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MCLI Report on Katrina to HRC 5-31-06

To: Members of the U.N. Human Rights Committee
From: Rev. Daniel Buford for the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute; International
Association of Democratic Lawyers; and National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Sign-ons Include: People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond; Allen Temple Baptist
Church; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, United States Section;
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions; Bret Thiele; Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
Under Law, Washington D.C.
Date: May 31, 2006

Re: Update on Issue 16 cited in CCPR/C/USA/Q/3 related to Articles 2 and 26 (and issues 14,
18, and 19 related to articles 7, 6, 2, and 26) concerning facts about Katrina (and Rita) disaster
victims not covered in the 2d/3d U.S. Report or the presentation by Rev. Buford at the 2006
March Committee meeting.

1. The 2d/3d Report was filed six weeks after the disaster of Katrina, but it does not mention the
human rights Issues raised by Katrina, although the President of the U.S. was quickly aware, by
Sept. 15, 2005, of the need to “offer this pledge…” to deal with human rights issues: “Throughout
the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help
citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. … As all of us saw on television, there’s also
some deep, persistent poverty in this region … That poverty has roots in a system of racial
discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to
confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday,
and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.”1

2. Recommendation: That the U.S. immediately convene a training session for all
federal and state officials dealing with the victims of Katrina and Rita to study:
(a) the pledge by Pres. Bush on Sept. 15, 2005 to Katrina victims, (b) the history
of “deep, persistent poverty” in the region hit by Katrina and later Rita and
its “roots in a system of racial discrimination,” described by Pres. Bush, and (c)
all of the laws prohibiting racial discrimination and requiring affirmative action,
including U.S. Constitution Amendments 13, 14, and 15, ICCPR Arts. 2 and 26, as
well as the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

3. Hundreds of reports in the media and on the internet, and in NGO newsletters cited below, and
in conversations with victims of Katrina and Rita hurricanes, make three points:
(1) Everyone in Government — from the President of the United States and the national heads of
agencies (including Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and Corps of Engineers)
down to the federal agents working in the disaster area with state and parish civil servants –
was aware that the areas hardest hit were the homes and businesses of Afro-Americans and poor
people, and hospitals/nursing homes of the elderly;
(2) Many policies and practices were continued or instituted that clearly discriminated against
Afro-Americans and poor whites and women and the elderly, and, even when complaints of
discrimination were made, no steps were taken to stop discrimination and to ensure equal

1

Pres. George W. Bush in Jackson Square, New Orleans, September 15, 2006, reported in “The Mardi Gras Index: The State of
New Orleans by Numbers Six Months After Hurricane Katrina,” Feb. 28, 2006, a Special Report by Gulf Coast Reconstruction
Watch, a Project of the Institute for Southern Studies.

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treatment;2
(3) These policies and practices are being continued to this date, as to victims of Katrina and Rita,
with federal agencies stopping the funding of rent for displaced families3 and taking no effective
steps to ensure the voting rights of displaced residents.4 (and see ¶ 19).

4. California Congresswoman Barbara Lee in February 2006 recommended that her fellow
Congress members study the tardy 2d/3d Report and the pending Issues to be addressed by
the Committee at its July meeting and also recommended that Congress members read and
understand the necessity for the U.S. Government to comply with the provisions of the ICCPR.5
Most state and local government officials and citizens have never heard of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the UN Human Rights Committee. The media is
not reporting on them. A web check of media mention of ICCPR or the UN Human Rights
Committee indicates that the statement in the 2d/3d U.S. Report is false when it says that “There
is extensive awareness at the state and federal levels” of the ICCPR and Committee work. 6

5. Recommendation: Refining Recommendation ¶ 294 in 1995, and incorporating
the pledge by the President of the U.S. to take all necessary steps for the Katrina
victims in order to establish appropriate inter-federal institutional mechanisms
for the review of existing as well as proposed legislation and other measures with a
view to achieving familiarity with and implementation of all of the provisions of the
Covenant, including the reporting obligations of federal, state and local government
officials.

6. As Pres. Bush stated a week after Katrina hit, the U.S. Government had not taken sufficient
steps to inform and insure the rights recognized in Article 2.3, especially the right not to
discriminate on the basis of race, sex, social origin or property.7 Months after Katrina hit this
problem continues:
(1) dead bodies are being discovered in poor and Afro-American sections of New Orleans;8
(2) in these poor neighborhoods today, Afro Americans: (a) are being told they cannot rebuild
their homes9, or (b) they have not been getting help in filing all of the forms required to seek
funding, or (c) help in getting copies of birth certificates and other personal identification
documents lost in the hurricane, or (d) funding they have applied for and been granted has not
actually been delivered to them, and
(3) the U.S., state and parish governments are appropriating insufficient money to rebuild

Ari Kelman, “In the Shadow of Disaster – Rebuilding In Harm’s Way,” The Nation, Jan. 2, 2006.
Prof. William P. Quigley, J.D., Loyola University Law School, “Six Months After Katrina, Who Was Left Behind Then? Who
Is Being Left Behind Now,” Feb. 21, 2006, http://www.counterpunch.org/quigley02212006.html (accessed May 23, 2006).
4 David Billings, “New Orleans: A Choice Between Destruction and Reparations,” Nov./Dec. 2005, Fellowship, (Fellowship of
Reconciliation); Paul Reynolds, “Multiple Failures Caused Relief Crisis,” BBC News, April 19, 2006.
5 Congressional Record, Feb. 28, 2006, p. E224.
6 2d/3d Report Para 490.
7 Susan Straight, “Katrina Lives: The Country Has Moved On But Black Americans Have Not Finished with Her,” The Nation,
Jan. 2, 2006.
8 Elaine Shields, “Hurricane Prompts Awkward Questions,” BBC News, April 19, 2006; “Powell Criticizes Storm Response,”
BBC News, April 19, 2006; Bill Quigley, “Eight Months After Katrina,” April 26, 2006, http://www.reconstructionwatch.org/
modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=123 (accessed May 23, 2006).
9 “Mardi Gras Index,” p. 11.

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the levees needed to protect these areas from another disaster,10 whereas in some upscale
neighborhoods hit by Katrina, Government officials and corporations are helping residents make
needed repairs.11

7. Recommendation: That the State Department officials working on reporting to
this Committee notify the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the
Department of Health and Human Services and the Army Corps of Engineers, and
all other affected federal agencies about the terms of the ICCPR and the urgent
need to act to stop all discriminatory practices as to Katrina victims and to take
affirmative action to ensure no discrimination in the treatment of Katrina victims.

8. No U.S. Government agency has conducted an investigation of the fact that in Gretna, LA,
government officials encouraged some white citizens to threaten Afro American New Orleans
residents who were peacefully assembled seeking to evacuate the area via the bridge in Gretna,
LA, and permitted the police department of Gretna to block their evacuation and threaten
them at gun point.12 Nor has any U.S. Government agency conducted an investigation into the
discriminatory actions of the National Guard during the evacuation process. The National Guard
helicopter pilots brought food and water to white victims while ignoring African Americans on
the roof of the building next door. After two days of being ignored, two African American men
went and got every white person in the building and brought them up on the roof. Fifteen minutes
later, the helicopters dropped water and food for them.13 (Also violations of Article 12).

9. The government bodies studying the Katrina disaster have so far not dealt with the fact that
U.S. and state agents forced New Orleans residents from Afro-American and poor neighborhoods
to abandon their homes at gunpoint, and confined them, at gunpoint, in athletic stadiums with
inadequate water, food, toilet facilities.14 (Also violations of Art. 7)

10. Recommendation: (a) That the U.S. establish a federal commission to study these
charges and, on completion of their work, take appropriate steps to compensate the
victims, prosecute the offenders, and hold education sessions for all parish officials
in Gretna, LA and the National Guard on the laws against discriminatory treatment
based on race or social origin.

11. Race, sex, and social origin discrimination occurred in the aftermath of Katrina with officials
at the Orleans Parish Prison subjecting women prisoners to degrading and sexually offensive

10

“Levee Upkeep Undermined By Budget Cuts,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/19/05; “Officials Say Levees Worse Than
Thought,” Contra Costa Times, 9/13/05; Geoffrey Lean, “Warnings Went Ignored As Bush Slashed Flood Budget To Pay For
Wars,” London Independent 9/4/05)
11 Patrick Jonsson, “Tent Cities Spur Frustration on Gulf Coast,” Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 2006.
12 Mark Potok, “Racists Spew Hate in Katrina’s Wake,” SPLC Report, 9/5/05; Wade Hampton, “Blacks’ Ride From Dome Kin
to Slave Ships,” Stormfrontwhitenationalists.org 9/13/05; Nicholas Riccardi, “After Blocking the Bridge, Gretna Circles the
Wagons,” Los Angeles Times, 9/16/05; Shaun Waterman, “Cops Trapped Survivors In New Orleans,” UPI, 9/9/05; Andrew
Buncombe, “Evacuees Blocked At Gunpoint By Racist Policemen,” London Independent, 9/11/05.
13 Marjory Freeman, Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond, Statement to U.S. Human Rights and Community Leaders,
March 23, 2006, New York City, “New Orleans, My Home, My Life, My Love,” Ruby Red, Inc.: A Holland Balthazar
Production
14 Mark Potok, “Racists Spew Hate in Katrina’s Wake,” SPLC Report, 9/5/05; Wade Hampton, “Blacks’ Ride From Dome Kin
to Slave Ships,” Stormfrontwhitenationalists.org 9/13/05; Nicholas Riccardi, “After Blocking the Bridge, Gretna Circles the
Wagons,” Los Angeles Times, 9/16/05; Shaun Waterman, “Cops Trapped Survivors In New Orleans,” UPI, 9/9/05; Andrew
Buncombe, “Evacuees Blocked At Gunpoint By Racist Policemen,” London Independent, 9/11/05.

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comments, and the loss of human dignity, 15 and during the worst days, juvenile prisoners were
trapped in sewage water in their cells for days, with only sewage water to drink.16 There is no
indication that the U.S. Government has begun to establish a system that, in a later emergency,
will not violate the right to human dignity of federal, state and parish women and juvenile
prisoners without regard to social origin.

12. Recommendation: That U.S. Government officials immediately meet with state and
parish prison officials to establish procedures to ensure that there is no denigration
of the right to life and human dignity of each prisoner, particularly female and
juvenile prisoners.

13. During the evacuation, government officers arbitrarily arrested and detained many people
of color, evidencing racial profiling in arrest procedures.17 (Also violation of Art. 9) From
September 2005 to date, the U.S. Government has not provided speedy trials for prisoners18
required under ICCPR and U.S. law. The U.S. and state governments have not provided enough
public defenders to represent indigent defendants in court proceedings in and around New
Orleans,19 and lost court records have led to delays and longer periods of incarceration than
necessary.20 (Also violation of Art. 10)

14. Recommendation: That the U.S. Government immediately provide emergency
disaster relief funding: (a) for public defenders to provide legal representation to
indigent men and women and juveniles arrested by state, parish and federal officials
and detained since Katrina and Rita, (b) for federal, state, and parish officials to
restore all criminal court records possible as soon as possible.

15. FEMA’s original evacuation scheme has resulted in: (1) families being separated by
hundreds of miles in different states; (2) children from poor communities not being protected so
that over 5,000 children were reported missing after evacuation of the region after September
2005, some for as long as seven months;21 (3) FEMA has yet to deal adequately with the
families that were separated in the course of the evacuation. And only 25 of 117 public schools
had reopened by April 2006,22 leaving the lives of many children empty, and multiplying the
problems of their parents, who now must supervise their children 24 hours a day; (4) FEMA’s
confusing and contradictory regulations (requiring ID papers often lost in the flood) led hundreds
of displaced persons to lose access to FEMA and other benefits23. (Also a violation of Art. 16
and 23.)

“Men and Women at Orleans Parish Prison Detail Chaos Following Katrina,” aclu.org, Nov. 17, 2005, http://
www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/21620prs20051117.html (accessed May, 23, 2006).
16 Adam Nossiter, “Teenage Prisoners Describe Hurricane Horrors,” New York Times, May 16, 2006.
17 Quigley, “Six Months After Katrina, Who Was Left Behind Then? Who Is Being Left Behind Now.”
18 Mary Foster, “Group Slams New Orleans’ Juvenile Prison,” Yahoo News, May 9, 2006, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060510/
ap_on_re_us/katrina_young_prisoners (accessed May 23, 2006); Billy Southern, “Left to Die – How New Orleans Abandoned its
Citizens in a Flooded Jail and a Flawed System,” The Nation, Jan. 2, 2006.
19 Laura Parker, ” People Arrested Before Katrina Still Await Trial,” USA Today, Feb. 27, 2006
20 Ibid.; “Testimonies of Evacuees,” Human Rights Watch, Oct. 13, 2005.
21 “Last Missing Child Separated by Hurricane Katrina and Rita Reunited,” National Center for Missing & Exploited Children,
March 17, 2006, http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/NewsEventServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=2317
(accessed May 19, 2006).
22 “United States House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce,” tulane.edu, April 26, 2006,
http://www2.tulane.edu/president_testimony1_2006.cfm (accessed May 23, 2006).
23 Talise D. Moorer, “Homeland Security Is Far Reach for Katrina Victims,” Amsterdam News, New York, January 11, 2006.

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16. Recommendation: (a) that the U.S. Government, after holding the training sessions
recommended in paragraph 1, authorize and fund a Conference to be attended by
all FEMA and other officials responsible for writing regulations concerning forms
and procedures required of disaster victims, the Conference to be organized by
concerned Professors and NGOs working with Katrina victims, to discuss and plan
how to rewrite regulations that may seem fair on their face but that, in fact, resulted
in discrimination against Afro Americans and Native Americans and poor people
and elders not familiar with government forms, and Workshops to be organized by
concerned Katrina victims and NGOs working with them, to be attended by FEMA
and other employees who work with victims of disasters, to hear exactly how their
actions affect the victims, and to begin to figure out what the human rights laws
require of them and what they could do to help the victims in their moment of stress.

17. To date the Federal Communications Commission has done nothing to respond to the many
racial hate broadcasts and website messages that incited hate group activity against African
Americans, although there is no First Amendment or ICCPR protection for false statements (also
a violation of Art. 20).24 While some officials have issued press releases describing mistakes
they have made, they have not issued any statements as to how or when these mistakes will be
corrected in the future.

18. Recommendation: The State and Justice Departments prepare press releases for
the media quoting the pledge of Pres. Bush in Sept., 2005 to stay the course with the
Katrina victims and work against the racial discrimination evident in New Orleans
that began with the slave system in the Southern states that was legal until the Civil
War (1861-1865) and continues to today, and that the statement specifically include
references to the law in the ICCPR Art. 2.3.

19. The voting rights of African Americans were violated in the recent spring 2006 elections that
did not insure full participation of displaced persons from all fifty states.25 Louisiana is covered
by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Also a violation of Art. 25.)

20. Recommendation: That the U.S. State Department work with the U.S. Department
of Justice Civil Rights Division Voting Rights Section to instruct parish and state
voting officials in Louisiana on the nondiscrimination provisions of the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, the 14th and 15th Amendments, and the ICCPR Art. 2.3 and 25.

CONCLUSION
The common current that runs through these human rights violations is a refusal by the
U.S. Government to recognize the inherent human dignity of all persons displaced by Hurricane
Katrina and their right to preserve and enjoy their unique culture, that blends African, European,
and Native American histories.

Mark Potok, “Racists Spew Hate in Katrina’s Wake,” SPLC Report, 9/5/05; Wade Hampton, “Blacks’ Ride From Dome Kin
to Slave Ships,” Stormfrontwhitenationalists.org 9/13/05; Nicholas Riccardi, “After Blocking the Bridge, Gretna Circles the
Wagons,” Los Angeles Times, 9/16/05; Shaun Waterman, “Cops Trapped Survivors In New Orleans,” UPI, 9/9/05; Andrew
Buncombe, “Evacuees Blocked At Gunpoint By Racist Policemen,” London Independent, 9/11/05.
25 Conversation with Prof. William P. Quigley, April 15, 2006.

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The ICCPR right to human dignity continues to be denied to internally displaced Katrina
victims, including the right to medical care, (trauma care and therapy, reproductive health care),
information about health, safety and their homes; and their right to participate in democracy,
that is, in the planning and management of their return, resettlement, and reintegration into their
communities.26
The Hurricane Katrina catastrophe reveals that the United States has not fulfilled its
obligations to guarantee human rights to poor people and minority groups with large numbers of
poor people. The ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom
from fear can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil
and political rights as well as his economic, social, and cultural rights.

26

See “HOLD THE U.S. ACCOUNTABLE: Internationally Displaced Persons Human Rights Campaign Petition,” The U.S.
Human Rights Network, www.ushrnetwork.org (accessed May 23, 2006)

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