Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun20/06)
Geneva, 22 Jun (Kanaga Raja) – The United Nations Human Rights Council has strongly condemned “the continuing racially discriminatory and violent practices” perpetrated by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent.
In a resolution adopted by consensus on 19 June, after oral revisions, the Council in particular condemned the actions that led to the death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in the US state of Minnesota, as well as the deaths of other people of African descent.
[On 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a store. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. SUNS]
In its resolution, the Council further condemned the structural racism in the criminal justice system.
The resolution, as Human Rights Watch said in a statement, brings the important issues of systemic racism and police violence in the Unites States under international scrutiny for the first time, while also addressing systemic racism and police violence elsewhere.
The US Secretary of State, Mr Michael Pompeo, called the adoption of the resolution, as marking “a new low”.
In the resolution, the Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the assistance of relevant UN human rights experts, to prepare a report “on systemic racism, [and] violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent”, in order to contribute to accountability and redress for victims.
The adoption of the resolution was preceded by an urgent debate on 17 June on “current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests”, in the context of the death of George Floyd.
The debate took place during the resumed 43rd regular session of the Human Rights Council, which began on 15 June and is due to conclude on 22 June.
The session had been suspended on 13 March on account of the lockdown measures put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The urgent debate had been requested by Burkina Faso, on behalf of the African Group.
Speaking on behalf of the African Group at the Human Rights Council on 19 June, Burkina Faso said that the urgent debate which had taken place was a historic step of which the Human Rights Council can be proud.
“The international response to the tragic events highlight the emergency nature of the Human Rights Council to raise our voices against injustice and the brutality to which peoples of African descent are exposed in many regions of the world,” it said.
In a statement issued following the adoption of the resolution on 19 June, Human Rights Watch said that while falling well short of the comprehensive international inquiry demanded by hundreds of civil society organizations, the resolution will bring the important issues of systemic racism and police violence in the United States under international scrutiny for the first time, while also addressing systemic racism and police violence elsewhere.
The efforts of the US to avoid Council attention only highlights why such scrutiny is needed, and how far there is still to go to dismantle the pernicious structures of institutionalized racism, it added.
“No State, no matter how powerful, should be exempt from Council scrutiny, and today’s resolution opens the door to bring increased international attention to violations both by the US and other powerful States in future,” said Human Rights Watch.
Meanwhile, in a press statement issued on 20 June, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the Council’s decision to vote on a resolution focusing on policing and race in the United States marks “a new low”.
“The ongoing civic discourse about the tragic death of George Floyd in the United States is a sign of our democracy’s strength and maturity. Americans work through difficult societal problems openly, knowing their freedoms are protected by the Constitution and a strong rule of law. We are serious about holding individuals and institutions accountable, and our democracy allows us to do so,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the Council has once again reaffirmed the wisdom of our decision to withdraw in 2018,” he added.
In its resolution (A/HRC/43/L.50) adopted by consensus on 19 June, the Council deplored the recent incidents of excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers against peaceful demonstrators defending the rights of Africans and of people of African descent.
The Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to examine government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.
The Council called upon all States, and all relevant stakeholders to cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner in the preparation of the report.
The Council requested the High Commissioner to provide an oral update on the preparation of her report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth and forty-sixth sessions, and to present a comprehensive report to the Council at its forty-seventh session, followed by an interactive dialogue.
It also requested the High Commissioner to include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.
The Council invited all treaty bodies, special procedures mandate holders, international and regional human rights mechanisms, within their respective mandates, to pay due attention to all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance including against Africans and people of African descent and to bring them to the attention of the Human Rights Council.