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U.N. urges U.S. to stop police brutality after Missouri shooting

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.

"Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing," Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson - a St. Louis suburb - and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.

"The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown," said Amir, an expert from Algeria.

"This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials."

The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made "great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination" but conceded that "we have much left to do".

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.

Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

"STAND YOUR GROUND" LAWS

In its conclusions issued on Friday, the U.N. panel said "Stand Your Ground" Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to "remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense".

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.

The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.

"The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police," it said, urging investigations.

The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.

Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted "shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.

"When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

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