In conjunction with this week’s annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, five UN Special Rapporteurs have released a letter questioning the Los Angeles Police Department’s repeated arrests of a human rights activist participating in peaceful protest activities. These arrests subject activist Steve Richardson to intimidation and degrading treatment and appear to violate international human rights protections of freedom of speech and assembly. The UN expressed “regret” at the U.S. non-response to date, re-issued its request, and asked the U.S. to ensure an environment that assures fundamental freedoms.
The February 23 letter, released this week and addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gives the United States 60 days to answer Los Angeles Community Action Network’s (LA-CAN) and National Economic and Social Rights Initiative’s (NESRI) claims that the Los Angeles Police Department has repeatedly arrested Richardson to degrade and quiet him.
Factual allegations, cited in the LA-CAN/NESRI complaint and by the UN Rapporteurs, include the following arrests of Richardson:
- A March 2008 forceful arrest while Richardson peacefully participated in a LA-CAN program monitoring the LAPD’s treatment of homeless persons on Skid Row;
- A May 2010 arrest in the L.A. City Council chambers while Richardson and others chanted opposition to a legislative scheme to raise the rents of low-income tenants;
- An August 2011 arrest while Richardson was drinking coffee outside of a University of Southern California building where he was attending class.
In each of the arrests cited above, the police department first brought felony charges against Richardson that were either dismissed by judges or District Attorneys but could have resulted in a life sentence. City Attorneys have brought up to 11 charges on one incident, resulting in jail time and a two-year probation sentence in one instance. The probation status now puts Richardson at higher risk for re-incarceration due to reduced rights for those on probation and parole, yet he bravely continues to speak out actively against human rights violations in his community.
Deborah Burton, a member of LA-CAN and longtime colleague of Mr. Richardson (commonly known as General Dogon), was encouraged by the letter, “This country has a long history of individuals like Dogon who worked for change. We must not forget that the human rights struggles of the past are linked with the struggles of today. We are pleased that the human rights abuses by LAPD and the City Attorney against Dogon have reached international attention and we expect our government to meet its obligation to resolve this situation.”
The UN letter to the U.S.was signed by Frank LaRue and Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteurs on the protection of free expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, who are testifying before the Rights Council this week. Kiai expressed regret on the lack of U.S. response to date. Additional authors include Raquel Rolnik, Margaret Sekaggya, and Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteurs on the right to adequate housing, situation of human rights defenders, and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, respectively.
Peter Sabonis, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative works in partnership with communities to build a broad movement for economic & social rights, including health, housing, education and work with dignity. Los Angeles Community Action Network helps people dealing with poverty create & discover opportunities, while serving as a vehicle to ensure they have voice, power & opinion in the decisions that are directly affecting them.