NAACP Makes its Case Before UN Council


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"We are asking the United Nations for two things," the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the NAACP’s North Carolina State Conference, said in a statement Wednesday hailing the Geneva trip. "First, to investigate the attacks on voting rights by multiple state governments across the United States, and second, to ensure that the global community understands issues surrounding the attack on voting rights, and to help safeguard against these sorts of laws being replicated in other countries."

NAACP Makes its Case Before UN Council
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 5:54 am

By: Frederick Cosby, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com

America’s oldest civil rights organization told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Switzerland Wednesday that changes in voting laws approved in several states threaten human and civil rights and is a direct response to President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

A delegation from the NAACP went before the council in Geneva and presented the argument that a spate of new laws passed in more than a dozen mostly Republican-controlled states is an effort to suppress the votes of minorities and others after they turned out in record numbers in 2008 to help elect America’s first black president.

"These restrictions on the right to vote are a direct response to two developments: Unprecedented levels of political participation of black voters in the United States in 2008, and a reaction to the significant growth of communities of color as reflected in the 2010 Census," the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund’s Ryan Haygood told the council.

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous told the council that voters of color are under siege in the United States.

"We are here today because in the past 12 months, more U.S. states have passed more laws pushing more U.S. citizens out of the ballot box than in any year in the past century," he said. "Historically, when people have come after our right to vote, they have done so to make it easier to come after so many of our rights that we hold dear."

Roslyn M. Brock, the NAACP’s national board chairman, told the international panel that as of December 2011, some 14 states have passed 25 measures "designed to restrict or limit ballot access of voters of color, threatening to disenfranchise millions of eligible Americans."

"Furthermore, since January 2012, additional states have introduced measures that, if enacted, would result in the disenfranchisement of even more racial and ethnic minorities," she said.

Some of the measures either approved or under consideration by states require people to show some form of government-approved photo ID or provide proof of citizenship in order to register or vote.

Other changes include limiting third-party voter registration drives, shortening or eliminating early voting, ending same-day voter registration and permanently forbidding convicted felons who’ve served their time from voting.

Some states added unique provisions to their new voting laws. In Texas, photo ID from public, state-funded higher education institutions is insufficient for voting, but a state concealed gun license is okay. The Justice Department Monday blocked Texas from implementing its photo ID voting law, asserting that it discriminated against Hispanics.

In Florida, the GOP-run state legislature decided to end voting on the last Sunday before Election Day. A bulk of the state’s black voters cast their ballots on that final Sunday in 2008 as part of a "Souls to the Polls" drive run by black churches.

"These forms of disenfranchisement prevent those most in need of an advocate from the ability to elect someone who will represent their concerns: The need for a decent public education, for a health care system that addresses their specific demographic needs, as well as the creation of decent jobs, a functional criminal justice system and other basic human needs," Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president for advocacy, told the Human Rights Council.

The NAACP delegation took two living examples with them to Geneva – U.S. citizens who told the panel how they would be adversely impacted by the new laws.

"I struggle with the fact that as of today, I cannot vote in Virginia because this is where my offense occurred," said Kemba Smith Pradia, an author and lecturer who was sentenced to 24-1/2 years in prison on a first-time crack cocaine charge. After serving ….. six years behind bars, she was granted clemency by then-President Bill Clinton. "But in other states I wouldn’t have to deal with this issue. It is as if other states understand the need for forgiveness and the right of citizens not to be isolated from the rest of the population because they have been denied this human right."

Austin Alex, a student at Texas Christian University, spoke to the Human Rights Council on behalf of America’s college students, who face the prospect of having a tough time voting in 2012 because of photo ID laws and the move by some states to scale back on the number of absentee ballots they mail out.

"Other states have passed similar laws that no longer allow student ID to be acceptable form of voter identification," Alex said of Texas’ law. "I am concerned about the impact this will have on the right of students like me to vote."

Established in 2006, the UN Human Rights Council consists of 47 members representing 13 countries from Africa, 13 from Asia, eight from Latin America and the Caribbean, seven from Western Europe and other states, and six Eastern European nations.

The council has no direct power to change U.S. law or laws in any other nation. But with the weight of the United Nations behind it, it does have the ability to facilitate change indirectly through the international court of public opinion.

"We are asking the United Nations for two things," the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the NAACP’s North Carolina State Conference, said in a statement Wednesday hailing the Geneva trip. "First, to investigate the attacks on voting rights by multiple state governments across the United States, and second, to ensure that the global community understands issues surrounding the attack on voting rights, and to help safeguard against these sorts of laws being replicated in other countries."

 

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