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, let me give special thanks to Assistant Legal Adviser Andre Surena and Chris Camponovo of the Legal Adviser's Office of Human Rights and Refugees, and the staff of my own bureau for their outstanding efforts to make this report possible.
This report represents our government's unqualified commitment to fulfilling its obligations under the race discrimination convention. Our country was founded to promote the vision of universal human rights stated in the Declaration of Independence and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal." But the road from vision to implementation has been long and difficult. The United States of the 18th and 19th Centuries conducted brutal wars against Native Americans, applied discriminatory immigration practices against non-Europeans, and tolerated the horrendous practice of slavery. Ending such practices dominated much of the first hundred years of our history; addressing the residue of racial intolerance consumed much of the next. During World War II, thousands of ethnically Japanese U.S. citizens were relocated to internment camps throughout the United States. Even since the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the legislative and judicial struggle against racial discrimination has been painful and challenging. What progress and success we have had in defeating Jim Crow and overcoming racism have been the product of the faith, courage, and blood of those who challenged our country to live up to its promise. From Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King to Rosa Parks to Thurgood Marshall to Lyndon Johnson, millions of Americans have marched, demonstrated, litigated, and legislated to demand that all Americans enjoy equal protection under the law.
As our report chronicles, the American struggle to secure racial equality remains incomplete. The residual effects of slavery and institutionalized racism can still be seen in lingering disparities between blacks and whites in income, levels of education and health care, and rates of incarceration in our nation's prisons. But at the same time, our nation's progress in closing these gaps can also be measured, particularly in the rapidly-increasing number of African-American professionals, business leaders and elected political officials, and in growing income and education levels for millions. Much the same can be said for the many other minority and ethnic groups that came to the United States seeking opportunities they could not find at home. The United States stands as one of the most racially and ethnically diverse nations in the world. Our diversity drives our growing tolerance, our prosperity, and our national dynamism. The United States remains a land of promise, where the children of immigrants can not just aspire - but actually grow up to become -- Assistant Attorney General or Assistant Secretary of State.
The report we submit today demonstrates democracy in action: how our constitutional and legal guarantees have helped shape a system that affords every American -- irrespective of race, religion, or ethnic background -- the most extensive set of legal protections in the world. Racial and ethnic discrimination are prohibited in housing, employment, education, voting, access to public accommodations, housing and mortgage credits, the military, and programs receiving federal assistance. President Clinton has made issues of racial diversity and equal opportunity core elements of his Administration's agenda. In 1997 he established the President's Initiative on Race, a national education effort encouraging a country-wide dialogue on race. In 1998, he established the White House Office on the President's Initiative for One America, which calls on community leaders to develop new approaches to address racial tensions and to expand opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities. His initiative also coordinates the efforts of the federal government in eliminating racial discrimination. In addition, a series of new state and local laws have been passed in recent years to target perpetrators of hate crimes. Here, as in other areas, the work that federal, state and local governments have been doing has been supported by the work done by hundreds of private groups and non-governmental organizations.
The report before you today recounts these efforts, even as it reflects how much we still must do. It identifies remaining obstacles, including the persistence of attitudes, policies, and practices reflecting a legacy of segregation and discrimination; inadequate enforcement of existing law; economic disparities, including the lack of equal access to education, opportunity, and technology; discrimination in employment; continued segregation and discrimination in housing and voting; and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. As the cases of Rodney King, James Byrd, Abner Louima, and Amadou Diallo demonstrate, we have not yet met the challenge of creating a color-blind society. While officially sanctioned segregation has been eliminated, de facto segregation and persistent racial discrimination continue in parts of our society. We continue to search for the best means to eliminate all forms of racial, ethnic, and religious dicrimination within a pluralistic, federal system of government.
Our experience demonstrates that committed democracies can make strides to overcome the legacy of racism. We look forward to the upcoming World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance next year in South Africa, as an occasion to share experiences and best practices with other nations engaged in the same search for solutions. Toward that end, a White House Task Force has promoted a robust domestic preparatory process that has included state and local government officials as well as academics and civil society. We look forward to the constructive dialogue this report will spur, both here in the United States and overseas, and to discussing it once the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination schedules its formal review.
[end of document]