Geneva | Racial tension and inequality across society are preventing the United States from meeting its ideals, a UN expert said following his first-ever visit to the country.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, also voiced serious concern on overly aggressive policing which he said has at times stifled the right to legitimate protest.
He also levelled tough criticism at a foreign workers visa programme, claiming it gave far too much power to employers over their workers and comparing it to a system in the Middle East widely viewed as oppressive.
Racism and the exclusion, persecution and marginalisation that come with it, affect the enabling environment for the exercise of association and assembly rights, Kiai said in a statement after a 17-day US tour which included stops in Washington, New York, Baltimore and several southern cities.
Echoing previous UN criticism, he blasted America’s so-called ‘War on Drugs’, which he argued disproportionately affects blacks and other minorities, including harsh sentencing guidelines that often see minor drug offences result in long prison terms. There is justifiable and palpable anger in the black community over these injustices. It needs to be expressed, Kiai said in the statement.
Rights to free expression in the US had been curbed by unnecessarily aggressive and militarised policing at some peaceful assemblies, Kiai added. On migrant workers, the UN expert said the H2B visa programme which lets foreigners take short-term seasonal work was not unlike the Kalafa system in the Arab world, a form of bonded labour, roundly criticised by rights groups.
The situation of migrant workers throughout the United States is characterised by the precariousness and exploitation of their employment situation, retaliation for drawing attention to adverse working conditions and a fear of taking action to seek improvement of the violations, the UN expert said.
Kiai insisted that now was the moment when a robust defence of free assembly in the US was most needed. People have good reason to be angry and frustrated at the moment, he said in the statement.
Subscribe to our email newsletter.