The right to return : human rights discourses, treaty organizations, and Hurricane Katrina
Jessica Marie Van Horne
May 13, 2015
Department or Program
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans on August 29th, 2005, the United States came under fire for its mistreatment of poor black citizens in the storm’s aftermath. Among those accusing the United States of racial discrimination was the Committee of the International Convention on Eliminating all Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD. The interactions between CERD and the U.S. exemplified some of the issues human rights treaty bodies like CERD face in ensuring compliance without the aid of enforcement mechanisms, especially when dealing with a uniquely powerful state like the U.S. This inability to enforce adherence leads bodies like CERD to depend upon the power of norms for shaping public opinion and state policy; however, it can be difficult to determine whether norms have successfully influenced public thought and thus spread international conceptions of human rights. My research examines the discourses used by activist organizations, both local and national, and newspapers as a tentative method of determining whether human rights norms have been successfully proliferated among American institutions. By looking at the discourses these institutions did or did not invoke in their coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, I then discuss where CERD has successfully influenced American thinking regarding racial discrimination and where it has not. Furthermore, I examine what these results imply for future courses of action for treaty bodies as they look towards further protecting and promoting human rights both within the United States and elsewhere.