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MIDDAY - High Commissioner to Human Rights Council: Law Enforcement Officials must be Held Accountable for Crimes against People of African Descent and Alternative Approaches to Policing should be Applied

Meeting Summaries

 

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, today told the Human Rights Council that the murder of George Floyd was a tipping point, which had shifted the world’s attention to the human rights violations routinely endured by Africans and people of African descent. She said that law enforcement officials must be held accountable for crimes against people of African descent and alternative approaches to policing should be applied.

In an interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council 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 people of African descent, Ms. Bachelet said that data in her report showed that children of African descent were often subjected to racial discrimination in schools. Systemic racism was heightened by intersectionality, with women of African descent forced to endure multiple forms of discrimination. The Office had received information about at least 190 deaths of people of African descent by law enforcement officials, 98 per cent of which were in Europe, Latin America and North America.

Ms. Bachelet presented recommendations for four interconnected pillars of action: States should acknowledge the systemic nature of racism, in every part of life; law enforcement officials must be held accountable for crimes against people of African descent and alternative approaches to policing should be applied; States should uphold the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and ensure the effective participation of people of African descent; and States should create and fully fund comprehensive processes to share the truth about what was done, and the harms it continued to inflict. In closing, The High Commissioner called on States to translate this agenda into action plans and concrete measures through national dialogues.

In the discussion, speakers called on the Council to put in place an international independent expert mechanism that could focus more clearly on the problem of systemic racism within law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and make recommendations to law enforcement agencies globally. Many speakers pointed out that the root causes of discrimination were connected to the legacies of transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. Former colonial powers and those engaged in forms of neo-colonialism had to acknowledge their responsibility in creating systems of structural discrimination, dismantle these racist structures, ensure accountability, and make reparations to all victims of colonialism, slavery and apartheid.

Speaking were Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Denmark on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, European Union, China on behalf of a group of countries, Bahamas on behalf of the Caribbean Community, Germany, Canada, State of Palestine, Australia, Portugal, Luxembourg, Bangladesh, United Nations Children's Fund, Ecuador, France, Indonesia, Senegal, Costa Rica, Brazil, Togo, Syria, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iraq, China, Mexico, Morocco, Algeria, United Nations Population Fund, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Mauritania, UN Women, Niger, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, Philippines, Djibouti, Marshall Islands, Tunisia, India, Colombia, Organization of American States, and Iran.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Office of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, Conectas Direitos Humanos, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, American Civil Liberties Union, International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Associacao Brasileira de Gays, Lesbicas e Transgeneros, International Harm Reduction Association , Sikh Human Rights Group, and Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme.

Ukraine spoke in point of order.

Japan, Ukraine, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Armenia spoke in right of reply.

The Council then heard the High Commissioner’s oral update on cooperation with Georgia under agenda item 10.

Mahamane Cissé-Gouro, Officer in Charge of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, provided an update on the implementation of resolution 46/30 on cooperation with Georgia, adopted on 24 March 2021. Since the last update of June 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner’s Senior Human Rights Adviser for the South Caucasus, based in Tbilisi, had continued to provide technical assistance to the Government and institutions of Georgia. There were continuing constraints on the implementation of the reporting mandate in the absence of a dedicated budget. Positive developments were noted.

Georgia, speaking as a country concerned, noted that since the adoption of the resolution in March, there had been a deterioration of the human rights situation in the Russian-occupied territory, reaching crisis proportions. Violations of the right of life, discrimination on ethnic grounds, violations of the right to movement, and more were occurring daily. Illegal kidnappings and detentions had established a widespread atmosphere of fear, with COVID-19 escalating the situation. The Russian Federation must withdraw its military forces from occupied Georgian territories and allow international humanitarian assistance to access the region.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will next meet at 3 p.m. to start taking action on draft resolutions and decisions.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Systemic Racism

Report

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/47/53) on the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers

Presentation of the Report

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the murder of George Floyd was a tipping point, which had shifted the world’s attention to the human rights violations routinely endured by Africans and people of African descent. Both the report, (A/HRC/47/53) and the accompanying conference room paper, (A/HRC/47/CRP.1) were anchored in lived experiences: online consultations were held with over 340 people and there were 110 written submissions received from States and other stakeholders. The data showed that children of African descent were often subjected to racial discrimination in schools. People of African descent were more likely to live in poverty, earn lower wages, occupy less-skilled positions, and face unequal access to adequate housing and quality health care. Systemic racism was heightened by intersectionality, with women of African descent forced to endure multiple forms of discrimination. The Office had received information about at least 190 deaths of people of African descent by law enforcement officials, 98 per cent of which were in Europe, Latin America and North America.

Seven emblematic incidents of deaths of Africans and people of African descent in contact with law enforcement were also examined. Many States had not put in place effective laws about the use of force, and law enforcement officers were rarely held accountable for violations against persons of African descent. Ms. Bachelet presented recommendations for four interconnected pillars of action: States should acknowledge the systemic nature of racism, in every part of life; law enforcement officials must be held accountable for crimes against people of African descent and alternative approaches to policing should be applied; States should uphold the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and ensure the effective participation of people of African descent; and States should create and fully fund comprehensive processes to share the truth about what was done, and the harms it continued to inflict. In closing, The High Commissioner called on States to translate this agenda into action plans and concrete measures through national dialogues.

Discussion

Some speakers called on the Council to put in place an international independent expert mechanism on the problem of systemic racism within law enforcement and criminal justice systems and make recommendations globally. Some speakers pointed out that the root causes of discrimination were connected to the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. Former colonial powers and those engaged in forms of neo-colonialism had to acknowledge their responsibility in creating systems of structural discrimination, dismantle these racist structures, ensure accountability, and make reparations to all victims of colonialism, slavery and apartheid. It was important to highlight that people of African descent were not perpetual victims and were highly successful in all areas of life. The voices of all those affected by racism needed to be heard and fully included in policy making. Populist, far right and supremacist groups formed recruitment strategies targeted at law enforcement officers - how could this practice be countered? Multiple speakers expressed concern over the recent rise of other forms of racist speech and violence, including the rise of anti-Asian sentiments.

Speakers concurred that systematic racism required systematic responses and countries had to reform law enforcement forces and the judiciary as well as to change their legislation and policies. This required the political will and multilateral cooperation of States. The dramatic increase of hate crimes against Asians in North America and Europe was concerning as was the rise of Islamophobia. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action remained a reference document for the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Women of African descent faced multiple forms of discrimination: they were more likely to be underemployed, had less access to family planning, and were more vulnerable to gender-based violence, including rape, child marriage, sexual exploitation, and trafficking. Some speakers said that the murder of George Floyd was testimony to the existence of supremist prejudice which existed in Western countries. Other speakers noted the lack of critical mass of information in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner when it came to problems in the Western countries.

Speakers, drawing attention to the suffering of victims’ loved ones, called on the proposed independent expert mechanism to lift up the voices of families of those who suffered or died because of racist law enforcement practices. Reiterating that “Black Lives Matter”, speakers urged the creation of a complaint mechanism. Law enforcement agencies carried out practices that amounted to social cleansing, with the tacit consent of States. It was shameful to see a number of States, many of them former colonial powers, defend the business-as-usual approach. The climate of impunity would continue until they were forced to grapple with the past and current violations. Speakers drew attention to the violence targeting black people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex. Pointing out that in many countries, punitive drug policies were tools for the perpetuation of structural racism and the policing of people of African descent, they said Special Procedures should report on the impact of drug control policies on people of African descent.

Concluding Remarks

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her report was based on inputs and consultations with over 340 people as well as on the wealth of existing resources made available by the United Nations, regional organizations, civil society and national human rights institutions. States must show stronger political will to ensure racial justice. Her report had outlined a roadmap in that regard. There was a need for the Council to establish a specific time-bound mechanism. Urging human rights-based policymaking, the High Commissioner encouraged States to carry out a human rights audit of policies and practices related to law enforcement. Community engagement and the participation of those affected by policies were key, and could notably contribute to the effective dismantling of militarised law enforcement practices. To reduce crime and increase safety, greater efforts should be made to recruit and include people of African descent in law enforcement, the criminal justice system and policymaking. They should be able to fully air their grievances. Meaningful participation could ensure the advancement of all human rights, Ms. Bachelet stressed.

High Commissioner’s Oral Update on Cooperation with Georgia under Agenda Item 10

MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Officer in Charge of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, provided an update on the implementation of resolution 46/30 on Cooperation with Georgia, adopted on 24 March 2021. Since the last update of June 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner’s Senior Human Rights Adviser for the South Caucasus, based in Tbilisi, had continued to provide technical assistance to the Government and institutions of Georgia. There were continuing constraints on the implementation of the reporting mandate in the absence of a dedicated budget. Positive developments were noted like the passing of the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratification of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, expansion of the investigative mandate of the State Inspector into allegations of human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials, and the first-ever legal recognition of a transgender person in 2021.

Resolution 46/30 demanded immediate and unimpeded access to Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, but again there had been no progress on this issue. The continued absence of political solutions, persisting restrictions on freedom of movement, and the lack of monitoring had increased gaps in human rights protection and isolation of people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There were allegations of human rights violations resulting from discrimination based on ethnic grounds, particularly affecting ethnic Georgians. Restrictions on freedom of movement, including the prolonged closure of crossing points in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, continued to have negative consequences on human rights, especially of local residents. Ms. Bachelet called on all relevant parties to ensure impartial investigation into the four cases of alleged deprivation of life that occurred between 2014 and 2019 in Abkhazia and South Ossetia mentioned in previous reports to this Council.

Statement by Country Concerned

Georgia, speaking as a country concerned, noted that since the adoption of the resolution in March, there had been a deterioration of the human rights situation in Georgia’s Russian-occupied territory, reaching crisis proportions. Violations of the right of life, discrimination on ethnic grounds, violations of the right to movement, and more were occurring daily. Illegal kidnappings and detentions had established a widespread atmosphere of fear, with COVID-19 escalating the situation. Some areas experienced shortages of food and medicine, while many died because of the denial of medical evacuation to Government-controlled territory. There was an overwhelming sense of impunity. The international community must demonstrate a firm stance on the release of all those arbitrarily detained, or this practice would continue. The Russian Federation was attempting to undermine international negotiations and meaningful discussions that could lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict by politicising the conversations. The Russian Federation must withdraw its military forces from occupied Georgian territories and allow international humanitarian assistance to access the region.

 

HRC21.096E