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Cold Case Justice Initiative Presents Case on U.S. Human Rights Violations to United Nations
Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald, law professors and co-directors of the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) at the College of Law, were at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, during the week of March 16. There they met with staff in the Special Procedures section of the Human Rights Council, a key element in its human rights machinery, and participated in a special panel event on the state of human rights in the United States.
The Special Procedures division of the UN contains its independent experts who, as mandate holders, are tasked with making country visits to investigate situations particular to their mandate, e.g. torture, counter-terrorism, freedom of expression.
McDonald and Johnson have also formed a working group within the UN Human Rights Council Network, a nongovernmental organization. The CCJI co-directors agreed to co-chair this group, called Accountability of U.S. for Inaction on Racist Killings, which will examine Civil Rights Era killings and lynchings and suspicious police killings from the era of slavery until today.
“Ever since Congress enacted the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Act of 2008, we have been asking the FBI and the Justice Department to undertake a thorough search of all of the suspicious deaths that occurred during the Civil Rights Era,” states McDonald. “And now we will make the case to the international community because the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have failed to do so.”
The CCJI will be allowed a short presentation before the entire UN Human Rights Council in May if recommendations on its issues are adopted by member nations. If matters raised by CCJI are accepted by HRC, the U.S. government may be required to respond to questions crafted by CCJI and be asked to implement suggested recommendations.
The Emmett Till Act was named for a 14-year-old teenage boy who was brutally murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Money, Miss. Passed in a bipartisan vote in 2008, the act requires the Justice Department and the FBI to conduct intensive investigations during a 10-year period to identify and address the pre-1969 unsolved Civil Rights Era homicides. To date there has been only one conviction, when the state of Alabama initiated a plea bargain conviction under the act.
“The DOJ has failed to expeditiously conduct thorough investigations as called for in the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act,” says CCJI co-director Paula Johnson. “Suspects are dying, witnesses are dying and memories are fading. The families of these victims deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other people who have suffered a human rights violation. The United States can and should do better.”
The UNHRC Universal Periodic Review of nation member performance as regards protecting human rights occurs every four years for each member nation on a rolling schedule basis; the U.S. last appeared before the UNHRC in 2010.
CCJI co-directors believe the racial violence that the Till Act is designed to address did not end in 1969. Racial violence continued in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and continues today. “Black Lives Matter” is a rallying cry for justice for Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and also for the countless men and women who were victims of racial violence before and after 1969. McDonald and Johnson say this is why our nation must be held accountable.