US Human Rights Network Blog

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Call for U.N. Inquiry into Police Violence and Systemic Racism in the United States

May 10, 2021

The US Human Rights Network joined more than 270 civil society organizations from around the world and 171 families of victims of police violence urging the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an independent commission of inquiry into police killings of Black men and women as well as violent law enforcement responses to protests in the United States.

In a letter sent to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet today, the groups urge the U.N. to support the calls made by victims’ families and others to mandate an independent inquiry into police violence and provide recommendations for a national plan of action to eliminate systemic racism and racial discrimination in the United States. This includes the allocation of resources to achieve racial equality through the adoption of reparations and other programs to remedy historic racial injustices. 

The letter states that a robust international accountability mechanism would further support and complement, not undermine, efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States, especially in the context of police violence against Black people. 

“Extrajudicial killings of Black Americans by policemen in the United States is one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations recorded in history,” said Collette Flanagan, founder and CEO of Mothers Against Police Brutality. “I am in hopes that the U.N. will summon the courage from its previous extraordinary works to hold the U.S. accountable for its violations of human rights by establishing a commission of inquiry.”

Police in the United States have killed nearly 300 people in just the first four months of this year alone. The epidemic of police violence disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. Black and Indigenous people in 2019 were nearly three times more likely than white people to be fatally shot by police. Yet, police rarely face consequences for these killings: Between 2005 and 2015, only 54 officers were charged after police killings, despite thousands of incidents over the same time period.

“Police violence is not a uniquely American problem, but the impunity and disproportionate killing of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people at the hands of law enforcement are, and it requires the entire international community to act,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “If the Biden administration is serious about addressing police violence and its pledge to lead by the power of example, it should welcome international scrutiny into the nation’s domestic human rights record. The administration must heed the pleas of George Floyd’s family and hundreds of other family members of victims of police violence to establish a U.N. commission of inquiry to hold the U.S. accountable for the rampant systemic racism that perpetuates law enforcement violence.”

Today’s letter was accompanied by a second letter sent by victims’ families and the groups to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of African States urging them to continue applying pressure on the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish an inquiry. The African Group called on the council to establish a commission of inquiry last year following the police murder of George Floyd and subsequent racial justice protests, but the council instead adopted a watered-down resolution due to diplomatic pressure from the Trump administration and U.S. allies. Instead, the adopted resolution mandated the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on systemic racism and police violence globally, which will be submitted during the upcoming session of the council this summer.

The main organizers of the letters include the ACLU, Mothers Against Police Brutality, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, U.S. Human Rights Network, and the International Service for Human Rights. The letter is also endorsed by the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, among many others.

 

Below is additional comment from:

 Sakira Cook, senior director of the Justice Reform Program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

 

"The United Nations can and should play a critical role in supporting efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States and around the world, especially in the context of police violence against Black people. It is our hope that this international body will pursue a commission of inquiry that can address police violence and systemic racism. It’s past time for our nation to tackle racial inequity, injustice, and discrimination that permeates American life and institutions. While progress has come slowly, hopefully an international inquiry can help produce transformative change more rapidly."

 

Dr. Vickie Casanova-Willis, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network:

 

“We applaud the courageous and historic actions of family members and allies which generated an outcry that has reverberated around the world. Their heart-wrenching cries for justice demand full accountability and implementation of the recommendations in 43/1 to ensure that not one more person is murdered by state violence, as police continue to execute African American/African/African Descendant people at a genocidal rate. Continued solidarity demanding human rights standards of accountability is vital to ensure they did not die in vain.”

 

The letter to the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights is here.

The letter to the African Group is here. 

Find ACLU's press release here