The World of International Organizations

Nations authorize ‘systemic racism’ report

Youth-led U.S. demonstrators at Baltimore, Md., raise hands for racial justice in George Floyd's killing (AN/Elvert Barnes)

GENEVA (Arête News) — The U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution on Friday calling for a report on systemic racism and police brutality against Black people in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s killing by police.

A request from the 47-nation council’s African Group led to the resolution’s approval by consensus. The council condemned the police brutality that led to the killing of Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer and commissioned a report from the United Nations’ human rights chief and outside experts.

But it was a significant step back fr0m earlier pleas for the council to authorize two separate U.N.-mandated Commissions of Inquiry — one for the United States, the other for the rest of the world — that could exhaustively probe racial injustice and police violence against protesters.

Burkina Faso’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, asked the council to approve the resolution by consensus to show Africans `the world has “heard the plight” of Black people calling for racial justice, but allowed that the African Group had to make “concessions” in its negotiations on the text.

Since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, demonstrators have led Black Lives Matter protests worldwide. The police arrested Floyd after a deli employee called 911 and accused him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit US$20 bill. A medical examiner’s office and an autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family both ruled his death a homicide.

The 46-year-old man’s heart stopped beating while a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground, keeping a knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, even after he lost consciousness. Floyd’s last words, as he lay face down and handcuffed, were, “I can’t breathe.”

‘Accountability and redress for victims’

This week, after two days of urgent debate on racism and police brutality, the council’s decision to approve the resolution came on Juneteenth, the day that commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free on June 19, 1865.

Ironically, two years ago Juneteenth was the day on which U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said it would withdraw the United States from the council, which is the world’s top human rights body. The Trump administration accused the council of bias against Israel and acceptance of corrupt regimes.

The council’s members now include Somalia, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Sudan and Congo — half of the top 10 most corrupt countries according to Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.

The report to the Geneva-based council will be overseen by Michelle Bachelet, head of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, and several U.N. special rapporteurs, or investigators, who are each responsible for monitoring specific human rights or themes.

Their job is to “prepare a report on systemic racism, 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, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims,” the resolution says.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile who began in politics as a Chilean human rights activist in the early 1970s, was also asked to “examine government responses” to recent peaceful protests against racism, including allegations of excessive force used by authorities against protesters, bystanders and journalists.

The council asked all nations to “cooperate fully” with OHCHR on the report. Bachelet is expected to give regular updates on police brutality against Black people and report back to the council in June 2021.

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