US may have to answer to UN about human rights violations like death penalty and voter disenfranchisement

09/24/13 Samuel Johnson
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Tags: kathy castor ACLU human rights Voting rights University of Tampa Death penalty UN FAMU disenfranchise


The United Nations Human Rights Committee meets 3 times a year to review potential violations of countries that have ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document. Next month in Geneva, Switzerland, the U.S. is up for review.

Monday night at a public forum on the University of Tampa campus, panelists suggested the US may have to answer to the UN about voter disenfranchisement and the death penalty.

About 60 people -- mostly students – attended the forum co-hosted by the ACLU and the University of Tampa Human Rights Think Tank. Joyce Hamilton Henry, Mid-Florida ACLU director, is one of the delegates who will present a review to the UN of U.S. human rights violations. She said the disenfranchised have held up their part of the agreement but the US has not.

“To the extent that they have rehabilitated their life...Number one they're having a hard time getting a job because of having a past conviction. They have difficulty getting federal loans; they're not eligible. They have problems with housing. You know, these are among the collateral consequences. So we feel that the US is still violating the one-person-one-vote. And we want the US to be held accountable. And when we say accountable we want them to say to the Human Rights Committee what they will do fix this problem within this country.”

Speaking Monday at a separate event in Ybor City, Florida member of Congress, Kathy Castor, said the state's record on disenfranchisement violates the constitution and she would consider joining a lawsuit to compel the state to restore the rights of ex-felons.

“We all have the privilege of living in the state of Florida. That has, unfortunately, the worst record on restoration of civil rights. In fact, former Governor (Charlie) Christ made some improvements and expedited the restoration of rights. The current Governor (Rick Scott) and cabinet rescinded that. I think it is has reached a point now where it... First, it's one of those questions you'll need to ask next election that it's going to...I don't think... hopefully we won't see much drop off in turn out next time because issues are so crystal clear. But it's one of those issues you need to ask candidates about. But I think it's risen to the point now that it is a violation of equal protection of the United States Constitution; the way it is being implemented in Florida. It is so severe compared to every other state; just about every other state across the country. That I'd like to work with NAACP and with other organizations to organize a legal effort to address it.”

Back at the University of Tampa panel discussion, FAMU law professor Patricia Broussard said because federal law trumps state law, it will be up to Congress to put teeth back in the voting rights act after a partial overturn by the U.S. Supreme Court. But she's not holding her breath.

“If the Supreme Court said the reason why we are knocking down this section of the voting rights act is because it's not precise enough; it doesn't have the precision: it's over inclusive. And it's under inclusive. It includes some jurisdictions that it shouldn't and it doesn't include jurisdictions that it should. If that is in fact what the problem is the remedy is to legislate and to fix the formula. So that it once again can become part of the voting rights act. But short of Congress acting I don't know what else can be done.”

Undoubtedly, one of the issues addressed in the UN review of US human rights violations will be the death penalty. Currently the state of Florida has 404 inmates on death row. Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the death penalty is a flagrant human rights violation.

“When you can kill a prisoner who is locked up in a cage; tie them to a gurney...tie them to cross-shaped gurney and poison them to death or electrocute them (or) whatever you do to kill them. When you can do that it's the gate that all the other abuses come through. So there's not going to be rehabilitation. There's not going to be anything for anyone as long as the death penalty is out there. As something that's talked about as being humane and dignified. Which the killing of a well secured captive prisoner by the government can never be human no matter how it's carried out.”

The United Nation's Human Rights Committee will deliberate on the status of human rights in the United States on October 17 and 18.

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