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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor > Releases > Report Concerning the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Opening Remarks by Wan Kim on the Report Concerning the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Opening Statement UN Human Rights Committee

Wan Kim, Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice

July 17, 2006
Geneva, Switzerland

Madame Chairperson and Members of the Committee:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today. It is a privilege to join my distinguished colleagues from the Departments of Justice, State, Homeland Security, Defense, and Interior to discuss the United States’ implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. My years at the Department of Justice have impressed upon me a deep and abiding respect for the enforcement of our nation’s laws. Foremost among these are our civil rights laws, which stand for some of our highest collective ideals and aspirations. It is my pleasure to come before the Committee and discuss the protections afforded by these laws.

The United States has a profound and lasting commitment to freedom and equality. This commitment is manifest in myriad ways, including in my very presence before this distinguished Committee. As the first Korean-American to become an Assistant Attorney General at the United States Department of Justice, and the first immigrant to head the Civil Rights Division, I am quite tangible proof that America’s promise of equal opportunity is real.

As the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, I head the office charged with the primary enforcement responsibility of our Nation’s federal civil rights laws. As members of the Committee well know, Articles 2 and 26 of the Covenant require equal protection of the law. In the United States, this protection is afforded primarily through the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that a state may not, "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," and the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Specific rights are protected elsewhere in the Constitution and through various civil rights statutes. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and disability, among others.

Next year, the Civil Rights Division will celebrate its 50th anniversary. And nearly 50 years after its inception, America is a very different place because of laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.The United States Government believes in the right of every American to partake in every aspect of a free society free of unlawful discrimination. In the Civil Rights Division, our constant mission and daily work is to enforce these fundamental protections.

From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, criminal civil rights prosecutions, and desegregation in America’s schools to protecting the rights of those in custody and the rights of those with disabilities – the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Division embodies the principles upon which this Covenant was founded. In enforcing these laws, the United States Government has reached a significant level of accomplishments in the area of civil rights. I am proud to highlight a few examples of our achievements:

  • We have filed more cases to protect the rights of voters under the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act in this Administration than in the previous 26 year history of the Act;
  • We have launched the most extensive election monitoring effort in history to protect the sacred right to vote, a right at the core of our democracy;
  • We have more than quadrupled the prosecutions of human trafficking offenses. And with months still remaining in the current fiscal year, the Department has already convicted more trafficking defendants this year than in any other single year on record;
  • We recently brought more criminal civil rights cases in a single year than in any other year in the Division’s history;
  • We have ensured the fairness and integrity of law enforcement by more than tripling the number of settlements negotiated with police departments across the country in the past five and one-half years and convicting 30% more law enforcement officials for criminal civil rights violations;
  • We have vigorously enforced the rights of institutionalized adults – including inmates in state prisons and residents of state mental facilities - and juveniles. We have resolved a record number of these matters in a recent year, and ensured the constitutional and statutory rights of thousands of persons. And in matters involving children committed to juvenile justice facilities, this Administration has increased the number of settlement agreements by 50 percent, has more than doubled the number of investigations, and has more than doubled the number of findings letters issued;
  • We are bringing more cases challenging a pattern or practice of employment discrimination this year than during the three years from 1998 through 2000;
  • We filed the first lawsuit since 1990 alleging racial discrimination in education under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act;
  • We have authorized over 30 percent more investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) in the past five and one-half years than in the previous comparable time frame;
  • We have vigorously protected the rights of persons with disabilities, having negotiated agreements 146 agreements with states, cities, and townships across the country, and having brought lawsuits to create more than 12,000 housing opportunities for persons with disabilities in the past five and one-half years – accomplishments that far outpace our prior figures;
  • We have nearly doubled the number of pattern or practice sexual harassment cases brought against landlords, one of which resulted in the highest jury verdict we have ever obtained under the Fair Housing Act;
  • We have issued regulations that require the recipients of federal funds to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs by persons with limited English proficiency.

During President Bush’s tenure, the Justice Department also has promoted new initiatives aimed at equal protection of the laws in areas regarding human trafficking, housing opportunities, disability rights, and religious liberties.

The U.S. Government’s fight against human trafficking is a priority of the President and the Attorney General. I am personally very pleased to lead the team with primary prosecutorial responsibility in this area. The President has declared this pernicious crime a moral and national security imperative requiring an effective strategy to combat it both abroad and within the United States. This effort is a civil rights priority for the Department because it strikes at our Nation’s core value -- the right to freedom as promised in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the 13th Amendment of the Constitution.

The Justice Department has built an impressive record of prosecutions. Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery. And considering that many trafficking victims are women and minorities, the Division's commitment to protecting society's most vulnerable members has never been stronger.

In the last five years, the Justice Department has more than quadrupled the enforcement of human trafficking cases. And, with 2.5 months remaining in the current fiscal year, the Department has already convicted more trafficking defendants this year than in any other single year on record. Attorney General Gonzales recently released a report documenting the Department's activities to combat human trafficking between fiscal years 2001 and 2005.I encourage members of the Committee and observers at today’s session to read this report, which sets forth our accomplishments, but also recognizes that we have much left to do to fulfill President Bush’s directive that we eliminate this atrocious crime.

Recently, the Department successfully prosecuted a case against two brothers, Josue Flores Carreto and Gerardo Flores Carreto, securing prison sentences of fifty years each for compelling young Mexican women and girls into prostitution in brothels around New York City. These sentences are representative of only the most recent victory in a comprehensive federal campaign to combat human trafficking, enhanced by the new laws and victim protections set forth in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The Department has implemented a successful initiative to fight human trafficking that combines aggressive federal prosecution with compassionate outreach to trafficking victims.

The Division is also working to ensure that all Americans have an unfettered chance at the American dream by having access to the housing of their choosing. Massive efforts have been made by the Division to protect citizens from discrimination following Hurricane Katrina. Attorney General Gonzales, because of the plight of displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina who were suddenly forced to find new places to live, announced "Operation Home Sweet Home" – a concentrated initiative to expose and eliminate housing discrimination. This new initiative will focus and expand the Civil Rights Division's Fair Housing Act testing program. In describing the program, the Attorney General stated, "We will investigate suspected offenders, with testing visits designed to expose discriminatory practices. Over the next two years we will bring the number of these targeted tests to an all-time high, ensuring the rights of all Americans to fairly obtain housing." One of the key components of Operation Home Sweet Home is to conduct concentrated testing for housing discrimination in areas recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina and in areas where Katrina victims have been relocated. However, the initiative is nationwide in scope, and includes areas that have experienced a significant volume of bias-related crimes, such as cross burnings or assaults on minorities.

In addition, while my time is limited and I cannot go into great detail, it is important to note the diligent work and effort put forward by the Justice Department to address the myriad civil rights issues that arose as a result of Hurricane Katrina. We have devoted time and vast resources to safeguard the voting rights, conditions of confinement, accessibility, and educational opportunities of those affected by this tragic natural disaster.

Next, since January 2001, when President Bush signed the New Freedom Initiative, the Civil Rights Division has achieved results for persons with disabilities in over 2,000 actions under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the past five years, we have achieved 146 settlement agreements with 139 communities in Project Civic Access - a Department of Justice initiative designed to promote accessible public buildings, programs, and services. Through Project Civic Access, nearly 2 million Americans with a disability will live in accessible communities. In furtherance of the President’s New Freedom Initiative, the Division has also opened 27 investigations involving enforcement of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), regarding the unjustified isolation or segregation of institutionalized persons with disabilities. Moreover, in comparison with the previous five and one-half years, the Division has increased the number of nursing home investigations by more than 80%.

I want to address another area that historically has been neglected. Religion is a protected category in almost all off of the statutes that we enforce, although few religious discrimination cases have been brought until this Administration. We have worked diligently to ensure proper enforcement of these protections, bringing cases of religious discrimination in all the areas assigned to our jurisdiction. The Department has actively enforced the land-use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).RLUIPA, passed by Congress in 2000, protects houses of worship from discriminatory or unjustifiably burdensome zoning regulation. The Department has reviewed 118 RLUIPA cases since 2001, launched 26 full-field investigations, and filed three lawsuits.

Importantly, the Department has also protected the religious rights of students, including the rights to be free of harassment based on religion, the right of student religious clubs to meet on an equal basis with other clubs, and the right of students to be excused for religious observances. The Civil Right Division brought suit, for example, in Oklahoma to allow a Muslim girl to wear her Hijab to her public school. The Department has been active in numerous other areas, including upholding the right of senior citizens to pray before meals at a senior center, winning the right of Jewish bus drivers and other Sabbath observers to have their needs accommodated by the Los Angeles MTA, and protecting Muslim tenants in San Francisco from harassment from their neighbors

As I have attempted to make clear, since its inception nearly 50 years ago, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has been an integral part of American history. It has carved out a path to ensure that each and every person is protected from discrimination and guaranteed the right to participate in elections. It has ensured that offenders of the federal criminal civil rights statutes are held accountable for their disgraceful, often violent conduct. Our history has not been without periods of profound turmoil. In the end, our system of laws has prevailed and our accomplishments are worthy of immense pride.

The United States has developed a system of legal protections against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion, among others. And I can commit to this Committee that we will remain vigilant in rooting out and punishing those who break these laws enacted to protect the civil rights and equality our Constitution and legal system guarantees all citizens. As President Bush has proclaimed, "At the dawn of this new century, America can be proud of the progress we have made toward equality, but we all must recognize we have more to do."

Let me conclude with a few words from Abraham Lincoln, a father of the civil rights movement in America. President Lincoln charged the country in 1865 with words ever applicable to the work of the Civil Rights Division today:" With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds ...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

I look forward to further discussing the goals of the United States legal system in eradicating discrimination, as well as the goals of the Covenant.

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