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Preliminary Findings

One of the most interesting things I got out of the Green Party of Louisiana convention on Saturday was a press release distributed by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Strangely enough I can’t find this information on their website nor on the website for the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, so I thought I’d reproduce it here. It’s powerful, provocative stuff.

International Tribunal Issues Preliminary Findings
Bush, Blanco, Nagin Committed Crimes against Humanity

New Orleans—Between August 29, 2007 and September 2, 2007, a Tribunal of 16 esteemed jurists from nine countries, including Algeria, Brazil, France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela, and the United States, convened in New Orleans to hear testimony by experts and survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

After hearing nearly 30 hours of testimony by hurricane survivors and experts – covering government neglect and negligence in 15 areas, ranging from police brutality to environmental racism, from misappropriation of relief to gentrification, the jurists announced their preliminary findings.

Jill Soffiyah Elijah, the Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School and Coordinating Justice for the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, announced the Tribunal’s preliminary findings, “It is our view that the US Government has committed crimes against humanity particularly in relation to its failure to maintain functional levees that should have protected the City of New Orleans from flooding…. It was the reckless disregard and, in some instances, negligence of the US government, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans that created the devastation we continue to see today.”

Elijah also announced that the Tribunal made preliminary findings that the federal, state and local governments are guilty of violating the human rights to life, dignity and recognition of personhood; the right to be free from racial discrimination — especially as it pertains to the actions of law enforcement personnel and vigilantes; the right to return, resettlement and reintegration of internally displaced persons; the right to be free from degrading treatment and punishment; the right to freedom of movement; the right to adequate housing and education; the right to vote and participate in governance and the right to a fair trial, the right to liberty and security of person and the right to equal protection under the law. Both actions and failure to act by the governments had disproportionate devastating impact with respect to race and gender.

The jurists announced that they would deliver their final verdict December 8, 2007—the second anniversary of the Katrina Survivors’ Assembly. In the meantime, prosecutors will be submitting additional evidence and videotaped affidavits from an additional 25 survivors.

The prosecution team included experienced attorneys from respected legal associations around the country: the ACLU of New York, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the US Human Rights Network, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, Washington DC Legal Defender, Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Legal Empowerment Center and the Louisiana Justice Initiative.

The Tribunal Conveners — representing movements for justice on four continents — reminded Tribunal participants and witnesses of the solemnity of their task. Lybon Mabasa, a founding member with Stephen Biko of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, insisted, “We must hold these criminal governments to account in order to stop the world from sinking into barbarism and to make the world one where life is worth living.”

I’m sure this will rub some people the wrong way. But before you go flying off the handle, consider: Can you refute any of the above?

Published inKatrinaNew OrleansPolitix


  1. Rebunga Rebunga

    Pure Hokum. I listened to some of the recorded “testimony.” There was only a “prosecution” and no defense. Apparently no procedure to adhere to or any evidentiary rules. The prosecutor addressed the witnesses as “Brother” and the tribunal allowed witnesses to extemporate as to all sorts of things about which they had no personal knowledge. If you want to elevate storytelling to legal testimony, fine. But its putting lipstick on a pig.

    Furthermore, I didn’t see any testimony from sane and reasonable people who had enough sense to get out of the way of a Cat 5 storm. I didn’t hear any from the people whose businesses and homes were looted, but who still returned to rebuild. There wasn’t any testimony from homeowners who got flooded, had insurance, and rebuilt their homes, and got on with their lives Basically, there was no perspective from the silent majority of New Orlenians who love the city and are participating in its rebirth despite having to put up with the post-K BS (including nonsensical show-trials and whining activists).

  2. mark c mark c

    “It is our view that the US Government has committed crimes against humanity particularly in relation to its failure to maintain functional levees that should have protected the City of New Orleans from flooding…. It was the reckless disregard and, in some instances, negligence of the US government, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans that created the devastation we continue to see today.”

    i would just comment that you can’t “maintain” fundamentally flawed levees in ones that would work. The levee failure was due to design and construction flaws, not maintenance issues. This is what separates the Federal responsibility from the state and city.

  3. rcs rcs

    Is gentrification a crime against humanity now?

  4. Courreges Courreges

    It’s their job to substantiate, not anyone else’s job to refute. In any case, calling poor levee construction and poor disaster response “crimes against humanity” is preposterous. It cheapens the phrase, which is generally reserved for atrocities committed by dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.

    And I have to reiterate RCS — Gentrification is a “crime against humanity?” What the heck?

  5. Jon Konrath Jon Konrath

    It’s odd that this tribunal is laying blame on local, state, and national governments. Even an internationally sanctioned tribunal created by the UN security council like the ICTY or the ICC only has the power to try and punish individuals. It’s nice PR, but it’s not going to put anyone behind bars.

  6. David David

    This immediately lost credibility with me when they lumped Blanco in with Bush and Nagin. During Katrina, it was clear the Bush administration could not have cared less about what was happening to New Orleans. Up until that time, I’d thought of Nagin as a fairly competent leader. Now in retrospect, he was incompetence was similar in nature to Bush’s, though he at least seemed to give a crap.

    I’ve always viewed Blanco as the most able and responsible of the three leaders, one damned to have such incompetence above and below her, one limited by her poor rhetorical skills. I’ve never observed criticism of her that didn’t carry an air of mysogony.

  7. Krug Krug

    The Green Party elected Bush.
    That is when it lost all credibility for me.

  8. moishe moishe

    Ethnic cleansing? Crimes against humanity? Genocide? I can’t believe they left out the intentional blowing up of the levees. I have never in my life read such preposterous bullshit. My 80 year old mother’s house flooded to the roof in Lakeview, but she does not feel this was a crime against humanity. Why? Because 50 years ago her entire family was murdered by the Nazis in Germany. She knows what real genocide is and this ain’t it. The fact that so many people didn’t have the sense to leave town in the face of a major hurricane is not genocide, ethnic cleansing or a crime against humanity, it’s gross and complete stupidity. And the fact that this “tribunal” is trying to turn a flood into the Nuremberg Trials is an insult to the millions of victims of true genocide worldwide.

  9. Puddinhead Puddinhead

    “…violating the human rights to life, dignity, and recognition of personhood.”


  10. Frank Schiavo Frank Schiavo

    I went to the website– read this–

    “The International Tribunal is a critical step in the ongoing struggle for the right of return and a self-determining reconstruction process. Its intent is to expose the human rights abuses committed against the peoples of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by the US government and its agents and attain restitution and reparations for these abuses.” —

    Sorry people, a rant is coming—

    I appreciate non-biased examinations of our government and its handling of the levees, the storm, its aftermath & the continued recovery–such as it is- in our area. Even from countries with a political agenda. What I resent is the idea these abuses– valid or not— could be cured by simply throwing money at them or by hollow public spankings. The true fact is that when political groups such as this use words such as “restitution and reparations” what they are really saying is “what ever LITTLE is left after we pay all the lawyers, our operational overhead, our travel & hosting costs and all the expensive speaker & expert fees will go to those poor yokals and it will make us go away and give you a pass this time.”

    I am not interested in results that will pay for/justify the travel junkets of high-priced speakers, lawyers and PhD candidates and/or burnish the political careers of a muck-raking chosen few, the liberal-for-pay talking heads and or out-and-out nut-jobs but REAL solutions learned from the lessons of this disaster. Want I would have liked to see here–and maybe a few others would have as well—

    I want to see suggestions on mobilizing engineers to build lasting structures that protect neighborhoods AND issue reports that outline evacuation procedures for large, lower-to-mixed income urban areas that have large populations dependent on public transit for movement. I want to see international urban planners giving simple-to-implement programs to make use of current housing developments and/or ANY planned renovations so that ALL people can live/raise families in these communities in safety & dignity. I want to see challanges to governments to create planning centers for communty education & job opportunities so that people are on equal footing. And I would really like valid outlines for strengthening/creating local PAC’s [with real political muscle] that can make suggestions or calls to action to candidates running for office [at all levels of government] that the path to their victory is to address these problems. And if they should fail to address them– how showing local leaders about the development of unions, community groups, chruch centers and volunteer corps that can be called on to work in the community or even exercise strikes, sick-outs & boycotts when needed to prove to governments [and the businesses that support them] it is in their best interest to address these issues. These solutions worked in the past and offer real & lasting value, everywhere. We are one of the richest countries in the world. If Katrina/Rita/Federal flood/post-flood chaos can happen HERE imagine the “costs & fall-out” of such disasters in countries like Brazil, Venezuela, France and Algeria.

    I would have more solid faith in the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita if I saw any of that on the website or in their preliminary report. Nope –the major issue here isn’t about any solutions–it is about “restitution and reparations.” Unfortunately, often times these tribunals usually have two other real purposes– to distract/ occupy the time of the disenfranchised from pursing real solutions to their problems and to obfuscate the crimes of the countries that are acting as judges.

  11. OK, at what point do we finally assign blame where blame belongs??? Wasn’t it Hurricane Katrina that did all this damage in the first place??? I didn’t see that limp-dicked tribunal pass any judgment on the main perpetrator of the incident!

    It wasn’t the US Government that snuck up through the Gulf of Mexico, gathering strength every inch of the way, and eventually skull-fucking the innocent people of New Orleans. It was KATRINA! So if this “tribunal” had an ounce of integrity, they’d go after the fuckin’ bitch that opened the can of whupass in the first place.

  12. Jen Jen

    I met a couple from the Netherlands last evening, who have moved to Dominica after spending most of their lives safely living about 6 feet below sea level. When we discussed the N.O. levees, they just shook their heads in disbelief….

  13. nolalou nolalou

    I wish that it was as cheap to live here as it was before the levees failed. I wish that everyone who wanted to come back had a way to do so. I wish that someone would face prosecution for the lies we were told about the levees and our safety.

    But to compare this to deliberate atrocities such as the Holocaust, which they pretty much do, is to cheapen that tragedy and discredit the very legitimate anger that we have over what’s happened.

  14. nolalou nolalou

    p.s. if gentrification is a crime against humanity, then I, several members of my family, 95% of my friends, and – going out on a limb here – most readers of this blog will soon be spending long spells in the pokey.

  15. Thanks for the comments, people. Some good food for thought. But I’m a little disturbed that some of the comments seem to bear little connection to the actual document at hand.

    Three people have objected here to the equation of “gentrification” as a “crime against humanity.” The press release doesn’t actually say that, y’all. It says the jurists heard testimony about a range of subjects and that gentrification was one of those subjects.

    The notion that they’re making a comparison to the holocaust is also suspect. Moishe mentions “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” but those terms do not appear in the press release. I suspect these associations derive from the fact that the phrase “crimes against humanity” conjures images of Eichmann in Jerusalem. But in fact, “crimes against humanity” is a much broader term. It doesn’t refer to genocide only. The key thing is it has to be a widespread systematic practice.

  16. Frank Schiavo Frank Schiavo

    BTW, according to statistics at The Earth Institute website– the death statistics from the storm suggest that the largest single minority [isn’t that an odd way of putting it] of people killed as a result of Katrina were people 65 and older. No one at the conference/trial is speaking about this, however. Maybe what we are looking at should be how we should treat the aged in this community/country.

    Of course that doesn’t get the shocking headline grabbing press of charges of government sanctioned genocide [i.e. blowing up levees] or the stares of horror that go with the campfire stories of gangs of ethnic cleansers roaming the streets under police protection/sanction [as was suggested on the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita website] killing young men of color in our streets [but no one caught this on camera]. Heck, at least 35 seniors were left to drown in their own beds in St. Benard Parish and the only people that seemed to have been outraged about that were a few families and the nut-case state AG who is only upset beacuse he is near their age & wants to get elected again…

    So for this tribunal I just have to say, in the immortal words of one of the true speakers of wisdom in our age–“don’t believe da Hype!”

  17. Billy Billy

    I think that it is worth mentioning that the panel of esteemed jurists included Ward Churchill, who delegitimizes, in my mind, the value of the findings because he is so clearly dishonest and any forum that would seek to have him as a member is clearly motivated toward only the most shrill, confrontational outcome. Among Churchill’s many accomplishments is describing the WTC workers on 9/11 – who died miserable, undeserved deaths – as “little Eichmanns”. He is also the author of “Pacifism as Pathology,” clearly a text of great value to the terrorized citizens of our city. People like Churchill make rational debate impossible, delegitimize the political left, and have little wisdom to offer our city. With folks like him (and Charles Elloie, a judge found unfit to serve even in our fair city), it is impossible to begin to address the merits of the claims made by the tribunal as the members of the forum from which they arise was so clearly biased and incompetent. I say this agreeing with at least some of the generalities offered in the press release. As far as I am concerned, the Tribunal is yet another wasted opportunity for the people of the city.

  18. Well, B, your true colors have finally shown through. Since you seem to want to blame everyone for the Katrina Disaster EXCEPT Katrina, then I have to ask, ney, I demand to know why you are defending the storm that caused so much damage and death?!?!??! Yer sneaky, very sneaky, but I’ve got you figgered out.

  19. rcs rcs

    Three people have objected here to the equation of “gentrification” as a “crime against humanity.”

    Well, precisely speaking, I merely raised the question. Given their portrayal of the discussion:

    covering government neglect and negligence in 15 areas, ranging from police brutality to environmental racism, from misappropriation of relief to gentrification

    ..they do seem to be painting with an extremely broad brush. Provocative? Yes. Useful? Not really.

    And in my (admittedly limited) experience, gentrification is usually a product of market forces.

  20. Moishe Moishe

    Editor B: You are right, the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” do not appear in the press release. I got those terms from the letter the “tribunal” sent to George Bush, et al. Those are not terms I just made up. At any rate, I think the above comments did a fine job of deconstructing this “tribunal” to show it for what it really is: a bunch of hooey that distracts from the real issues at hand and will accomplish nothing of substance save for giving a bunch of people false hope. And that’s the last thing people who have lost everything need.

  21. Moishe, thanks for clarifying. You’ve obviously dug deeper than I have.

    And I do appreciate all these critical perspectives, even though I don’t agree with all of them. Thank you.

  22. toeknee toeknee

    Why are we still blaming the multitude that remained for not having the “sense” to evacuate? It was quite clear during the storm’s immediate aftermath that they clearly had no means to do so because they were poor.

  23. Garvey Garvey

    Billy–you forgot that Churchill is a plagiarist (and fabulist).

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