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Monday, February 25, 2013

The whole world is watching

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 21 other worldwide human rights leaders tell Supreme Court: Uphold the Voting Rights Act

One of the most memorable moments during the long struggle against apartheid in South Africa came in May, 1994, on the day Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President. Standing beside Mr. Mandela, another hero of that struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu proclaimed, "We are free today! We are free today! All of us, black and white together!"
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Nearly 20 years later, Archbishop Tutu is speaking out for one of the most fundamental freedoms in the United States: the right to vote. He has joined with 21 other prominent human rights leaders from around the world to sign an open letter to the Supreme Court. They are urging the Court to uphold a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. As they note in the letter: "America's leadership in voting rights has been a beacon of hope for millions around the world who have made their own sacrifices for freedom and democracy."

Alliance for Justice is honored to join with the Institute for Policy Studies and the NAACP in sending the letter to the Supreme Court and distributing it to the public. Our joint statement, and a link to the full letter, follow:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 25, 2012 - In an unprecedented show of international interest in a Supreme Court case, 22 of the world's most prominent human rights leaders want the justices to know: The whole world is watching. This week the United States Supreme Court hears a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark American civil rights law.

Those leaders, from 22 countries on five continents, including South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, sent an open letter to the Court urging the justices to uphold a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The letter was released prior to the Court’s oral arguments by the Institute for Policy Studies, Alliance for Justice and the NAACP.

"Beyond your borders, the global march toward justice will suffer grievous harm should you surrender to those who seek to disenfranchise American citizens," the letter says. "We urge you to heed the United States Congress' judgment that continued federal enforcement of the voting rights guaranty is appropriate and necessary."

"On Wednesday, the whole world will once again be watching as the Supreme Court deliberates over one of the most fundamental rights for people everywhere: the right of all people to vote," said John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies.

"The Voting Rights Act is the keystone in the arch of protection for people of color in the United States," said Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice. "This letter makes clear that the law also is a beacon of hope for people around the world. We call on this Court to recognize that the Voting Rights Act is as necessary now as it was on the day it became law."

"Voting is the cornerstone of any democracy," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, "We live in a world of ever-increasing diversity. Every nation, including the United States, must seek the best means of protecting the rights of each minority, regardless of the size of that group. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has proven to be the best tool for ensuring all Americans are full and equal members of our democracy. We must make sure it is always available to ensure the integrity of our elections."

"The possibility that the conservative wing of the Supreme Court will eviscerate the 1965 Voting Rights Act threatens the ability of Americans of color to freely participate in their government, erasing years of struggle and the sacrifices of many," said Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the NAACP. "The United States would lose whatever standing we have gained in recent years, and our country would be held in ridicule worldwide."

The court is hearing a challenge to Section 5 of the Act. This part of the law requires certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain advance approval before changing voting rules or procedures. Covered jurisdictions that demonstrate a record of applying their voting rules fairly and equitably can apply to be exempted from this provision.

The letter cited recent efforts to restrict voting during the American presidential election, noting that "the widespread efforts to enact new voting restrictions, with known and intended discriminatory effects, confirms that America still has need of flexible federal power to halt new attempts at disenfranchisement."

The letter was signed by human rights leaders from:
Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Italy, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, United Kingdom.

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