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16. Hurricane Katrina and Violations of ICCPR Articles 6 and 26, ICCPR Coalition Report

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Hurricane Katrina and Violations of ICCPR Articles 6 and 26: A Response to the
Third Periodic Report of the United States of America1

Introduction
1. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast area of the United States on
August 29, 2005.2 The resulting floods, deaths, displacement, and humanitarian
crisis made this hurricane one of the most devastating the United States has ever
experienced. The public watched on their televisions as death and destruction
unfolded in New Orleans and its surrounding areas. The question asked by nearly
every viewer during those days was, “if the media can get there, why can’t any
assistance? Why are these people dying?” The fact was that assistance could reach
the people of New Orleans. It simply didn’t.
2. Although death and destruction was inevitable given the magnitude of this
hurricane, a great many deaths were a direct result of the State party’s failure to
provide adequate evacuation plans, evacuation assistance, and humanitarian aid.3
These failures constitute a violation to the State’s obligation under article 6 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the “Covenant”) to protect,
and fulfill the right to life. Further, the failure of the State party to provide
appropriate remedies to the victims of article 6 violations constitutes a separate
violation under article 2, paragraph 3 of the Covenant.4
3. In addition to violations of the right to life, the State party also violated article 26
by violating the principle of non-discrimination in the way it prepared for
Hurricane Katrina. The State party’s evacuation plans discriminated on the basis
of property ownership, which resulted in discrimination based on race.5

1

By Jean Carmalt, Esq; jcarmalt@u.washington.edu. This response is to the following report: United States
of America. Third Periodic Reports of States Parties due in 2003. U.N. Doc. No. CCPR/C/USA/3 28
November 2005 (hereinafter “US Report”).
2
Please see Appendix A for a complete timeline of events surrounding Hurricane Katrina.
3
A bipartisan Congressional report found that the Bush Administration failed to take the needed initiative
required for adequate governmental response to Hurricane Katrina. See Select Bipartisan Committee to
Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. A Failure of Initiative: Final Report of
the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina.
U.S. House of Representatives 102nd Session (February 2006) (hereinafter “Failure of Initiative”). For a
copy of this report and all other sources cited in this Response, please see the enclosed CD-ROM.
4
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and
accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966. Entry into force 23 March
1976, in accordance with Article 49 (hereinafter “the Covenant”). See also United Nations Human Rights
Committee. General Comment No. 31: Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties
to the Covenant (hereinafter “HRC General Comment 31”): 26/05/2004; CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 at
paragraph 15.
5
United Nations Human Rights Committee. General Comment 18: Non-Discrimination. (hereinafter “HRC
General Comment 18”): 10/11/89.

1

The Legal Framework
4. The legal basis for holding the United States responsible for deaths associated
with Hurricane Katrina stems from article 6, paragraph 1, which reads: “Every
human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.
No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”6 The right to life should be
interpreted broadly.7 Like other rights, the right to life does not entail the right to
be alive, but instead entails an obligation on the part of the government to do
everything possible to prevent arbitrary loss of life within its jurisdiction.8 The
obligation focuses on what measures a government takes to respect, protect, and
fulfill the right to life. In all instances, the State must ensure that the right is
carried out “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language,
religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or
other status.”9
5. The State has an obligation to respect the right to life by ensuring measures it
undertakes to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life do not entail discrimination of
any kind. A State party violates its obligation to respect the right to life when the
measures it takes to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life are defined along
discriminatory lines, or when those measures result in discriminatory impact.10
6. When a State enacts measures that threaten life along discriminatory lines, the
State may also violate the obligation in article 26 to ensure that all persons
receive equal protection of the law without discrimination.11 By
disproportionately exposing one group of people rather than another to
deprivation of life, the State party will violate the right to life. By
disproportionately favoring one group over another in terms of receiving the
benefit of government policy, the State party will violate article 26. Thus, in the
6

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and
accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966. Entry into force 23 March
1976, in accordance with Article 49.
7
Human Rights Committee General Comment 6: The right to life (article 6) (hereinafter “HRC General
Comment 6”). CCPR General Comment 6 (1982) paragraph 1 reads: “The right to life enunciated in article
6 of the Covenant has been dealt with in all State reports. It is the supreme right from which no derogation
is permitted even in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation (art. 4). However, the
Committee has noted that quite often the information given concerning article 6 was limited to only one or
other aspect of this right. It is a right which should not be interpreted narrowly.”
8
See, e.g. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment 14: The Right to the
Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Article 12). Paragraph 8 of that Comment provides a similar
analysis to the right to health: “The right to health is not to be understood as a right to be healthy. The right
to health contains both freedoms and entitlements. The freedoms include the right to control one’s health
and body, including sexual and reproductive freedom, and the right to be free from interference, such as the
right to be free from torture, non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation. By contrast, the
entitlements include the right to a system of health protection which provides equality of opportunity for
people to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.”
9
ICCPR, article 2(1).
10
HRC General Comment 18, paragraph 9 urges State parties to report on discrimination in fact in addition
to discrimination in law when reporting on article 26.
11
ICCPR, article 26(1).

2

case of natural disasters, evacuation plans may give rise to both article 6(1) and
article 26(1) if they both discriminate in their provisions and result in
discriminatory exposure to arbitrary deprivation of life.
7. A State must take all possible measures to protect against loss of life in cases of
natural disaster, in the same way it must enact those measures in cases of
epidemics and infant mortality.12 The United States has interpreted its obligation
to protect the right to life broadly in accordance with the Committee’s
recommendations in General Comment 6. Thus, the U.S. interpretation of the
right to life includes protecting the life of fetuses,13 the terminally ill,14 and
victims of crime.15 By including this broad array of instances in which life may be
threatened in its understanding of its obligation to protect the right to life, the
State party provides a broad interpretation of that obligation in its Report to the
Committee.
8. In addition to taking measures to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life in instances
where the State does not control threats to life, a State must fulfill the right to life.
The United States has also interpreted this obligation broadly in accordance with
the recommendations of the Committee in General Comment 6. Thus, the US
Report to the Committee includes under its evaluation of article 6 those laws that
provide assistance and compensation to victims.16 By interpreting article 6 to
include provision of compensation and assistance for victims of crime, the State
party demonstrates both its broad interpretation of article 6 requirements and its
interpretation that article 6 violations require the State to implement appropriate
remedies for victims under article 2, paragraph 3 of the Covenant.
9. The broad interpretation applied to article 6 by the State party applies in the
context of natural disasters. This is true regardless of whether the State party
declares a state of national emergency, because article 6 is a non-derogable right
according to article 4, paragraph 2 of the Covenant.17 Thus, in the context of a
natural disaster the government has a broad set of obligations including but not
limited to (1) taking non-discriminatory measures to prevent loss of life from the
disaster, (2) taking all possible measures to minimize loss of life in the aftermath
of the disaster, and (3) providing assistance and compensation for victims of
Covenant violations that arise in conjunction with the disaster.

12

Id. at paragraph 5.
US Report, supra note 1 at paragraphs 97 and 98.
14
Id. at paragraphs 99 – 101.
15
Id. at paragraphs 115 – 119.
16
US Report, supra note 1 at paragraph 115, 120-125; 42 U.S.C. 10601 et. seq.
17
Covenant, supra note 4 at art. 4.
13

3

The State party failed to respect the right to life and the principle of nondiscrimination by creating an evacuation plan that was discriminatory in nature
10. As discussed below, the State party failed to respect the right to life because its
hurricane evacuation plan discriminated on the basis of property by only
providing a policy for those residents who owned personal vehicles.18 In Orleans
Parish, discriminating on the basis of ownership of private vehicles equated to
discrimination on the basis of race, since African Americans were over twice as
likely to be without a personal vehicle than whites.19
11. Americans have long been aware of the threat faced by the low-lying city of New
Orleans from large floods.20 The City faces particular dangers because it lies
below sea level and because it is protected by levees that are not designed to
withstand large storms.21 Because of these threats, the State party had an
extensive evacuation plan for many of the people living in the New Orleans
metropolitan region, and in the forty eight hours leading up to the hurricane, it
successfully executed that plan so that over 1.2 million residents who owned
personal vehicles were able to evacuate from the region.22 The scale of the
evacuation plan reflects the State party’s concern about the potential for lifethreatening damage in the event of a Category 3 or above storm, which officials
knew could result in a levee breach that would swamp the city of New Orleans.23
12. Nonetheless, the State party’s evacuation plan made a clear distinction on the
basis of property ownership by only providing for the evacuation of those
residents who owned personal vehicles.24 Those who lacked personal
transportation – approximately 19% of the City’s residents – were not provided
for in the evacuation plan constructed by the State of Louisiana and associated
federal agencies.25 The message to the most vulnerable New Orleans residents
from those responsible for evacuating residents was so clear that local newspapers
told vehicle-less residents “in the event of a major hurricane, you’re on your

18

State of Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan Supplement 1A: Southeast Louisiana Hurricane
Evacuation and Sheltering Plan (revised January 2000) (hereinafter “Louisiana Hurricane Plan”) at II-2,
paragraph 5. Available at: http://www.letxa.com/katrina/EOPSupplement1a.pdf.
19
U.S. Census Bureau. Census 2000 Summary File 3 (SF 3). Tables HCT033A001, HCT033A002,
HCT033A003, HCT033B001, HCT033B002, HCT033B003.
20
For example, Mark Twain noted in 1883 that, “ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the
world at their back, cannot … save a shore which [the Mississippi River] has sentenced”. Mark Twain, LIFE
ON THE MISSISSIPPI at 302 (1883). Although Twain was referring to the New Orleans levees being built on
the Mississippi side of the city, his observation nonetheless illustrates the awareness many Americans have
had that New Orleans is particularly susceptible to severe flooding.
21
See e.g. Louisiana Hurricane Plan, supra note 21 at II-1.
22
Failure of Initiative, supra note 3 at 82.
23
Id. at 81.
24
State of Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan Supplement 1A: Southeast Louisiana Hurricane
Evacuation and Sheltering Plan (revised January 2000) (hereinafter “Louisiana Hurricane Plan”) at II-2,
paragraph 5. Available at: http://www.letxa.com/katrina/EOPSupplement1a.pdf.
25
Id.

4

own.”26 Recognizing the threat, the State party distributed DVDs to those
residents without transportation, urging them to find a nearby charity in the event
of a large storm.27
13. Those persons who lacked personal transportation were disproportionately
African American. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 39,340 (35%) of African
American households did not have a personal vehicle, while only 10,286 (15%) of
white households in New Orleans were without a vehicle.28 African Americans in
New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina were approximately 228% more likely to
be without a personal vehicle than whites.29 Therefore, an evacuation plan that
discriminated on the basis of personal vehicle ownership disproportionately
impacted African Americans. Because the State party’s plans entailed
discriminatory impact that constituted a direct threat to the right to life, that plan
violated the State’s obligation to respect the right to life under article 6(1) of the
Covenant. It also violated article 2(1) because the State party failed to apply the
rights of the Covenant without discrimination.30
14. Since the evacuation plans created discrimination in fact, the State party also
violated article 26 because it created a policy that failed to provide equal
protection without discrimination. African Americans were significantly more
likely than others to be affected in some way by the hurricane because of the
evacuation plan in place. The fact that African Americans were significantly less
likely to own personal vehicles than whites is directly related to the systemic
poverty that faces African Americans throughout the United States.31 In the case
of Hurricane Katrina, 73% of the people affected in Orleans Parish were African
American.32 According to the 2000 Census, African Americans made up 67% of
the population of New Orleans.33
15. A Congressional investigation into Hurricane Katrina concluded that the failure to
fully evacuate the New Orleans area was directly responsible for hundreds of
deaths and severe suffering for thousands of people.34 The failure to provide
evacuation for such a large portion of the African American population of New
Orleans was a violation of the State party’s obligation to protect the right to life in
accordance with article 6 of the Covenant. Since the State party was aware of the
26

Nolan, supra note 20.
Id.
28
U.S. Census Bureau. Census 2000 Summary File 3 (SF 3). Tables HCT033A001, HCT033A002,
HCT033A003, HCT033B001, HCT033B002, HCT033B003.
29
Id.
30
ICCPR, article 2(1).
31
Human Rights Committee. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under article 40 of the
Covenant: Comments of the Human Rights Committee, United States of America (1995).
CCPR/C/79/Add.50; A/50/40,paras.266-304 at 270.
32
Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Hurricane Katrina: Social-Demographic
Characteristics of Impacted Areas. CRS Report for Congress, 4 November 2005. Order Code RL33141
(hereinafter “CRS Report”).
33
U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics for New Orleans (2000).
34
Failure of Initiative, supra note 3 at 114.
27

5

risk to life from a large hurricane, and since it was aware of the significant portion
of the population that would not be able to evacuate in the event of that hurricane,
the State party had an obligation under the Covenant to protect the lives of those
in New Orleans by providing for a means of evacuation in the event of a large
hurricane.
The State party failed to evacuate residents whose lives were known to be in danger
following the breach of levees protecting the city of New Orleans
16. After Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans, the country heaved a
premature sigh of relief that the city had not been destroyed.35 Soon, however, it
became clear that the city would not escape a storm of this magnitude: the levees
meant to protect New Orleans were in poor condition as a direct result of the State
party’s failure to provide funds for their upkeep, so that the heavy rain and wind
soon overwhelmed the city’s protections and swamped the city.36 According to a
May 2006 report by a team of engineers who investigated the New Orleans levee
system, there were two primary technical reasons behind the massive levee
failures: first, that the final stage of the levee system had not yet been constructed
because funds to build it had been denied by the State party, and second, that the
State agency responsible for constructing the levee system used “dredge spoil”
(i.e. materials highly susceptible to erosion, including lightweight sand) to
construct the levee system.37 There were three reported levee breaches by August
30th, totaling approximately 233 meters (700 feet) of area through which water
flowed into the city. About 80% of the city of New Orleans flooded because of
the levee breaches.38
17. New Orleans did not just flood; it filled. While the levees allowed water into the
city in some parts, it restricted water flow in others, producing a “bowl” effect
that created massive damage throughout the region.39 For the thousands of people
still in New Orleans, rising floodwaters constituted a direct threat to life.
Floodwaters drowned people in their attics, trapped people on rooftops without
water or food, and washed away houses, boats, and vehicles. The floodwater was

35

John Riley. Hurricane Katrina Path of Destruction; Spared from Catastrophe. Newsday. 30 August
2005.
36
Joby Warrick and Michael Grunwald, Investigators Link Levee Failures to Design Flaws: Three Teams
of Engineers Find Weakened Soil, Navigation Canal Contributed to La. Collapses. Washington Post.
October 24, 2005; A01.
37
Independent Levee Investigation Team, Investigation of the Performance of the New Orleans Flood
Protection Systems in Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 (Draft Report). Executive Summary at xviiixviv. Available at: http://www.ce.berkeley.edu/~new_orleans/.
38
Louisiana State University Geographic Information Systems Information Clearinghouse: CADGIS
Research Lab, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA. 2005/2006. Available with permission at:
http://www.katrina.lsu.edu.
39
Dave Walker. Radio Catches the Horror, Exhaustion. The Times-Picayune, 31 August 2005. Available
at http://www.nola.com/newslogs/breakingtp/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_TimesPicayune/archives/2005_08_31.html.

6

a hazard in itself, and residents trying to reach safety had to swim through toxins,
sewage, dead bodies, and other dangerous elements.40
18. Anticipating further flooding after the initial levee breach, New Orleans Mayor
Ray Nagin spoke on Tuesday, August 30th to urge the few residents left in dry
areas of the city to evacuate as soon as possible. Another surge of water would
swamp those areas that had remained dry, he warned, because of failed attempts
to fill a 200-yard breach in the levee with sandbags dropped from helicopters.41
19. Those residents trapped in nursing homes and hospitals were in particular danger.
Among countless stories of needless deaths comes one story from the President of
Jefferson Parish.42 Mr. Aaron Broussard cited the many promises from federal
officials that assistance would soon arrive in the flooded city and described one of
the many deaths that occurred because of the failure of the United States to enact
such promises:
The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management, he’s
responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing
home and every day she called him and said, ‘Are you coming, son? Is
somebody coming?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to
get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming
to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday.
Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.’ And she drowned Friday night.
She drowned Friday night.43
20. The State party did rescue some of the thousands of people trapped in nursing
homes and hospitals, on rooftops or newly created islands.44 However, it failed to
evacuate many more who were trapped in hospitals, nursing homes, and
inadequate shelters.

40

Id. For example, clusters of biting red ants formed “ant balls” to avoid drowning which quickly became
known in New Orleans as something to look out for in the water. Doug MacCash. Ant balls not an urban
myth. The Times-Picayune, 31 August 2005. Available at
http://www.nola.com/newslogs/breakingtp/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_TimesPicayune/archives/2005_08_31.html.
41
Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Keith Spera and Doug MacCash. City a Woeful Scene. The TimesPicayune, 30 August 2005. Available at
http://www.nola.com/newslogs/breakingtp/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_TimesPicayune/archives/2005_08_30.html. The Mayor notified residents later on August 30th that efforts to repair
the breach in the 17th Street canal levee had failed and that pumps would soon fail so that flooding would
be inevitable. Water Rising at 17th Street canal. The Times-Picayune. 30 August 2005.
42
In Louisiana, the administrative divisions of government are termed “parish” instead of “county” as is
customary in other states in the United States. The President of the Parish is the elected representative of
that administrative unit. See Appendix B.
43
Transcript for September 4, 2005. Meet the Press. NBC News. Michael Chertoff, Marc Morial, Mike
Tidwell, Mark Fischetti, David Wessel, Haley Barbour & Aaron Broussard. Available at:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9179790/ (hereinafter “Meet the Press”).
44
Failure of Initiative, supra note 3 at 116.

7

21. Since the city had so many people trapped in the rising floodwaters, immediate
rescue efforts focused on airlifting those who were not able to previously evacuate
rather than those who were in rapidly deteriorating shelters.45 Indeed, many of the
residents who were “rescued” from their rooftops or from floodwaters were
deposited in other areas of New Orleans (such as the Superdome or Convention
Center) where their lives and health were still very much at risk from inhuman
conditions and lack of food or water.46 The one official shelter in the city – the
Superdome – housed an estimated 60,000 people47 with food supplies that were
only sufficient for 15,000 people per day.48 Conditions in the Superdome were
better than those in other ad-hoc shelters around the city, but even they were
dismal. According to the Congressional committee that investigated Katrina,
conditions included shortages of food and water, open sewage, extreme
overcrowding, lack of personal safety, and growing risk of disease contamination
due to the failed generator and unhealthy conditions.49 These conditions were a
threat to the lives of those seeking shelter in the Superdome, and similar or worse
conditions in other ad-hoc shelter areas also threatened the lives of evacuees from
flooded areas of New Orleans.
22. Even before Hurricane Katrina hit, the government anticipated the insufficiency
of the Superdome as the only shelter space available for New Orleans.
Governmental experts reported that residents who fled to the Superdome would
need to be evacuated because it would be insufficient as a shelter space.50 The
Federal Emergency Management Agency also warned that the “disaster teams”
that would need to carry out such an evacuation were not in place and therefore
would be unable to do so.51

The State party failed to provide adequate humanitarian relief in the form of food,
drinking water, and medical services during the week of August 29 – September 3,
2005.
23. In addition to failing to evacuate residents of New Orleans before Katrina and
after the city flooded, the State party also failed to fulfill the right to life by failing
to provide adequate food, water, and medical services to those residents left in the
45

Id. at 118.
Id.
47
Hotels tell Guests to go to Dome Shelter. The Times-Picayune, 30 August 2005. Available at
http://www.nola.com/newslogs/breakingtp/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_TimesPicayune/archives/2005_08_30.html.
48
26,000 shelter at Superdome, supra at note 38.
49
Failure of Initiative, supra note 3. Appendix 8. Supplementary Report to the Select Bipartisan Committee
to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney
(hereinafter “McKinney Report”) at 62: “The conditions at the Convention Center, the Superdome, the I-10
/ Causeway Cloverleaf resembled concentration camps—days of internment without adequate food, water
or sanitation, and a growing sense of hopelessness.”
50
Margaret Ebrahim and John Solomon, Associated Press. Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina. 1
March 2006. Available at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060301/ap_on_go_pr_wh/katrina_video.
51
Id.
46

8

city. The failure to provide such humanitarian relief resulted from (1) an
inadequate supply of relief based on failure to adequately plan for the disaster and
(2) the fact that the U.S. turned away aid that was trying to reach the affected
area.
Inadequate supply of relief
24. The lack of available food, drinkable water, and medical services resulted in
numerous deaths following Hurricane Katrina. Deaths at shelter sites or because
of infection from toxic floodwater52 were the direct result of the failure to provide
adequate food, water, and medical services to the evacuees.
25. As the only official shelter site in New Orleans Parish, the Superdome was
supplied with emergency provisions of food and water.53 However, these
provisions were adequate for approximately 15,000 people per day, while there
were between 26,000 and 60,000 people at the Superdome for a period of at least
five days.54 In addition to the lack of food and water, there was also a severe lack
of medical personnel available to assist with the elderly and sick persons.55 At
least six deaths resulted from the conditions within the Superdome.56
26. The Superdome was only one of the many places in New Orleans where people
gathered to wait for evacuation and were in need of food, water, and medical
services. Other places included the Convention Center, the Interstate 10
Causeway junction bridge, the Industrial Canal, Broad Street, and Mississippi
River levees, and various “high ground” locations.57 Since these locations were
not pre-determined places of shelter, they were not equipped with food and water
before the storm.58
27. Those areas that were on high ground had no shelter from the intense heat of the
sun. One of those high-ground areas, known as the “Cloverleaf”, had the worst
conditions with 6,000 to 7,000 evacuees and no food, water, or security.59 People
scattered around New Orleans in ad-hoc shelter sites like the Convention Center
or the interstate causeway junction were not provided with medical services.60
Although the National Guard attempted to deliver some emergency provision to
52

Failure of Initiative at 74.
Id.
54
26,000 shelter at the Superdome, supra note 38; Hotels tell Guests to go to Dome Shelter, supra note 37;
55
Jan Moller. Special Needs Patients to be Transferred to Baton Rouge. Times-Picayune, 30 August 2005.
56
Failure of Initiative, supra note 3 at 248.
57
Id. at 118.
58
Id.
59
Failure of Initiative, supra note 3 at p. 119. Although the Cloverleaf was initially set up for medical
triage and had some food for those requiring medical assistance, the provisions soon proved inadequate for
the large numbers of people who arrived there by helicopter, boat, or other means. Id.
60
Failure of Initiative p. 280. The General Manager of the Convention Center, Warren Reuther, estimated
the number of evacuees at the Convention Center to be between 18,000 and 25,000, and perhaps as many as
30,000. Id.
53

9

people scattered around the city, the deliveries were ad-hoc and frequently failed
to reach their intended recipients.61
28. Despite predictions from various sources of extensive flooding, there were no
preparations made to supply additional shelters with the resources they would
need to house residents and protect those residents from substantial threats to the
lives of those camped out in those locations.62
29. Despite a few deliveries of needed food and water to areas of high ground,63 the
vast majority of residents were left for up to five days without life sustaining
resources because of failure of the government to act.64 The lack of vital aid
contributed to the risk of arbitrary deprivation of life that already existed because
of environmental hazards. Given the dangerous qualities of the surrounding
floodwater, the risk of death for those remaining in New Orleans was high. The
failure to provide those persons with needed medical services, food, and water
made the risks significantly higher.
Turning away aid trying to reach the affected area
30. The State party not only failed to deliver adequate humanitarian aid to its citizens
in flooded New Orleans; it also took actions to prevent such aid from reaching
those citizens.65 Reports were widespread of aid workers being turned away from
the city as they attempted to reach those evacuees in need of life support services.
For example, according to the President of Jefferson Parish, federal officials
turned away trucks bringing food and water donated from Wal-Mart.66
31. Turning away humanitarian aid workers who wanted to reach the hurricane
victims violated article 6 obligations to protect the right to life because individuals
died due to lack of adequate supplies. It is a basic principle of international
humanitarian law that relief consignments be permitted to access victims in need
of humanitarian aid.67 In times of natural disasters, if a government is unable or
61

Doug MacCash. Along Esplande, pleas for Help. Times-Picayune, 31 August 2005. The article describes
a situation where one woman was given water by the National Guard: “The Black Hawk chopper dropped
bottles water in front of one woman’s home. She couldn’t get to it because it fell in the floodwaters,
however, and she couldn’t enter the water because of her chemotherapy.”
62
Id.
63
Id. at 139
64
Id at 183. In addition to failure to deliver food, water, and medical services, the United States failed to
move equipment needed in the effort, such as the fire and rescue equipment placed “strategically”
throughout the country in case of catastrophe. Five days after Katrina, that equipment still had not been
pressed into service. See Mike M. Ahlers, CNN. Firefighting Gear Stockpile Unused. 3 Sept. 2005.
Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WEATHER/09/03/katrina.unusedgear/index.html.
65
Meet the Press, supra note 33.
66
Id.
67
Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Adopted on 12
August 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the
Protection of Victims of War. article 61: “All Contracting Parties shall endeavour to permit the transit and
transport, free of charge, of such relief consignments on their way to occupied territories.”

10

unwilling to provide aid to those impacted by the disaster, then its obligation to
protect the right to life requires that it accept humanitarian assistance offered by
outside parties.68 Therefore, prohibiting aid workers from reaching the victims of
Hurricane Katrina constituted a violation of the right to life under the ICCPR.
Recommendations
32. On a positive note, the United States Congress has conducted a thorough
investigation into the government’s responsibility for the deaths that occurred in
conjunction with Hurricane Katrina. That report is welcomed as a domestic
investigation into governmental responsibility, and as a first step to fulfilling the
State party’s obligations under article 2 to provide an adequate remedy for
violations under the Covenant.
33. In the case of violations of the right to life, the State party should provide
appropriate compensation to the families of the victims.69 The State has not yet
fulfilled its obligation to provide a remedy for the victims of article 6 violations.
The State party should ensure that those persons whose rights were violated have
an effective remedy, and it should ensure that the competent authorities enforce
that remedy in accordance with its obligations under article 2, paragraph 3 of the
Covenant.
34. In addition to an appropriate remedy for families of the victims, the State should
ensure that future evacuation plans for the New Orleans area include a reliable
means of evacuation for those residents who do not have their own vehicles.
Although the City of New Orleans has a 2006 evacuation plan that specifically
addresses the needs of residents who do not have personal vehicles,70 that plan
requires the city bus system, and that system is currently facing deep cuts in
service and personnel because of a decrease in federal funding.71 The State party
should ensure that all measures taken to protect residents from future hurricanes
are fully funded and in accordance with human rights standards.

68

Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Situations of Natural Disaster: A Working Visit to Asia by
the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced
Persons Walter Kälin, 27 February to 5 March 2005 at 13.
69
Paragraph 16 of General Comment 31 on the Nature of States Parties Obligations calls for a general
interpretation of article 2, paragraph 3 to include appropriate compensation. That paragraph further
interprets the article 2 obligation to include “restitution, rehabilitation and measures of satisfaction, such as
public apologies, public memorials, guarantees of non-repetition and changes in relevant laws and
practices, as well as bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations.”
70
City of New Orleans. The New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan. May 2006. Available at:
http://www.cityofno.com/Portals/Portal46/portal.aspx?portal=46&tabid=38.
71
Due to federal budget cuts, the New Orleans city bus system will be making drastic cuts in its work force.
The bus system is one of the primary means for evacuating residents without vehicles in the City’s plan.
Gordon Russell, RTA prepares for big cuts in June: Routes would vanish; layoffs would ensue. The TimesPicayune, 27 May 2006.

11

35. Finally, the State party should ensure that those persons who remain displaced as
a result of Hurricane Katrina are provided with the full range of their rights under
the Covenant.
Conclusion
36. The failure to evacuate residents before Hurricane Katrina made landfall did not
result from impossibility or a lack of awareness about the result of a large
hurricane in the region. Rather, according to a Congressional investigation, the
failure came from inadequate preparations, inadequate communication, and
decisions that resulted in preventable death.72 In other words, many of the people
who died did so because the government failed to take all possible measures to
protect against the arbitrary loss of life, in direct violation of its obligations under
article 6.
37. The Third Periodic Report by States Parties submitted by the United States fails to
take into account violations of the right to life and violations of the principle of
non-discrimination in the context of natural disasters. In Louisiana alone, the
death toll from Hurricane Katrina is 1,296.73 Given the storm’s magnitude, it was
perhaps inevitable that some people would die. However, the residents of New
Orleans should not have died because they did not own vehicles or because they
were African American, nor should they have died because their government
failed to deliver appropriate emergency provisions and medical aid. The
government’s obligation to protect the right to life is all the more important in the
context of a natural disaster, when lives are under direct threat. Given recent
predictions that the upcoming hurricane season will also involve large storms in
the Gulf region,74 the need for the United States to fulfill its obligations under the
Covenant is all the more pressing.

72

Id. at 4.
Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Katrina Missing: Reports of Death and Deceased. 12
May 2006. Available at: http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/page.asp?ID=192&Detail=5248.
74
Reuters. 3 Major Hurricanes to hit US this year: AccuWeather. Yahoonews. Available at:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060515/sc_nm/hurricanes_forecast_accuweather_dc;_ylt=AmDNJPTaPL2i
yITkb_zuKIOs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3ODdxdHBhBHNlYwM5NjQ-.
73

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