Saturday, July 29, 2006
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Committee on Friday urged U.S. lawmakers to give the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress, saying the lack of such representation appeared inconsistent with international law.
The rebuke came in a report released by the committee in Geneva on Friday which said residents of the U.S. capital deserved to take part in government affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives under the 1992 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The District of Columbia has been without a voting member of Congress since its founding as the national capital in 1790 because it was specified by U.S. Constitution as a federal district that was not part of any state.
D.C. residents were not allowed to vote in presidential elections until 1961, when a constitutional amendment was ratified.
Today the city's standard car license plates bear the slogan, "Taxation without representation." The U.S. Census Bureau recently revised its 2005 estimate for D.C.'s population upward to about 582,000 from 550,000, marking the first increase since 1950.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee said it "remains concerned that residents of the District of Columbia do not enjoy full representation in Congress, a restriction which does not seem to be compatible with article 25 of the Covenant."
"The State party (the United States) should ensure the right of residents of the District of Columbia to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in particular with regard to the House of Representatives," the panel said.Voting and human rights advocates welcomed the statement and hoped it would boost support for a bill to give Washington a seat in the House of Representatives.
Timothy Cooper, executive director of Worldrights, said the statement also could provide the basis for legal challenges to the prohibition on voting representation.
"No longer can the U.S. hide from its international obligations," Cooper said. "It should act to right this human rights wrong without delay."
The House Judiciary Committee this week scheduled a September 14 hearing on a bill that would create two new House seats, one for heavily Democratic D.C. and one for Utah, the largely Republican state that was next in line for a new seat based on 2000 Census Bureau data.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the House Government Reform Committee in May but needs approval from the judiciary panel, where it faces a tougher fight, before it can advance to the House floor.