The World of International Organizations

Racism debate slated for U.N. rights panel

A street painting seen in San Francisco on Friday (AN/Christopher Michel)

GENEVA (Arête News) — Prompted by U.S. and global unrest over the killing of George Floyd, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed on Monday to an African Union request for an urgent debate on systemic racism and police brutality.

The debate will focus on “the current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests,” the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, notified reporters by e-mail. It is scheduled for this week in the council’s assembly hall.

Last Friday, the 55-member nation African Union called on the Geneva-based council, which is the world’s top human rights body, to sponsor an urgent discussion on racism and police brutality.

Floyd, a Black man, was killed in police custody at Minneapolis on May 25. The 46-year-old man’s heart stopped beating as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground, keeping a knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The killing was captured on video, sparking huge protests in the United States and abroad.

“The death of George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated incident, with many previous cases of unarmed persons of African descent suffering the same fate due to uncontrolled police violence,” Burkina Faso’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, wrote on behalf of the African Union in a letter, in French, to the council’s president, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva.

“Unfortunately, the fate of many of these other victims did not attract as much attention, because what they suffered was not widely publicized on social networks,” he wrote. “The main objective of the urgent dialogue is to tackle the immediate and structural causes of racial discrimination that prevails worldwide, with a huge impact on the enjoyment of human rights, in particular by people of African descent.”

There has been considerable attention paid to previous victims of racism and police brutality, many of which have elicited widespread U.S. protests. After a white police officer killed an unarmed Black teen, Michael Brown Jr., on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, demonstrators rallied around the Black Lives Matter movement demanding racial justice and reforms in policing reform. Yet not much has changed.

Previous spotlights on U.S. racism

In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, U.N. human rights experts have called on U.S. authorities to address the nation’s systemic racism and police brutality, while urging an end to violence towards the demonstrators and journalists covering the protests.

Dozens of U.N. special rapporteurs, who function as independent investigators, have urged American leaders to use strong measures to eradicate racial discrimination and overhaul how Black communities are policed.

As the U.S. protests spread to cities around the world, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged all nations to do more to dismantle systemic racism and discrimination.

Twice before, in 2011 and 2015, the 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva reviewed the U.S. human rights record. Each time the international community drew attention to America’s endemic racism, discrimination and violence by police, and its widespread use of the death penalty. The third review is scheduled for next November.

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