U.N. Panel Takes U.S. to Task Over Katrina

By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER
The Associated Press
Friday, July 28, 2006; 2:46 PM

GENEVA -- The United States must better protect poor people and African-Americans in natural disasters to avoid problems like those after Hurricane Katrina, a U.N. human rights panel said Friday.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee said poor and black Americans were "disadvantaged" after Katrina, and the U.S. should work harder to ensure that their rights "are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to access to housing, education and health care."

The United States said federal and Louisiana state authorities were examining many of the issues raised by the committee.

In New Orleans, activists praised the U.N. report at a news conference in the predominantly black Gert Town neighborhood, which remains heavily damaged by the hurricane.

Monique Harden, co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, urged the U.N. to examine the treatment of black and poor Gulf Coast residents, and said the committee's findings were important to recovery efforts in the region.

"It's a wake-up call, and it's also a call for change in the way the United States government has been handling this recovery," Harden said.

She and other advocates said former residents continue to fight for a chance to return to the city, where housing shortages have kept away many lower-income people.

"The United States has to do something more than just show itself once and while," said Ronald Chisom of the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Harden said that, although the committee has little power to force the U.S. government to make changes, she believes that such reports can improve human rights by influencing U.S. decision-makers.

"We believe having the U.N. on our side will have a tremendous effect on turning the U.S. government around," she said.

The U.N. panel said it wants to be informed of the results of inquiries into the alleged failure to evacuate inmates from a prison, and into allegations that authorities did not allow New Orleans residents to cross a bridge into Gretna, La.

It offered no further specifics about problems it found with the Katrina response, or possible solutions.


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