Gert Town residents return from activist trip in Switzerland, New Orleans City Business

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By April Capochino
They had to travel across the world to get the help they needed, but in the end, it paid off.

In front of a Gert Town home that had collapsed like an accordion six months ago, Gert Town residents and community activists spoke about their recent trip to Geneva, Switzerland, where they convinced the United Nations Human Rights Committee that the U.S. federal government violated the human rights of poor, African American people post-Katrina.

The U.S. has to wake up and do what they’re supposed to do, said the Rev. Lois Dejean, a 70-year-old lifelong resident of New Orleans and part of a delegation of Louisiana and Mississippi residents who traveled to Geneva two weeks ago.

After hearing testimony from Dejean and other displaced New Orleans residents, the UN concluded that the U.S. should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people and in particular African Americans are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to accesses to housing, education and healthcare, according to the report.

The report also said that the Human Rights Committee wants to be informed about questions into the alleged failure to evacuate prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison as well as the allegations that New Orleans residents were not permitted by law enforcement officials to cross the Greater New Orleans Bridge to Gretna after the storm.

In one year, the U.S. government will have to report on how it has implemented the committee’s recommendations on Hurricane Katrina.

It is vital that the people in the Gulf Coast demand the U.S. has a year to follow up on the recommendation and implementation of this, said Monique Harden, co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans. Harden also traveled to Geneva.

During the news conference Friday, a crew of construction workers contracted out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stood by the house, waiting for the news conference to conclude. They began tearing it down at about 11 a.m.