Photo: UN WebTV. Marcia Riggs, Dayana Blanco (ILEX), and Dr. Tracie Keessee (EMLER) during the 38th meeting at HRC54.

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HRC54: Working towards a meaningful, inclusive and safe participation of African Descendants

On 5 October, State representatives, civil society organisations, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement (EMLER) came together to discuss the worldwide situation of racism against Africans and People of African Descent.

Highlighting the key annual reports by OHCHR focused on Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality  and Re-Imagining Policing by EMLER, the debate featured the participation of two members of the UN Antiracism Coalition (UNARC), Dayana Blanco, director of Ilex Acción Jurídica (Colombia), and Marcia Riggs (United Kingdom), the directly impacted sister of Sean Riggs who has been advocating for justice ever since her brother died following excessive restraint by four UK Metropolitan police officers in 2008.

During the debate, civil society organisations and OHCHR as well as EMLER underlined the anti-Blackness human rights violations, and the importance of meaningful participation, inclusiveness and promotion of good practices in order to fight systemic racism rooted in colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. Dayanna Blanco emphasised the important approach of both reports on ‘…highlighting the need for States to commit to consolidate and publicise disaggregated data based on ethnic and race origins’ and finalised her statement calling the UN to establish independent mechanisms to investigate and punish violence against Black people. Marcia Riggs said: ‘Over the past 15 years, my campaign has been my life’s work. This has been with great cost but I will continue this fight for our freedom.’

ISHR and UNARC also delivered a joint statement during the debate. More information about the reports is available on our press release, here. You can find the video and the  full version of the joint statement delivered by Nayara Khaly Silva Sanfo, UNARC fellow at ISHR, below:

Thank you, President.  This is a joint statement.

We, the United Nations Antiracism Coalition (UNARC), recall the High Commissioner’s agenda for transformative change for racial justice and equality, and urge all States to:

  • Work actively towards the demilitarisation of law enforcement, as a way of guaranteeing respect for international human rights standards in law and practice, including stopping all forms of violence perpetrated by law enforcement against children, especially Black children, whether they are in their homes, on their way to school, or at school.
  • Stop all forms of racial profiling, including the use of technologies that identify potential suspects of criminal activities based on racial features. 
  • Ensure that policing institutions work on a systematic approach with a critical, decolonial, and intersectional perspective – especially considering gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, featurism, nationality, and migration status.
  • Take concrete measures for effective access to justice, accountability, and reparations in consultation with communities of African descent, including by developing public policies focused on financial support and free mental health care for individuals directly impacted by violations of law enforcement.
  • Promote human rights education within the criminal justice system.

Relentlessly, grassroots organisations around the world continue working for racial justice despite the daily challenges imposed by systemic racism, legacies of colonialism, and the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans. We strongly encourage the United Nations (UN) mechanisms working on racism to maintain the current opportunities for people of African descent to expose challenges and propose local-based and global solutions, as the work developed by the Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER) during their country and regional visits.

We welcome EMLER’s annual reports, in particular regarding:

  • Police reform from an anti-racism perspective and community-based alternatives: ‘At the same time, contemporary police operations should be reformed, and community-based alternatives to law enforcement should be supported and implemented wherever possible, including civilian initiatives that address poverty, housing, education and youth development, psychosocial needs and health.’ (Page 21, paragraph 76)
  • Truth, transitional justice, and reparations role in changing cultures: ‘[…] the Mechanism is of the strong view that the most critical and effective drive for change will come through a change of the unwritten, tacit rules governing the culture of policing. In order to achieve such change, i.e. to overcome individual law enforcement officers’ bias and reform the institutions in which they operate, addressing and confronting the past is inevitable. Truth, justice and reparation are essential conditions to change culture and attitudes.’ (Page 21, paragraph 74)
  • Reimagining public safety from the perspective of directly impacted communities: ‘The Mechanism is of the view that community policing strategies, with community needs at the centre, and carried out in collaboration with community members, should be privileged, in order to identify their needs and local safety issues.’ (Page 14, paragraph 51)
  • Racial profiling and migration intersectionalities: ‘Racial profiling is a common manifestation of systemic racism in law enforcement. In the context of immigration, particular individuals or groups are targeted because of the interrelatedness of immigration status with nationality, race or ethnicity.’ (Page 8, paragraph 29).

We appreciate the experts’ inclusive consultations with civil society, including the regional visit to Chile in 2022, but regret that the report did not go into depth on the situation in Latin America as presented by civil society during the audiences. We are appalled by the reality of Afro-descendants in Brazil where 6,000 people are killed by the police per year and 83 percent of them are Black, and 76 percent are aged between 12 and 29, and we look forward to the mechanism’s upcoming visit to the country. We also appreciate the inclusion of an annex on the United States (U.S.) visit report with the names of directly impacted people who gave their testimonies to the experts.

Our efforts regarding transformative change need to be centered on building safe, participatory spaces where Africans and Afro-descendants can safely share their narratives without becoming more vulnerable to reprisals including death. Human rights defenders are the experts working on the ground, demanding that States uphold their obligations and that the UN has an important role in pushing for change. But solid transformation can only be achieved when States garner the political will to implement their obligations, including by ensuring participation and representation of people of African descent, particularly women and youth, at every level in State institutions and policy-making processes.

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