In 1947, the NAACP submitted a petition to the United Nations demanding redress for the “denial of human rights” to Black people in the United States. The petition, edited by W.E.B. Dubois and inspired by a separate petition prepared by the National Negro Congress, was published a year before adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and decades before the United Nations’ accompanying body of human rights instruments. These notable appeals for accountability addressing centuries of harm done by systemic racism are among the legacies of advocacy reflected by actions mapped within this U.S. Racial Redress Network project.
Historically, the United States has balked at external efforts to examine injustice within its borders. Yet, despite persistent U.S. assertion of exceptionalism to international law, the U.S. is party to specific human rights treaties that recognize rights relevant to racial discrimination and remedy for violation of such rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) were ratified by the U.S. respectively in 1992 and 1994, albeit with reservations that complicate how these human rights treaties may be applied in practice. Even so, these human rights treaties codify the right to nondiscrimination on the basis of race. For details on the rights to nondiscrimination on the basis of race, see ICCPR Article 2, 4, 24, and 26. The ICERD defines racial discrimination in Article 1 and demands U.N member states prohibit perpetuation of discrimination in many aspects. The right to remedy in the case of discrimination and violation of human rights is outlined in ICCPR Article 2 and ICERD Article 6. Remedy is understood in the legal sense to mean a policy or procedural means of achieving justice and reparation is the specific form of remedy. Guidelines for implementing the right to remedy and reparations in case of violations of human rights are further elaborated in UN General Assembly Resolution 60/147.
To ground the mapping of U.S. Racial Redress for anti-Black racism within these international human rights law frameworks for broad advocacy, this project draws upon the following categories of reparations, as defined by Resolution 60/147 and the International Commission of Jurists:
- Restitution: “measures that restore victims to the original situation before they suffered gross violations of international human rights law…for example, restoration of liberty, identity, family life and citizenship, return to one’s place of residence, restoration of employment and return of property.
- Compensation: “a monetary quantifiable award for any economically accessible damage,…as appropriate and proportional to the gravity of the violation and the circumstances of each case, such as lost opportunities, loss of earnings and moral damage.”
- Rehabilitation: “medical and psychological care as well as legal and social services”
- Satisfaction: “a broad category of measures, ranging from those aiming at a cessation of violations, to truth-seeking, the search for the disappeared, the recover and reburial of remains, public apologies, judicial and administrative sanctions, commemoration and memorialization, and human rights training.”
- Guarantees of non-repetition: “a broad category” including “institutional reforms…strengthening judicial independence; the protection of human rights defenders; human rights training; the promotion of international human rights standards in public service, law enforcement, the media, and psychological and social services.”
The process of identifying and categorizing entries for this project’s pilot map drew as much as possible on the descriptions and language used in publicly available information on these instances of redress. For example: a state legislature’s apology for the violence and legacies of enslavement is included in the map so that the historical injustice of focus is slavery and the historical era in which the injustice occurred is 1609-1865. The reparations category for this example, given that it is a public apology, falls under Satisfaction. Satisfaction does not imply that a public apology is enough to repair the legacies of harm resulting from enslavement, nor that such apologies are received satisfactorily by all parties involved. It merely frames how this apology would fall under the international legal definitions of reparations.
The bulk of the current map reflects remedies that fall under Satisfaction, namely apologies, truth-seeking initiatives through historical research and preservation, and commemorations and monuments that shift historical narrative. Commemorations and monuments include the addition of markers, ceremonies, and monuments acknowledging lynching, Juneteenth, Black life during segregation, and contributions of notable Black Americans previously erased by dominant narratives. Removal of monuments to the Confederacy also falls under Satisfaction, given the racist symbolism and distorted historical interpretations these monuments represent. Compensation in the current entries has occurred in local instances most frequently through scholarship funding. Although few, there are instances that the team supporting this project believes fall under restitution and guarantees of non-repetition via institutional reforms. Understandably, there is much more work to be done to untangle centuries of injustice so as to dismantle systems and culture that perpetuate oppression.
For more information on the United Nation’s stance on the U.S. government to address systemic racism and racial bias please visit the following links:
- Condemnation of modern-day racial terror lynchings in U.S.
- Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism
Mélisande Short-Colomb also provided commentary. “Here we are in the 21st century defining race again. The truth is this; our race is one made up of humans, we come in many colors, languages, influences and places on our home planet. We were made for this Earth, which supports all of our needs. We must become better steward and caretakers. We as humans find ourselves in characters from a classic story, we can all be the lost Dorothy, empty headed Scarecrow, the heartless Tin Man and the cowardly Lion, but it was Toto who exposed the Truth … the great and powerful lives in YOU.”
 W.E. Burghardt Du Bois, Ed. NAACP. (1947 October 23). “An Appeal To The World: A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress.” American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from: https://www.aclu.org/appeal-world; Jamil Dakwar. (2017 October 25). “W.E.B Du Bois’s Historic U.N. Petition Continues to Inspire Human Rights Advocacy.” ACLU. Retrieved from: https://www.aclu.org/blog/human-rights/human-rights-and-racial-justice/web-du-boiss-historic-un-petition-continues.
 United Nations. (1966 March 7). International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved from: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-2&chapter=4&clang=_en; United Nations. (1966 December 16). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights . United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved from: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&clang=_en; Maya K. Watson. (2020 January 6). “The United States’ Hollow Commitment to Eradicating Global Racial Discrimination.” American Bar Association. Retrieved from: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/black-to-the-future-part-ii/the-united-states–hollow-commitment-to-eradicating-global-racia/#:~:text=The%20United%20States%20signed%20ICERD,an%20end%20to%20racial%20discrimination.https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-2&chapter=4&clang=_en. [
3] United Nations. (1966 December 16). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. Retrieved from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx; United Nations. (1966 March 7). International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. Retrieved from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cerd.aspx.
 International Commission of Jurists. (2018 October). The Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Gross Human Rights Violations: A Practitioners’ Guide, Revised Edition, 2018. International Commission of Jurists. Retrieved from: https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Universal-Right-to-a-Remedy-Publications-Reports-Practitioners-Guides-2018-ENG.pdf.
 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/147. (2006 March 2). Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/files/BASICP~1.PDF; International Commission of Jurists, 2018, p.13-14. [
6] International Commission of Jurists, 2018, p.13-14.
Linda J. Mann and Morgan Newell Nevins