Buford Daniel is no lawyer. He has no background in politics. Like multitudes that endured and witnessed the human suffering during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, largely due to the United State’s disregard for the mostly Black and Indigenous residents of the Gulf Coast, he was angry.
That anger fueled his desire to go beyond declaring that America had violated the basic human rights of its citizens, to identifying those rights and bringing them before the world court at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March. He immersed himself in the subject daily with Internet searches, phone calls, reading and reflecting. Rev. Buford spoke to Final Call Staff Writer Charlene Muhammad about his shadow report on the violations, which he recently presented to the UN Human Rights panel in Geneva, Switzerland.
Final Call (FC): How did you come to present a shadow report to the UN Commission?
Reverend Buford Daniel (BD): I was the only one out of 22 people before the UN this March at the New York City sessions to speak on Katrina. A lot of times we speak the rhetoric of human rights violations, but don’t do the extra homework to find out what the UN’s procedures are. I’m just me, with my concerns and the people I’m attached to in New Orleans.
Our institute, the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, has been working to bring human rights violations Blacks suffered during Hurricane Katrina to the world stage.
FC: Please detail your shadow report.
BD: It was presented to the Geneva conference in July and provided background information regarding issues that state governments or U.S. governments are to be dealing with. The committee hears from the official report from the government, and then a report from people who work in human and civil rights, non-governmental organizations.
As a result of what was presented in March, they came out with a list of issues to be taken up in connection with the second and third periodic reports from the U.S. and there were 25 separate and distinct issues. Question No. 16 dealt with Hurricane Katrina and they paraphrased the conclusion of my report and used it as a template for cross-examining the State Department, Homeland Security and others.
FC: How many violations did you expose?
BD: Seventeen separate and distinct violations–from the protection of families to the protection of children and many other issues. I matched the human rights experiences of our people with the appropriate statutes of the treaty, called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The United States’ response was a non-response and basically to do with treaties the same thing the president is doing with signing statements, saying that I follow this part; and these parts, I don’t feel bound to follow them. Internationally, the U.S. will add a reservation to the end. On this ICCPR Treaty, they said it does not apply to torturing folks at Guantanamo and outside of the U.S., but there was an explicit and complicit admission that the treaty does apply to things that happen in the U.S., such as Katrina and racial profiling.
That’s what we wanted to hear them say–that it applied to the U.S. and U.S. citizens, because as U.S. citizens, we think that we are fully covered by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But obviously, the Constitution and Bill of Rights have not been sufficient to cover our human rights, and that’s where the language of the various UN treaties comes in.
FC: Why is it important to get the suffering around Hurricane Katrina into international dialogue?
BD: As a result of these questions being raised about Hurricane Katrina, that somewhat miraculously, the federal government started releasing funds that it had been holding up on Hurricane Katrina housing, according to the international press July 18.
Within a week of that, a Louisiana judge announced that he would free poor criminal descendants incarcerated in New Orleans. The way they had been holding them was unconstitutional because their trials had been delayed. Those convicted of petty crimes and misdemeanors ended up in jail for months and months because there was no paperwork, judges and defenders to adjudicate these trials. The judge said the releases would begin case by case, starting on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
FC: To what do you attribute this?
BD: The U.S., even though it criticizes the UN, obviously cares what the UN thinks. My complaint in March also talked about displaced people having voting rights violated, and Louisiana being a state covered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The same week we were in Geneva, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to pass it every 25 years. Whatever you think about it having to be renewed for 25 years, the thing is, Republicans had been fighting this tooth and nail, yet it was voted on.
The complaint also discussed the euthanized elderly. While in Switzerland, prosecutors announced that they would indict the people responsible. There’s a direct connection between those things being announced and the issues being raised in Geneva, Switzerland.
FC: What’s next?
BD: The people of New Orleans can footnote their struggle with the fact that the UN has acknowledged the treaty violations and that the U.S. has acknowledged that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf are covered by UN treaties. What that further means is that we can cite it and hopefully use the mobilization of shame, which seems to work at the international level. The U.S. does not want to lose face in the international community over human rights violations. We first need to know what our human rights are. We want the U.S. to be held to the same standards it holds the rest of the world to when it comes to human rights standards.
Since the U.S. has proven itself unable to hold itself accountable, as Black people we have no choice but to appeal to an international authority. We’re not just citizens of the U.S.; we’re citizens of the world. And this is something that Minister Farrakhan and others have been trying to get folks to see. If you look at it from a pan-African perspective, we are one folk all over the world and human rights violations in one country is no better than human rights violations in another country. Just because the U.S. has a constitution that protects civil rights, it doesn’t exempt it from protecting our human rights.
(Contact Reverend Daniel Buford for more information about “The Hurricane Katrina Human Rights Violations” via email at [email protected].)