Dulles, Virginia — The history of the disaster that submerged “The Big Easy,” in 2005 has already been written. In it, race plays a greater role than the real problems exposed by Katrina — the failure of government at all levels and the unwarranted faith citizens place in bureaucracy. Now, the New Orleans race card is being played again — this time by busybodies beyond our borders.
This month, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued its opinion on Katrina’s aftermath. “The Committee,” the report states, “remains concerned about the disparate impact that [Hurricane Katrina] continues to have on low-income African American residents, many of whom continue to be displaced after more than two years after the hurricane.”
Opining on the matter was not enough for the international know-it-alls — they further blessed us with their recommendation on how to fix the perceived ills. The United States, they said, should “increase its efforts in order to facilitate the return of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina to their homes.” Short of that, the U.S. must “guarantee access to adequate and affordable housing,” for Katrina victims.
The criticism was too much for Louisiana Senator David Vitter. “Once again, the UN has decided to inject itself into the New Orleans public housing debate, even though some of the UN advisors who have been critical of the recovery process have never actually been on the ground to see things first hand,” Mr. Vitter responded.
Vitter was referring to Miloon Kothari, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and Gay McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues. On February 28, from their international ivory tower in Geneva, the two issued a statement saying they were “deeply concerned” about the public housing situation in New Orleans and its impact on African-Americans.
Specifically, the two object to the razing of four public housing projects in the city, which would make it possible to erect new facilities. They denounced the demolition and stated that for African-American residents, it results in “the denial of internationally recognized human rights.” Preventing former public housing residents from returning to their homes because of project demolition, they said, “would in practice amount to an eviction” — an action prohibited by “international human rights law.” These international ombudsmen then demanded that “the Federal Government and State and local authorities…immediately halt the demolitions of public housing in New Orleans.”
That the United Nations makes these demands of an American community is appalling. It is compounded when one learns that David Hammer, a staff writer with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, spoke to the two global critics and confirmed that “they haven’t been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.”
“We haven’t done a formal fact-finding in New Orleans,” Kothari admitted to Hammer. “The intention of our statement was to raise issues, to say, look these are the problems, and we expect a formal response from the State Department.”
The State Department should tell Kothari to pound sand. Mayor Ray Nagin is perfectly capable of handling the situation. (Check that. Actually, he’s not, but he was elected by the people, and in the U.S. that is how our system works.) Had Kothari & Company done any fact-finding, they would have learned that, according to a Housing Authority of New Orleans survey, only 20 percent of residents want to return to the public housing unit in which they resided prior to 2005. They might have also discovered, as David Hammer reported, that the public housing demolitions were approved by the New Orleans City Council.
These same irresponsible tactics were used by the UN in 2006. Then, the UN Committee Against Torture issued scathing report on the U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, demanding the facility be closed, even though none of the UN inspectors actually visited Gitmo.
Mr. Vitter wants a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to determine if the United Nations is focusing on the correct priorities. He is not going to get his hearing anytime soon. But I can give him his answer — no, housing issues in New Orleans are none of the UN’s business. Nor are race relations, discrimination, health care, education, border enforcement, employment, interpretation of the First Amendment, or the application of the death penalty the business of the United Nations. Each of these issues, as practiced in the United States, was criticized in the UN’s report.
Vitter is on the right track however — the UN should be held accountable. Otherwise, it seems Congress is spending billions of dollars that are only being flushed down a Turtle Bay toilet.