The UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday (13 July) highlighted the global “scourge” of systemic racism and ordered an independent investigation into racially-fuelled police violence around the world.
In a resolution brought by a group of African countries, the council harshly condemned “continuing racially discriminatory and violent practices perpetrated by many law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent.”
The text, which was adopted without a vote, decried “systemic racism in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems,” and highlighted the need to bring offenders to justice.
It ordered the creation of an “international independent expert mechanism” to “advance racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement in all parts of the world.”
The resolution follows a damning report published last month by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet calling for systemic racism against black people to be immediately dismantled.
Presenting the report, which was called for following the murder of George Floyd by a white US police officer last year, she told the council Monday there was “an urgent need to confront the legacies of enslavement”.
In her report, which addressed systemic racism worldwide, Bachelet also called on countries to confront colonial pasts and racially discriminatory policies and systems, and to seek “reparatory justice”.
The report emphasised systemic racism in policing, detailing information about at least 190 deaths of Africans and people of African descent at the hands of law enforcement officials — nearly all of them in the Americas and Europe.
In a bid to help address the problem, the new expert team called for in Tuesday’s resolution will be asked to examine “the root causes of systemic racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, the excessive use of force, racial profiling”.
It will also probe other police violations that “may lead to disproportionate and widespread interaction between law enforcement officers and Africans and people of African descent.”
The experts, who will be appointed by the council president with a three-year mandate, will be urged to conduct country visits and to consult with states and affected communities and individuals.
They will also “investigate governments’ responses to peaceful anti-racism protests” and “any nexus between supremacist movements and actors within law enforcement and the criminal justice system”.
Their main task will be promoting racial justice and equality in law enforcement around the world, the impact of “legacies of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade in enslaved Africans”, and accountability and redress for victims.
‘Repair the damage’
Rights groups welcomed the “landmark resolution”, although charged that a number of “former colonial powers” had attempted to weaken it.
While the resolution passed by consensus, the European Union, Britain and others voiced doubts about the need for another investigative body, suggesting better use of existing UN mandates already probing similar issues would have been wiser.
“Whilst a number of states, many of which are former colonial powers, resisted the establishment of the mechanism, we are pleased to see it ultimately adopted by consensus,” Human Rights Watch’s Geneva director John Fisher said in a statement.
He called on those countries to “engage constructively … and work to confront their harmful legacies and seek to repair their far-reaching damage.”
The American Civil Liberties Union meanwhile urged the United States especially to embrace the new mechanism.
“We call on the Biden administration and US Congress, as well as state and local governments, where more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies operate, to fully cooperate with the new UN human rights body,” said Jamil Dakwar, head of ACLU’s human rights programme,.
“It’s time to double our efforts to reckon with legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and take bold action to repair the damage.”