Dr. Esther Brimmer,
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of International Organization Affairs
H.E. Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi
President, United Nations Human Rights Council
Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Republic of Nigeria
I would like to extend a warm welcome to you and appreciate the fact that you’ve taken time to join us this afternoon.
would like to begin by welcoming our moderator and to say we’re particularly honored to welcome the President of the Human Rights Council to this event.
Ambassador, you have had a very very busy schedule and we know you made a special effort to be here so I want to thank you so much for taking time to join us and to be part of this event. I would like to invite you to open the session. Thank you.
Ambassador Uhomoibhi: Thank you very much, Dr. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs of the U.S. State Department. I could never have resisted Mark Storella and your good self, so whatever it took to be here I felt really I had to come.
Thank you also for the honor done to me personally as to the Human Rights Council for inviting me to moderate this event.
I would like to say a few words as I indicated I would. It is such a pleasure to have the United States come back to the Human Rights Council. This is not just for words to say, but it’s a sentiment strongly felt. Your absence was sorely missed. And so President Obama to have taken the first step of returning the United States back to where it really belongs, to the discourse of the foremost institution that deals with human rights is just so fit and so appropriate.
So I want to take the opportunity to salute the Obama administration and all those who have made this possible. We need your voice and we warmly welcome your presence.
With regard to the matter for the moment I also want to say a few words, and that is just to say again how appropriate it is that you have chosen this as a side event coming on the heels of the just concluded Durbin Review Conference. I want to applaud all the states that made that possible. I saw Yuri here a few minutes ago. All members of the international community that made sure that that program came off the ground.
We cannot run away from discussing [inaudible]. We cannot run away from discussing xenophobia, intolerance, and all that goes with those heinous social crimes. These are historic crimes, crimes that were yesterday that are there today and will be there until tomorrow until we take appropriate steps now to try to tackle them.
We are sad that some of our friends elected not to be part of this at this time, but we are encouraging them, now that the dust has settled, now that we have a productive outcome on the table, to take a hard look at what was produced and they will find that there are enough principles etched in the outcome document that will attract them to buy into it.
So the doors are open and we’re looking forward to those who were not part of this process to look at the documents, to look at the principle in those documents and see how they can come back to the process and apply those principles. Because we are all trying to gain by it. Here again, I think the United States has a lead role to play in encouraging those states and your government to be part of the outcome document.
The American Civil Rights Movement has inspired the fight against racism not only in the United States but across the globe. The wide range of non-violent protests in the 1960s promoted by the African-American Civil Rights Movement including the famous march on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963 became a symbol and a model to African descendants worldwide. There can be no doubt about the decisiveness, the result of the American people to build a society that is tolerance of all peoples and of all races, and that gives respect to all peoples and all races.
The recent election of the first African-American President in the history of the United States is an eloquent testimony of the resolve of the American people to deal with this matter. The world congratulates the United States, congratulates the people of that great country for standing up to this crucial issue and resolving it in the way that they have.
Perhaps only the United States would have done this without letting blood. It is incredible how a society of so diversity and complexity can take, can make, what you call that now, a [four-cycle] in the way it accomplishes its chosen goals at a given time in the way that election showed, in the way that you have showed.
So this new millennium has challenges that we face and we think that we will continue to need the United States and the United States will also need us, the rest of the world, in the language of partnership that President Obama has constantly re-echoed in all the corners of the world that he has visited including just yesterday in Cairo.
I just wanted to say this and to resume now my work of moderator.
I think the theme that you have chosen is also fitting and proper, “Race and Tolerance in the United States in the 21st Century”, and I want to welcome all participants who have come to this to exchange views on this matter including our featured panelists, Mr. Wade Henderson, Madame Karen Stevens, and your good self, Assistant Secretary of State.
Having made these preliminary remarks, I will now invite Dr. Brimmer to lead the discussion. Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Brimmer: Mr. President, thank you very much for that introduction and for your insightful views on this important subject. I’d also like to take a moment again and commend you on your leadership of the Human Rights Council over this past year and to say again how much the United States welcomes the opportunity to join this body later this year. Thank you.
I’ve mentioned I’m joined today also by two experts in this field. I will just make a few short remarks before we hear from our experts who have come from Washington, both Ms. Karen Stevens from the Department of Justice, and Mr. Wade Henderson. I know that we will benefit greatly. I’m very much looking forward to your remarks, so I will be relatively brief, but I did want to share a few particular points. But I’m grateful for both of them for flying from Washington to join us here in Geneva.
I must say, it’s an exciting time to be here. For us, the President’s speech was early in the morning yesterday, but it was a deeply moving moment to be able to hear that speech and I’m delighted we’ll be able to talk about these issues following the President’s remarks.
It’s a unique and timely opportunity to do so and a timely opportunity to explore the questions of race and tolerance in the United States. Questions appropriate to this venue and with added significance because of the role of the U.S. President whose election fulfills the promise and principles outlined in our founding documents.
For me I just say it’s hard to believe that it’s less than five months since the inauguration. In that time President Obama has repeatedly expressed his determination to reinvigorate U.S. engagement in the world. That engagement has been evidenced in the first days of the administration and most recently by the President’s speech yesterday in Cairo.
In his speech the President proposed a new beginning for the United States and for the Muslim communities around the world based upon mutual interest and mutual respect, and he underscored the common principles that bind all of us together. Principles of justice and progress, tolerance and dignity for all human beings.
Of particular relevance for our conversation today was a point he made early on in his speech about America’s troubled racial past, and I quote, “For centuries Black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence on the ideals at the center of America’s founding.”
It is that determination that brings us here today and that will propel our efforts to promote racial harmony and tolerance around the world. Geneva will be an important focal point for that effort.
We know it’s been a long spring, and we know that many of you were involved in the Durbin Review Conference. As you know, the U.S. sent a senior delegation to Geneva to evaluate the preparations for that conference and met with many of you during that process. We looked very seriously at the possibility of working with that document and also talking about concrete steps to combat racism.
That delegation met with 30 other delegations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other interested parties. We made this effort because this administration is strongly committed to dealing with racism issues and questions of discrimination.
As an element of that commitment we sought a forward-looking document that worked constructively to address racism, xenophobia, intolerance, without imbalance or reference to a single country, that would not overlook a grievous human rights crisis, and would not limit freedom of expression.
We realized, unfortunately, and I’ll say with great disappointment, we were not able to join the draft. We appreciate the importance of the conversations, the importance of talking about these issues, and after that experience we assured the world community that we heard what you said. We heard what’s important about these issues and we thought it was important to continue to engage on how we addressed these issues. And ladies and gentlemen, that’s why we’re here today, to make good on that assurance in a spirit of openness and candor. We want to continue to work on these issues and to work with you on these issues.
That event is just one element in our larger resolve to work actively and constructively on human rights and civil rights issues. This resolve is further evidenced by our decision to reengage in the Human Rights Council, currently as observers, and we were pleased and deeply honored to win a seat on the Human Rights Council itself, and we pledge to be strong advocates of the principles that President Obama outlined yesterday.
Those principles which are clearly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are also rooted in ideals that we share in the United States and that we continue to try to realize. Sometimes painfully. Sometimes with difficulty. But succeeding generations of Americans have addressed these issues.
We realize, as the phrase is used, that it’s been a long time coming. Some of the issues we’ve discussed today reveal the long distance we still have to travel before we can rest. While the U.S. treasures its freedoms, embraces its rich diversity and celebrates its history of struggle and progress, we know the struggle continues.
In joining the Human Rights Council we accept a role in reshaping and help direct the Council, along with other members. We also know that it’s been too often distracted by attention to a single conflict and too often has not been able to address all the issues of genuine international human rights concern.
But we also know that it has important processes, and we look forward to participation in our own universal periodical review in 2010. That will be an important effort in the United States, one of which I know our colleagues in the Department of Justice and the Department of State will be working together along with many others in civil society. The participation of my colleague from Department of Justice embodies the fact that this is an important issue for the United States.
In that regard I should also note that we have received the report of the Special Rapporteur’s Report, a draft report on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. We appreciate the Rapporteur’s Report and its constructive spirit and we look forward to discussing those findings today and in other important venues.
Ladies and gentlemen, with these initial comments, I would like to now yield the floor to Karen Stevens and Wade Henderson to discuss these issues in greater detail, and I look forward to your comments. Thank you very much.
Mr. Henderson: Actually, Madame Assistant Secretary, I think I’m going to go next, but thank you so much.
Mr. President, thank you for your very gracious introduction and to my fellow co-panelists, it’s an honor to participate in today’s program.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition in the United States. The Leadership Conference consists of more than 200 national organizations representing persons of color, women, children, organized labor, persons with disabilities, the elderly, gays and lesbians, and major religious groups. I’m also the Joseph Rau Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of the District of Columbia. I’m privileged to represent the civil and human rights community here today to talk about the changing nature and continued resonance of issues of race and discrimination in the United States.
Now although our country is young, the struggle for equality in the United States has been long. We have had many victories and countless setbacks. Through it all, our work has been rooted in and inspired by civil and human rights struggles around the world. We are therefore very pleased that the United States has joined the Human Rights Council and we are hopeful that this renewed engagement with the world around human rights issues will result in greater progress both at home and around the globe.
The election of President Barack Obama has been a watershed moment for all of us. President Obama is an African-American who spent a significant portion of his professional life as a civil rights lawyer and advocate. For the first time in memory we have a President who understands our movement from the inside. We have a leader who embraces the need for strong engagement on human rights issues, both at home and abroad.
The President’s historic speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt is the best example of that engagement.
This kind of engagement sends a powerful message of hope, dignity and possibility in this country and all across the planet. He is changing the way that the world thinks about America, the way that White Americans think about Black Americans. And the way that Black Americans and I suspect members of every racial and ethnic minority, think about themselves. We have a moment in history that we cannot squander.
More than two years ago during the Voting Rights Commemoration in Selma, Alabama, President Obama acknowledged that he is a member of what he called “The Joshua Generation” that is continuing the journey that “The Moses Generation” began. This, once again, begs the question that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asked decades ago which is, “Where do we go from here on our journey toward justice?”
I think the answer is simple. We should revel in the progress that we have made; recognize the problems that remain; and rededicate ourselves to continuing the journey toward fulfilling our nation’s finest founding ideas.
For many years the Leadership Conference has been engaged in both domestic and international work to promote dignity, equality, and justice for all. We advocated for U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and submitted shadow reports in response to the U.S. government’s reports in 2000 and 2007. We coordinated NGO involvement in the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe around combating racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and related forms of intolerance. We participated in the preparatory meetings and NGO Forum at the World Conference Against Racism in Durbin, South Africa in 2001, and most recently urged the U.S. government to participate in the Durbin review process.
This level of international engagement has helped strengthen our work at home in significant ways. It has also confirmed our belief that there is a serious need for a new international effort to combat racism and discrimination.
Our Civil Rights Movement in America started simply. African-Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities wanted the right to equal access to educational opportunities, the right to vote, the right to use public services, the right to be treated fairly in the workplace, and to buy or rent a house in any neighborhood we could afford. We demanded the fulfillment of the promise of our Constitution -- full and equal citizenship. We wanted dignity and our fair chance at achieving the American dream.
More than half a century later our goals are yet unmet. While we have made real progress in every area, the finish line is still well in the distance.
For example, education in America remains largely segregated by race and racial disparities, [tracked] opportunity disparities in communities across the country. Too many of the schools and low income and minority communities in America are the opposite of opportunity. Their buildings are decaying. They are not wired for the internet. The teachers often are not qualified for the subjects that they teach, and the classrooms are overcrowded. Together with their hardships at home, the inadequacies of public schools in communities across the country to a long way toward explaining why 50 percent of Black and Latino students in America drop out of high school.
The only places in America more racially segregated than the public schools are our prisons and jails. Today while African-Americans and Latinos make up approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population, more than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their 20s, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the so-called war on drugs in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. If current trends continue, one out of every three African American males born today can expect to go to prison. From racial profiling to discrimination in prosecution and sentencing, our criminal justice system is failing the minority community and along the way ruining the lives of countless numbers of African-American and Latino children and adults.
We also know that if quality education is the door to opportunity, then persistent poverty is the starkest reminder of the denial of opportunity. Even before the recession began official statistics showed that over 12 percent of the population, that is 36.5 million people, were officially poor. Other reports show the number to be closer to 17 percent. By either measurement there are far too many poor people in America. Ultimately the moral challenge of our time is to lift up those who labor for low wages or are unable to find work. That challenge, to lift up the least among us, was Dr. King’s final mission when he journeyed to Memphis, Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers and gave his life before he had completed his work.
Now the civil and human rights community and the entire nation also faced the challenge of fixing our immigration system. Every reasonable person agrees that the system is broken. Every reasonable person agrees that the answer must not be to scapegoat some of the most vulnerable people in our country who do difficult jobs for low wages, no benefits, and few rights in their workplaces or their communities.
We strongly believe that legalization for the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States is a civil and human rights imperative that cannot be ignored.
We also can’t lose sight of the fact that more than 45 million Americans, including a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos are uninsured and that millions more live in fear that their coverage, that is their health coverage, will be cut back; that costs will be increased; or that they will lose their insurance when they lose their jobs. We need universal health coverage in America, beginning with every family with children at home. And we need to make sure that health care professionals and health care institutions are accessible to people in minority and low income communities.
We also must protect the right that makes it possible to defend all other rights, and that is the right to vote. Later this month the United States Supreme Court will decide whether a key aspect of our Federal Voting Rights Law is constitutional. Now while many of us thought this battle was long ago won, our current Supreme Court is not so sure. If we lose this fight the implications for racial justice in voting will be profound.
In recent months the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, that is the Education and Research Arm of the Civil Rights Coalition, has issued three important reports analyzing contemporary civil and human rights challenges.
The first examined the need to reform the United States Civil Rights Commission and revive its role as the conscience of our nation. This report outlines the Commission’s significant achievements, assesses its challenges, and examines the role that structural and political changes and the evolving complexities of civil rights issues have played in the work of the Commission. At its conclusion the report makes recommendations for the future of the commission, including reviving it as a civil and human rights monitoring body.
Last fall the Civil Rights community issued a report examining the state of fair housing in America. This report examined what has been going wrong with fair housing enforcement that has led to the persistence of residential segregation across our country and makes concrete recommendations for reform.
Finally, the Education Fund has just completed its forthcoming report on hate crimes entitled “Confronting the New Faces of Hate -- Hate Crimes in America”. This report concludes that violence committed against individuals because of their race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation remains a serious problem in the United States.
In the nearly 20 years since the federal government started collecting statistics on incidents of hate crimes, the number of hate crimes reported has consistently ranged at around 7500 a year or more and nearly one every hour of every day.
However, and of particular concern, the number of hate crimes committed against Latinos and those perceived to be immigrants has increased each of the past four years for which the FBI has data available. And hate crimes committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation has increased to its highest level in five years.
Now of course hate crimes are by no means just an American phenomenon. They are on the rise in many countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union where government responses in most countries across the region have been inadequate. Beyond tackling hate crimes at home it is incumbent upon the United States to demonstrate international leadership to promote the adoption and effective implementation of hate crime laws, improve the response of governments to hate violence, and help build the capacity of civil society organizations to complement and support these government efforts.
The preparation and conduct of the United Nations Durbin Review Conference highlighted the challenges of discussing and tackling issues of race, ethnicity and discrimination within the UN framework. The conference began, unfortunately, on a bad note as the anti-Western and anti-Semitic remarks made by the President of Iran were precisely the sort of incitement that the Durbin Review Process was meant to combat.
But the approval of an outcome document from which the most harmful paragraphs were removed is an achievement that should not go unnoticed. Today we call on states to take what was included in the outcome document and advance human rights protections through the work of the Human Rights Council in partnership with those states who chose to stay away from the conference.
Together with its partners and allies within the international community, the U.S. administration must try to break the mold of regional voting blocs that lie in the Human Rights Council where predictable positions are often adopted and advocated in the name of regional solidarity. Opportunities can be created to unite African, Asian and Latin American countries to adopt independent positions. That is the way forward for new coalitions to slowly emerge around a core set of human rights issues, uniting countries rather than dividing them.
The quest for common ground can yield results but only if political agendas are pushed to the side. Indeed, there are human rights abuses that concern all states such as the alarming rise of hate crimes and racist motivated violence that touches upon every region of the world, affecting individuals from all racial, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds. This is a core human rights issues where the U.S. could enhance its international leadership in part by taking further steps to address this issue at home.
Much work remains to be done to advance human rights and civil rights both at home and abroad. As a country, we have traveled a great distance along the path of racial reconciliation toward the goal of social justice and cohesion. However, our racially defined history of injustice still shapes today’s realities. Racism and racial discrimination continue to impact the lives of Americans and the international community as a whole, and while the manifestations may be different from one country to another, the problem is a collective one and it requires a collective solution.
I’m hopeful that the United States government’s reengagement in the work of the Human Rights Council be an important step toward that end. Together our goals for civil and human rights for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation are more than just dreams. They must define our future.
Thank you very much.
Ambassador Uhomoibhi: I thank Mr. Wade Henderson for his statement.
Let me now give the floor to Karen Stevens. Karen is Counsel to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights. You have the floor, Madame.
Ms. Stevens: Thank you, Mr. President. Assistant Secretary Brimmer and Mr. Henderson, it is a great honor and a real pleasure to be here with you today to talk about this important topic.
As Mr. Henderson alluded to, the struggle for civil rights in the United States began many many years ago, but the time period in the 1950s and ‘60s was a real watershed. The Civil Rights Division celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2007. It was founded in 1957 when the then Attorney General asked a small group of attorneys in the department to come together in the sort of aftermath of the Brown V. Board of Education which held by our Supreme Court that separate but equal facilities in education did not fulfill the requirements of our Constitution for equal protection of the law. That decision was unanimous and was resounding, but it was not implemented in the years following the decision. It was met with a great deal of resistance by individuals and by the state governments in our country. People who had fought for that right and who had attempted to follow through on its promise were met with violence and harassment and attacks. A small group of attorneys was brought together to begin to look at how to make this decision a reality and how to protect the people who were suffering for trying to procure the rights that had been proclaimed by our courts.
From that time 50 years ago and a small group of attorneys, we now have approximately 700 employees. About half of those are attorneys. We are primarily based in Washington, D.C., but we enforce the laws throughout the United States and we have the assistance and are supplemented by attorneys in 90 what we call U.S. Attorneys Offices which are spread throughout the United States and are people based in the local communities.
We enforce laws that prohibit discrimination in several areas in education, in housing, employment, that prohibit cruel and unusual punishment, police misconduct, that address the Constitutional requirements for conditions of confinement in prisons, nursing homes and other state institutions, and we also enforce criminal laws such as hate crimes laws, human trafficking and other criminal civil rights provisions.
Our laws prohibit discrimination on a wide variety of bases -- race, color, religion, sex, and disability. And for us in particular, many people here have alluded to the historic moment with the election of President Obama, but for us in the Civil Rights Division this is a particular exciting and auspicious time to be working in civil rights. In addition to our new President we have a new Attorney General. His name is Eric Holder. He worked closely with Mr. Obama on the campaign. And Mr. Holder started his career in the Department of Justice prosecuting corruption in government. He also served as a Judge in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., and as a prosecutor. He’s also an African-American man. He’s very familiar with both sides of the problem that the criminal justice system faces -- the crime and the impact on communities, but also as Mr. Henderson alluded to, the real devastation and the kinds of poverty and lack of educational opportunities that contribute to sort of these manifestations. He’s worked for decades on both sides of this to try and bring real solutions to people.
The Department of Justice is a very large, for Washington, D.C., kind of old and grand building. Not as grand as the palais, but as you walk in, and I’ve been there for 15 years now, at every entrance there are two large photographs. One is of the President of the United States, and one is of the Attorney General. For all of us I think, but particularly for those of us in the Civil Rights Division, beginning in February to walk into that building and see President Obama and Attorney General holder, two African-American men charged with leading our country, enforcing our laws, and keeping us safe, has just been overwhelming. I think for many, from the highest attorneys in the department to the secretaries and the paralegals, there is a real sense of possibility and hope and joy. But with that also comes a real sense of responsibility and obligation and I think both the President and the Attorney General are very conscious of that and have worked very hard to make all of us aware of it. I think it’s that spirit that is pervading the government and brings us here today. It’s very, again, more inspiring to see it not just on a local level, but here on an international level today.
The Attorney General has actually visited -- The Civil Rights Division is spread out, as Mr. Henderson will know, over several buildings in Washington, D.C., and in his first few months Mr. Holder has actually come and visited every office that we have in person and spoken to the employees. He’s really stressed his commitment to civil rights and the rule of law. He has told us this is a high priority for him, that this is a legacy issue for him, that he wants to lead the division not just where it used to be but make it the best that it has ever been. They’ve backed that up.
The way that our budget process works, the President requests a certain amount of money for different departments and purposes, and it’s up to the Congress to vote on that and approve it. We are still in the midst of that process for 2010, but the President has requested an additional $145 million to go to civil rights enforcement in 2010. This is at a time when the United States, as I’m sure in many countries, is suffering a lot of economic challenges and many other agencies and other divisions in the Department of Justice are facing freezes or cutbacks. But the President and the Attorney General made it known very early and very clearly that they wanted more civil rights enforcement. Again, with the action of Congress we expect to have the money and the additional attorneys and the other kinds of resources that will allow us to go out and do more of the kind of work that we all need to do.
Another thing that Mr. Holder has emphasized is his commitment to education. He told the story in his visit that his sister-in-law, a woman named Vivian Malone who passed away several years ago, was actually one of the young women who integrated the University of Georgia in the 1960s when universities were still segregated by race. It’s one of the iconic scenes in United States civil rights enforcement. Ms. Malone and other students were actually met at the doors of the university by the then Governor -- Sorry, this is a different state. But again, there was massive resistance to these people, African-Americans, coming into college. The local officials stood in the doors and claimed that they would not stand for allowing Blacks to go to school with Whites. So for Mr. Holder I think in particular and others of that generation, I tell that story to say that this is a very personal, deep and meaningful commitment to them and we all feel that and I’m sure that we’re going to be pushed to do even more.
In terms of what that has really meant since January for us in the Civil Rights Division, we have opened two investigations into local police departments -- one in California in a city near Los Angeles; and one, the county that surrounds Phoenix, Arizona, which is one of the largest counties in the United States and is very close to the border of Mexico. These are just investigations at this point, but again, they involve allegations of police misconduct and racial profiling that we will be investigating and making determinations about.
We have a renewed emphasis on employment discrimination. Our traditional employment discrimination looking into allegations based on race and looking into large-scale systemic problems that are driven by what we call intentional discrimination but also considering, again, what we call disparate impact which is the more subtle kinds of discrimination that sometimes may be even harder to identify and fight.
We have been working to expand our hate crimes laws so that the existing laws which cover crimes motivated by race, religion and color will be expanded and we will be allowed to enforce more of these cases across the country and not be limited to very particular kinds of crimes that also had to be linked to activities like voting or attending school or going to a restaurant that’s open to the public. The hate crimes law would also add new categories such as disability, gender identity and sexual orientation.
We’ve been talking to minority businesses and their representatives about the programs that are in existence in the United States that allow or require the federal government in some cases to consider and offer additional assistance and sometimes extra consideration to small businesses that are owned by minorities. Those programs have been challenged in the United States very often. We have not been as active in defending those programs. We are now authorized and directed to both defend those programs very vigorously, and also to try and work with the agencies that actually administer the contracts to make sure that the programs are being designed in a way that will make them effective and legal.
We’ve also been able to meet more often with groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and other civil society organizations to get their input and to consult with them so that we can do the work that we need to do in conjunction with them.
We’ve been continuing work that began in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th, doing outreach to Muslim, Seik, Arab-American and others of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent who really faced a backlash and a large increase in targeted attacks following 9/11. There are still sometimes violent attacks motivated on mosques and on individuals and threats, and we continue to investigate those and prosecute them where we can. But we also really established a dialogue.
We have something called the Rights Working Group which brings in probably 20 representatives of these different groups every six to eight weeks, and we sit down with them in a room with representatives of other agencies like the State Department, like our Department of Homeland Security, like our Department of Transportation that enforces security on the airlines, and with our immigration officers. Again, we in the Civil Rights division aren’t empowered to solve the problems that these groups have with those agencies, but what we can do is bring people together in a room, give them an identified contact, try and help them elevate these concerns to the level where they can be addressed and they can at least get an answer even if it’s not always the answer they want to hear. I think, again, while it hasn’t addressed all of the concerns that people have, people do appreciate the chance to communicate, to know who they’re talking to, and it helps to resolve things and air things more quickly.
I have here and there are out in the hallway some brochures as part of that effort related to the 9/11 backlash and other attempts to sort of address the fact that the United States, like much of the world, is changing. While the iconic civil rights struggle involved the rights of African-Americans, we are a very diverse country and becoming more diverse all the time. Our laws cover discrimination based on national origin but we were concerned that particularly for immigrants in these kinds of communities who aren’t as familiar with the United States legal structure and aren’t familiar with a construct in which they’re allowed to press their claim with the government, that we weren’t reaching them effectively. So we put together a group that tries to think about their concerns across our different agencies. These brochures, which are in several different language, explain to people what their rights are, how they can file a complaint, and where they can go for help.
I look forward to your questions. I’m going to conclude now so you all have time to speak.
But again, I want to thank everyone for having us here. We really welcome this dialogue and your questions and your ideas and we welcome the chance for you to hold us accountable. I think that’s really what this moment is about and we’re glad to be here.