This was the first time the committee had invoked the procedures — which allow it to comment on fast-moving events — since last year, when it condemned “reports of killings, summary executions, disappearances and torture, many of which appear to have an ethnic character,” in Burundi.
The committee called the Charlottesville violence, which took place mainly on Aug. 11 and 12, “horrifying” and said it was “alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by individuals belonging to groups of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred.”
The committee cited two victims by name: Heather D. Heyer, 32, who was killed when a driver plowed a car into a crowd, and Deandre Harris, 20, who was savagely beaten by white supremacists wielding poles.
An Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, has been charged with second-degree murder over Ms. Heyer’s death. The committee urged that “all human rights violations which took place in Charlottesville, in particular with regards to the death of Ms. Heyer, are thoroughly investigated, alleged perpetrators prosecuted and if convicted, punished with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime.”
The committee also called on the United States to identify and address the root causes of racism and to thoroughly investigate racial discrimination, in particular against “people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants.”
Although doing so is rare, this was not the first time the committee has invoked the urgent-warning procedures in response to events in the United States.
In 2006, it expressed concerns about the Western Shoshone, a Native American community that had filed a complaint against President George W. Bush’s administration as part of a long-running land dispute.
The committee monitors compliance with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the United States joined in 1994.
The urgent-warning procedure allows the committee to react without waiting for the periodic review of a member state’s conduct, which typically occurs every four or five years, according to Andrew Clapham, professor of public international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
The United States has clashed with the committee in the past; in 2009, it withdrew from a world conference on racism over concerns that it would be used as a platform to criticize Israel.
The American Constitution offers robust protections for racist speech (but not for incitements to violence), while some European countries explicitly prohibit neo-Nazi and other bigoted rhetoric.
In its condemnation of the Charlottesville violence, the United Nations committee urged that First Amendment protections not be “exercised with the aim of destroying or denying the rights and freedoms of others,” or “misused to promote racist hate speech and racist crimes.”
But that call is unlikely to change anything in the United States. As part of the committee’s most recent assessment of the United States, in 2013, the committee criticized the lack of a law banning racist hate speech. It also raised concerns about underreporting of hate crimes by victims to the police, and called for improvements in data collection and training.
The United States helped set up the United Nations as World War II came to an end, but has had a fraught history with the multinational body. Before he became president, Mr. Trump dismissed the organization as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
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