WASHINGTON, Sep 2 2014 (IPS) - A United Nations panel reviewing the U.S. record on #racial #discrimination has expressed unusually pointed concern over a new pattern of laws it warns is criminalising homelessness.
U.S. homelessness has increased substantially in the aftermath of the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities. Yet in many places officials have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping or even eating in public, while simultaneously defunding social services.
The new rebuke comes from a panel of experts reviewing the United States’ progress in implementing its obligations under a treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly referred to as #CERD or the race convention.
“The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities,” the CERD panel stated in a formal report released on Friday, “and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.”
This was only the second time that the United States’ record on race relations and discriminatory practices, and particularly the federal government’s actions in this regard, have been formally examined against the measuring stick of international law.
The panel not only called on the U.S. government to “abolish” laws and policies that facilitate the criminalisation of homelessness, but also to create incentives that would push authorities to focus on and bolster alternative policy approaches.
The CERD findings were actually the second time this year that new U.S. laws around the criminalisation of homelessness have been criticised at the international level. Similar concerns were expressed by the Human Rights Committee, which warned the cumulative effect was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”.