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U.N. Panel Urges U.S. Government To Reject Racial Hatred And Violence

Chants of "White lives matter!" "You will not replace us!" and "Jews will not replace us!" rang out on Aug. 11 as several hundred white nationalists and supremacists carried torches through the University of Virginia.
Evelyn Hockstein
The Washington Post/Getty Images
Chants of "White lives matter!" "You will not replace us!" and "Jews will not replace us!" rang out on Aug. 11 as several hundred white nationalists and supremacists carried torches through the University of Virginia.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has urged the U.S. government to reject racist speech and ideology and criticized its "failure at the highest political level" to unequivocally condemn the racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.

The statement, released online and apparently written last week, does not mention President Trump by name. But it's clearly a response to Trump's mixed messages following the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

The committee notes that Heather Heyer was killed as she protested against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and that Deandre Harris was beaten by a crowd of white supremacists. The rally they were both protesting was filled with "overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes" by "white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan," the U.N. panel wrote.

And in response, it said, the U.S. failed to "unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations." Trump's initial remarks condemned violence "on many sides." After a second statement that singled out white supremacists, Trump returned to the issue again and claimed there were "very fine people" who took part in the white nationalist event.

The anti-racism committee warned that the lack of a full-throated condemnation was "potentially fuelling the proliferation of racist discourse and incidents."

The statement from the committee is a kind of "early warning and urgent action" meant to identify pressing problems of racism and prevent them from worsening.

The committee has used the procedure "only 20 times since 2003 against countries including Iraq, Burundi, Guyana and Israel," The Associated Press reports. "The United States was previously called to respond in 2006 over treatment of a group of Native Americans, the Shoshone."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Bishops has assembled an ad hoc committee to "address the sin of racism."

"Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to inflict our nation," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the conference, said in a statement. He said the committee will be dedicated "to engaging the Church and our society to work together in unity" to combat racism.

The last two ad hoc committees assembled by the conference were dedicated to religious liberty (2011) and fighting same-sex marriage (2008), according to the National Catholic Reporter.

It's not the first time American Catholic leadership identified a need to act on issues of race and discrimination. In 1958, U.S. bishops called segregation "unreasonable and injurious." In 1963, the group said that respecting rights regardless of race "is not only a matter of individual moral duty; it is also a matter for civic action." (The statements from the clergy, however, were not always met with action.)

In 1979, the bishops' conference issued a pastoral letter that opened with the lines, "Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church."

But the Conference of Bishops emphasizes the present moment in the statement released Wednesday.

"The times demand it. Our Gospel demands it," George Murry, the bishop from Ohio who will head the committee, told the National Catholic Reporter. "Solidarity must be accompanied by action, especially now."

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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