Adoption of a UN resolution on excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers against Africans and of people of African descent: now is the time for action to fight systemic racism in the USA and globally
FIDH and its undersigned member organisations share the indignation against racism and police brutality which has erupted as mass protests around the world denouncing the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks and other Black people killed by police in the United States of America (U.S.). The popular mobilizations have brought to the fore the persistence of racist state and state-sanctioned violence in numerous countries. We recognize that anti-Black racism is a pervasive global phenomenon that has its roots in European colonialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and has been maintained and strengthened by neoliberal policies. We reaffirm our commitment to fighting against the systems and structures that uphold and perpetuate the dangerous ideologies of anti- Blackness around the world. We call on all political leaders to meaningfully address structural and systemic racism, including through mechanisms of accountability, redress and reparations.
In such context, we welcomed the Urgent Debate held on 17 and 18 June 2020 at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to respond to the crisis of systemic racism and police violence. It led to critical contributions by member states and civil society regarding the roots of anti-Black racism in the U.S., notably, colonialism, slavery and apartheid. We were encouraged by the historic adoption of a UN resolution condemning the excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers against Africans and people of African descent, and a mandated UN analysis on the issue.
We further commend the principled leadership provided by the African Group of States members of the HRC which initiated the debate, and as such echoed the global protests in support of the Movement for Black Lives and the key calls by George Floyd’s relatives and over 600 civil society organisations, by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, and by numerous UN expert mandates.
That debate nevertheless demonstrated the ubiquitous uneasiness of political actors in the fight against global anti-Black racism and the system that perpetuates it. The U.S., which had been boycotting the HRC for regularly calling out Israeli violations of the rights of Palestinians, disputed the need for an investigation. A large majority of Western and Latin-American States argued against naming the U.S. as responsible for systemic violations, giving hollow excuses instead of naming and holding individual perpetrators to account – either out of pressure from the U.S. government or out of concern that they could be the next target of such initiative. It is regrettable that due to their tremendous pressure the initial draft resolution, which included the creation of an international commission of inquiry, was substantially weakened.
We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives in the United States and are appalled that popular protest in defense of Black life and against police violence has been met with a militarised crackdown on peaceful protests, attacks against journalists, and the designation of the protesters as domestic terrorists. The government response, itself a reflection of anti-Black racism and law enforcement impunity, is precisely why so many people are taking to the streets even in the midst of a pandemic. We are also very concerned by increasingly violent racist acts in the U.S., as demonstrated by the recent potential lynchings of at least 6 people of color. U.S. political actors must immediately stop racist political rhetoric, which negates the experience of Black people and people of African descent in the U.S., and must condemn racist acts in the strongest terms. Together with all UN member states, the U.S. must take decisive action to ensure the actualization of human rights principles of truth, justice and non- discrimination, including through fundamental reprioritization, and redistribution of public resources and reparations for people of African descent, notably in application of the 2005 UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.
In response to the general institutional complacency and to fight deeply entrenched racism, FIDH suggests the following recommendations:
Ensure that the mandated report focuses on the specificities of systemic racism in the U.S. – including excessive use of force by law enforcement, and on the facts and circumstances that resulted in the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks and other people of African descent, with a view to contributing to accountability and redress for victims;
To the US authorities:
Ensure transparent investigations, accountability and justice for the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Ameri- cans who have been killed by police; as well as those like Ahmaud Arbery killed by private vigilantes in a society that devalues Black lives;
Publicly commit to combating the racial bias of law enforcement agencies and the criminal legal system in the U.S., and support efforts by civil society, community orga- nizations, and social justice movements in fundamentally re-imagining the role of police in society;
Address the systemic anti-Black racism and discrimination in the criminal legal system, leading to the disproportionate incarceration of people of African descent in prisons, jails and immigrant detention centers and notably
– Follow-up and implement the recommendations of the UN Working group on Arbitrary De- tention and UN Working Group and UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent following their respective missions to the United States of America;
– Grant immediate release to all political prisoners – including renowned journalist and for – mer Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal —many of whose charges were brought during the Black freedom struggles of the 1960s when the U.S. government targeted, surveilled, arrested and even assassinated freedom fighters under COINTELPRO. Today, these people are part of an elderly population inside prisons that are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Reopen the cases of all incarcerated and since-released political prisoners to properly examine all evidence, overturn their sentences, and provide compensation for their decades of incarceration.
Accept the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism’s pending request to conduct a country visit and give recommendations to address systemic racism in the USA, including the structural racism of law enforcement agencies and the criminal legal system;
Put an immediate end to racist political rhetoric and condemn racially motivated attacks,including lynchings, in the strongest terms;
Ensure mechanisms of accountability and meaningful redress for anti Black violence and systemic racism, including reparations;
Drastically reduce security spending on law enforcement and militarism and invest more public resources in economic and social policies for individuals to enjoy their fundamental rights to work, health, education and adequate housing;
Establish an independent and permanent Human Rights Commission to assess any legislation, receive individual complaints and ensure the compliance of domestic laws at local and federal levels with international standards and obligations, in accordance with Paris principles on national human rights institutions;
the US Congress should uphold its obligations with regards to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; ratify all the treaties that the USA has signed, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and should also ratify all the human rights treaties it has not adhered to;
To other States, including Western and Latin-American States:
Ensure transparent investigations, accountability and justice for acts of racism and violence committed by representatives of law enforcement
agencies and private vigilantes.
Support efforts by civil society, community organizations, and social justice movements in fundamentally reimagining the role of police in society;
Commit to reparations for the harms of colonialism, slavery and apartheid;
Adopt a principled approach when addressing racism in bilateral and multilateral discussions;
Enable the conduct of independent assessments of systemic racism at national level and implement the recommendations given to the government in this regards.