Human Rights

History of Redress in the United States

In 1947, the NAACP submitted a petition to the United Nations demanding redress for the “denial of human rights” to Black people in the United States. The petition, edited by W.E.B. Dubois and inspired by a separate petition prepared by the National Negro Congress, was published a year before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and decades before the development of an accompanying body of human rights instruments within the United Nations. These appeals for accountability, and the legacies of advocacy they’ve left behind, are the crux of the African American Racial Redress Network project.

Despite a long history of unwillingness in the United States to intentionally examine injustice within its borders, the U.S. is party to several human rights treaties that recognize rights relevant to racial discrimination and remedy for the violation of these rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) were ratified by the U.S. respectively in 1992 and 1994, albeit with reservations that complicate how the treaties can be practically applied. These human rights treaties codify the right to nondiscrimination on the basis of race; the ICERD defines racial discrimination and demands U.N member states prohibit discrimination, and both treaties outline the right to remedy in cases of discrimination and human rights violations. 

Human Rights Framework for our Map

We aim to ground the mapping of U.S. racial redress for anti-Black racism within the international human rights framework. To do so, this project draws upon the following categories of reparations, as defined by Resolution 60/147 and the International Commission of Jurists:

  • Restitution: measures that restore victims to the original situation before they suffered gross violations of international human rights law…for example, restoration of liberty, identity, family life and citizenship, return to one’s place of residence, restoration of employment and return of property
  • Compensation: a monetary quantifiable award for any economically accessible damage…as appropriate and proportional to the gravity of the violation and the circumstances of each case
  • Rehabilitation: medical and psychological care as well as legal and social services
  • Satisfaction: a broad category of measures ranging from cessation of violations, truth-seeking, the search for the disappeared, recovery and reburial of remains, public apologies, judicial and administrative sanctions, commemoration and memorialization, and human rights training
  • Guarantees of non-repetition: a broad category including institutional reforms…strengthening judicial independence, the protection of human rights defenders, the promotion of international human rights standards in public service, law enforcement, the media, and psychological and social services.

The bulk of the current map reflects remedies that fall under Satisfaction, namely apologies, truth-seeking initiatives, and commemorations and monuments that shift historical narrative. Commemorations and monuments include the addition of markers, ceremonies, and monuments, as well as the removal of Confederate monuments to the Confederacy. The term Satisfaction, of course, does not imply that the actions taken are sufficient to repair generations of harm induced by enslavement, nor does the term indicate that actions are received satisfactorily by all parties involved; it merely frames how this apology would fall under the international legal definitions of reparations. Compensation in the current entries has occurred in local instances most frequently through scholarship funding. Although few, there are instances that we believes fall under Restitution and Guarantees of non-repetition through institutional reforms. Understandably, there remains significant work needed to redress centuries of injustice and dismantle oppressive systems and culture.

Virginia Civil Rights Monument

For More Information

For more information about actions taken by the United Nation to address systemic racism and racial bias please visit:

“Here we are in the 21st century defining race again. The truth is this; our race is one made up of humans, we come in many colors, languages, influences and places on our home planet. We were made for this Earth, which supports all of our needs. We must become better steward and caretakers.  We as humans find ourselves in characters from a classic story, we can all be the lost Dorothy, empty headed Scarecrow,  the heartless Tin Man and the cowardly Lion, but it was Toto who exposed the Truth … the great and powerful lives in YOU.”

Mélisande Short-Colomb