February 29, 2008, Atlanta, Georgia – Reacting to yesterday’s report by a UN expert calling on the U.S. government to immediately stop evictions and demolitions of public housing in New Orleans, Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network said, "The Comments from the UN experts captured the reality of situation in New Orleans. What is happening to low-income families in New Orleans is a national disgrace — and must stop immediately. Human rights and civil rights organizations across the country welcome and support the United Nations’ intervention on this issue."
There has been criticism of the UN report from some who expressed surprise that the UN would intervene on such an issue. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) stated, "The United Nations, an organization that has been scrutinized for its exploitation of the poor… has deemed itself a high enough authority to look down its nose at us here in the United State over the public housing debate." Senator Vitter also characterized the United Nations as a "wasteful international organization" and encouraged the UN to focus on cleaning up its own act rather than commenting on U.S. efforts.
In response, Baraka stated, "Those who would say that the UN is a ‘foreign organization’ clearly have not done their homework. The U.S. is a major player within the United Nations – and the UN experts who commented on conditions in New Orleans did so as a result of appeals from U.S. citizens."
The USHRN urges the U.S. government to heed the call from UN experts, halt ongoing evictions and demolitions of public housing in New Orleans, and take immediate steps to protect the rights of those who continue to feel the effects of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom are African America. The statement was released by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing, Miloon Kohtari, and a UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall, just days after over 120 activists associated with the USHRN returned from Geneva to monitor the Bush Administration’s compliance under the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an international treaty signed by the U.S., which carried the force of law in the United States.
While in Geneva, activists and experts affiliated with the USHRN testified before United Nations officials about the reality of racial discrimination in the U.S., including the race related effects of Hurricane Katrina. In their statement to the U.S. government, Kothari and MacDougall address the fact that more than 12,000 people remain homeless in the New Orleans metro area alone; demolition of public housing may lead to the displacement of more than 5,000 more families; federal and local authorities continue to ignore the disparate impacts of Hurricane Katrina, claiming that the discrimination is not intentional; and the government must meaningfully consult and engage with the communities and families affected by the demolitions and redevelopment in order to protect the rights of those people who have been affected, who are mostly African American.