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U.N. experts grill U.S. on racial discrimination

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations experts grilled U.S. officials on Wednesday about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities in jobs, housing, education and the criminal justice system.

"Stand Your Ground" laws, a controversial self-defense law in some 22 U.S. states, use of force by police against migrants, and FBI racial profiling were also raised by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The first review of the U.S. record since 2008, which continues on Thursday, happened to follow the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Missouri on Saturday and subsequent violent protests.

High levels of gun violence in the United States have a disparate impact on minorities, Noureddine Amir, committee vice chairman, told the talks.

African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but 50 percent of homicide victims, he said.

"African American males are reportedly seven times more likely to die by firearm homicide than their white counterparts," he said.

"I understand that these disparities arise from factors such as subconscious racial bias in shootings, the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws and the existence of predominantly African American and economically depressed neighborhoods with escalated levels of violence," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper, who led a 30-member delegation, said the multi-racial and multi-ethnic democracy had made "great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination".

"Thirty years ago, the idea of having an African-American president would not have seemed possible. Today it is a reality," Harper, a Native American of the Cherokee Nation, told the panel of 18 independent experts.

"While we have made visible progress that is reflected in the leadership of our society, we recognize that we have much left to do."

STAND YOUR GROUND

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old boy shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the session. His son's case was cited by panel member Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez.

"Seventy percent of people who claim Stand Your Ground get off (are not convicted) in Florida. Two people who confront each other have 'no duty to retreat', it's like the Wild Wild West," Davis told Reuters.

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, said in testimony to the panel on Tuesday that his killer considered Trayvon a threat because of his skin color.

Minorities and youth in particular are unfairly treated by U.S. law enforcement officials and the courts, Amir said.

William Bell, mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, and a member of the U.S. delegation, noted that it was 50 years since the landmark Civil Rights Bill was passed, ending legal segregation.

"Having been born into a segregated society, having seen all of the changes that have occurred over the past 50 years, primarily through the work of brave men and women who sacrificed and put their lives on the line, I know that change can come."

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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