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The UN Warns the US Over Its Response to Charlottesville

White nationalist demonstrators walk through town after their rally was declared illegal near Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.
Steve Helber/AP

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called on the US to unequivocally condemn the racism and hate speech on Wednesday.

“We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred,” Anastasia Crickley, the Chairperson of CERD, said in a news release.

The committee urged the US “to address the root causes of the proliferation of such racist manifestations,” and called on the government “to investigate thoroughly the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting, in particular, people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants.”

Read more: 7 Things That Happened After Charlottesville That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

CERD is made up of independent human rights experts and is responsible for monitoring countries’ compliance with and implementation of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the US ratified in 1994.

Under this international treaty, the US is obligated to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people on the grounds of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. This means that everyone should be equally able to enjoy and exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms in all aspects of life — including political, economic, social, and cultural — and Wednesday’s warning reflects the UN’s concern that people of African descent in the US are not currently able to fully enjoy those freedoms.

The statement was issued as part of the committee’s early warning procedure and is intended to prevent the current tension and conflict in the US from becoming a “spiral into terrible events”  — the worst case scenario being genocide — Crickley said in an interview. The last time a UN-recognized genocide occurred was in Rwanda in 1994

Over the past 10 years, Burundi, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast are the only countries that have received this type of warning, according to the Guardian. However, this is not the first time the US has received such a warning. In 2006, CERD warned the US over its handling of a land rights conflict with the Western Shoshone tribe.

The statement does not explicitly refer to the violence that broke out during the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 12, but the timing of the statement and its specific references to “white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan” make the connection clear.

Read more: Here Are 9 Celebrities Who Are Totally Here to Stand Up Against Racism on Twitter

The committee called out “failure at the highest political level to unequivocally reject racist violent events,” echoing the public outcry over President Donald Trump's hesitation in publicly condemning the white nationalist protesters. His eventual condemnation of violence on “many sides,” which many understand as equating the violent white nationalist protesters with the counter-protesters, prompted further upset.

“I was horrified as well by the way leaders of that movement were able to state afterwards that they felt secure in their support,” Crickley said. “Whether freedom to publicly and collectively express neo-Nazi views and to chant racist hate speech in effect constitutes freedom of expression — I think that’s a question that needs to be seriously addressed in the USA.”

The warning calls on the government to conduct a thorough investigation of racial discrimination in the US, particularly discrimination aimed at “people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants.”