Opening Statement by Ambassador Michèle Taylor, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Presentation to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning the U.S. Report on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Report)
As Submitted for the Record
Thank you, Madame Chairperson, and good afternoon to all. I am honored to lead the U.S. delegation in our presentation to this distinguished committee.
I have lived most of my adult life in Atlanta, Georgia, the cradle of the American civil rights movement. Atlanta was built on the violent, tragic history of slavery and racial discrimination, but it has also been shaped by the inspiring, hard-fought successes of a community of activists led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and extended by the leadership of succeeding generations.
We still have far to go in building a just and equal society in the United States. However the blueprint of the civil rights movement together with the recommendations we take from conversations, like the ones we had yesterday with civil society and will have here today and tomorrow, give me confidence that we have a way forward and hope for that potential.
Yesterday we held the 5th in a series of meetings with Civil Society. I was deeply moved by the honesty, strength, and vulnerability shared in the room. And inspired by my high-ranking colleagues who showed that, while some of us are experts on racial injustice, we still have much to learn; that what we really need first, in order to better serve the American people, is to listen. We are all committed to doing more of that through continued engagement with civil society.
As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I know personally that when anyone’s rights are threatened, it affects all of us. I understand the generational trauma of children ripped from their parents. And I know that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
I am deeply committed to fighting discrimination and violence against members of vulnerable groups wherever they occur, and that commitment is a foundational pillar of the Biden-Harris administration.
The members of the delegation here in Geneva share this charge. They come from all corners of federal, state, and local government where they focus on a full range of issues, from health to the environment to the justice system, and certainly to issues of equity. Their presence reflects both how pervasive racial discrimination remains in our country and the firm commitment of the United States to a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to combating it.
In addition to my co-head of delegation, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, Desirée Cormier Smith, the inaugural holder of the position, I will also ask the following delegation members to provide brief comments during this opening presentation:
First, recognizing that so much implementation of our CERD obligations happens at the local and state level, Mayor of Atlanta, the Honorable Andre Dickens and Special Assistant Attorney General of California Damon Brown will share their perspectives.
Steven Hill will speak on behalf of the National Security Council at the White House.
Johnathan Smith from the Department of Justice will then lay out some background on race in the U.S. justice system, followed by Peter Mina who will share the perspective of the Department of Homeland Security.
Then, Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes will speak on behalf of the Department of the Interior, followed by Chitra Kumar from the Environmental Protection Agency, Jessica Marcella from the Department of Health and Human Services, Catherine Lhamon from the Department of Education, Demetria McCain from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Lenita Jacobs-Simmons from the Department of Labor, and Raymond Peeler from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
These members of our delegation are not only giving remarks but each of us will be available during the program to answer your questions with honesty and humility.
I want to emphasize that as a delegation we are committed to listening and to learning. Conversations around racial discrimination are often challenging and can be very emotionally charged. I am willing to sit with discomfort as I know that it is when we are uncomfortable that we are most able to make change.
I am proud to serve as the Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Human Rights Council at a time when the U.S. is committed to actively addressing racial discrimination and to leading by the example of our willingness to critically examine our own challenges. The Biden-Harris Administration understands that any pledge to advance human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to advance human rights at home.
With that, I turn it over to my colleague and co-head of delegation, Special Representative Desirée Cormier Smith.