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Illustration by Security Management

UN Report Calls for Greater Support of Human Rights

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report on 28 June calling on all countries to increase efforts to end systemic racism against people of African descent everywhere. While the Agenda for transformative change towards racial justice and equality—created in reaction to the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, USA, in May 2020—viewed the issue with a holistic and cultural lens, it also specifically pointed to problems in how law enforcement interacts with this minority.  

“Systemic racism needs a systemic response,” the commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said in a press release. “There needs to be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence.” 

On top of discussing the issue with more than 340 people and experts, reviewing more than 100 written documents, and researching available public information, the commission also investigated at least 190 deaths where law enforcement was involved. It was estimated that 98 percent of these incidents occurred in Europe, Latin America, and North America; the report spotlighted cases in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

“Research indicated that many (governments) have not put in place effective laws and policies that provide clear directives about the use of force in accordance with international human rights law,” the report said. “This lack of clarity increases the risk of violations and constitutes an impediment to accountability. Law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for human rights violations and crimes against persons of African descent, in part due to deficient investigations, a lack of independent and robust oversight, complaint, and accountability mechanisms, and a widespread ‘presumption of guilt’ against people of African descent.” 

Without changes to these larger issues, the report warned that there would be “a high risk that problematic cycles and patterns repeat themselves.” 

Consequently, the feeling among persons of African descent of betrayal and injustice from law enforcement and the judicial system would continue.

In the report, Bachelet offered recommendations on how to help dismantle discrimination, violence, and other elements of systemic racism, including making reparations for the past enslavement of Africans. However, financial compensation should only be part of several efforts to help make amends for injustices, with the report also encouraging educational reform efforts.  

The four-point agenda hopes to guide willing governments and authorities towards racial justice and equality, and Bachelet also recommended that the Human Rights Council either provide specific deadlines or strengthen existing programs to support racial justice and equality with regard to law enforcement. 

“States must show stronger political will to accelerate action for racial justice, redress and equality through specific, time-bound commitments to achieve results,” Bachelet said. “This will involve reimagining policing, and reforming the criminal justice system, which have consistently produced discriminatory outcomes for people of African descent.”