Marcia Rigg, Sean Rigg’s sister, delivered a joint statement on behalf of ISHR, INQUEST and United Families and Friends Campaign, highlighting how bereaved families in the UK and beyond have had to fight for accountability and struggle to have their voices heard and their experiences counted, and calling on the UN to put the voices of victims and their families at the heart of the transformative racial justice agenda to dismantle systemic racism.
On 28 June 2021, the UN High Commissioner issued a 100+ page report detailing the “compounding inequalities” and “stark socioeconomic and political marginalization” that afflict Africans and people of African descent in many countries. In examining hundreds of police killings in different countries with varying legal systems, the report found “striking similarities” and patterns — including in the hurdles families face in accessing justice. The High Commissioner issued an urgent call for States to adopt a “transformative agenda” to uproot systemic racism, and called on the UN Human Rights Council to either establish a specific, time-bound mechanism, or strengthen an existing mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement in all parts of the world.
The report reinforced various proposals presented by our Coalition including on centering victims and their families, accountability and reparations for contemporary and historical racial injustices, on the urgent need to collect and publish disaggregated data by ethnicity/race, on the repression of anti-racism protests, racialized policing including through algorithms, reforming drug laws, reimagining policing, the necessity of national human rights institutions, the essential role the UN can play in pushing this agenda forward, the lack of political will of States to implement the vast UN recommendations issued previously, and the urgency of States taking action now! The High Commissioner ‘s report found that “no State has comprehensively accounted for the past or for the current impact of systemic racism”. The report called upon all countries to adopt “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” reforms and responses, through adequately resourced national and regional action plans and concrete measures developed through national dialogues, with the meaningful participation and representation of people of African descent.
How can the HRC ensure effective accountability and follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1 at its 47th session?
Our Coalition’s proposals have been developed through a series of consultations with a broad civil society from the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and international human rights organisations. Our Coalition is calling on the UN Human Rights Council, during its current 47th session, to adopt a resolution that ensures effective accountability and follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1 on systemic racism and police violence against Africans and people of African descent. The follow up resolution must acknowledge the importance of and align with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the International Decade of People of African Descent and the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. The resolution must include the following:
1. Key issues the HRC 43/1 follow up resolution’s text must address
CENTER VICTIMS, THEIR FAMILIES AND IMPACTED COMMUNITIES
- Ensure that the experiences of Africans, people of African descent, particularly victims and their families, remain at the centre and create spaces for their voices to be heard
- Expand the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture to include victims of racist police violence
- Victims of racism are everyone affected, directly or indirectly by racist actions perpetrated by State and non-State actors such as white vigilante and supremacist paramilitary groups
- Acknowledge the intersecting forms of racial discrimination with other forms of discrimination which exacerbates individuals’ experiences with police violence and increased vulnerability
ACCOUNTABILITY AND REPARATIONS
- Acknowledge that police violence (State violence) is a manifestation of institutional and structural racism (State racism). Lack of acknowledgement of police violence and the “bad apples” argument promotes impunity
- Reiterate that the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and colonialism were grave violations of international law that require States to make reparations proportionate to the harms committed and to ensure that structures in the society that are perpetuating the injustices of the past are transformed
- Guarantee reparations to victims of State violence, ensure independent, prompt and effective investigations into State violence, end the use of military jurisdictions for investigations of violations by law enforcement against civilians
REPRESSION OF PEACEFUL PROTESTS
- Recall General Comment No. 37 (2020) of the Human Rights Committee on the right of peaceful assembly, and condemn the increasing militarization by States, the criminalization of peaceful protests, and include recommendations for improving community safety and proper management of assemblies, preventing the abuse of force by law enforcement, and the recognition of the responsibility of States to train law enforcement accordingly.
- Call on States to collect and provide access to data on people of African Descent including for violence against protestors, and incidents of racist police violence. Failure to keep disaggregated data conceals violations and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘If you don’t count us, we don’t count’.
- Recognize the existence racism in police procedures, the systematic use of racial profiling techniques against Afro-descendant and its direct relationship with State violence and institutional racism
- Recognize that drug laws are one of the tools to implement social control and discriminate against Afro and Brown populations, that racial profiling by the police targets Black populations in particular for drug-related crimes and fines, which leads to massive incarceration, and that digital identification by algorithms is connected with racial profiling
- Call on States to end the criminalization of poverty and police enforcement of low-level offences
- Acknowledge that State racism is exacerbated under COVID-19 where there is an increase of police violence in the name of public health and safety
- Urge States to conduct policy reforms on policing including divestment and defunding initiatives aiming to reduce the presence of police and investing in guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights especially for marginalized communities
FOLLOW UP AND IMPLEMENTATION
- Acknowledge the vast recommendations already issued by a broad range of UN mechanisms and yet States have failed to ensure their implementation, and urge States to report on implementation and consult with victims and their families and impacted communities in the process
- Call on States to adopt national plans of action to eliminate systemic racism and racial discrimination and to double their efforts and allocation of resources to achieve racial equity including through the adoption of reparations schemes to remedy historic racial injustices.
- Reiterate calls on States to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, embrace the International Decade of People of African Descent and operationalise the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent
- Urge States to establish, strengthen, review and reinforce the effectiveness of independent national human rights institutions, particularly on issues of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in conformity with the Paris Principles
2. Follow up mechanism
The Council must establish a multi-year mechanism of independent experts and individuals from impacted communities that takes into account intersectionality and centers in its work consultations with impacted communities including victims and their families. This mechanism’s mandate should be to:
- Investigate structural and systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and globally against Africans and people of African Descent, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans, and investigate and document human rights violations and excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies including root causes of racialized policing
- Investigate governments’ responses to peaceful protests and all other violations of international human rights law
- Contribute to accountability and redress for victims by identifying patterns of violations over time by analysing the similarities in findings and recommendations with and of relevant previous United Nations mechanisms and the mechanisms or gaps in domestic laws, policies or implementation that serve as barriers to accountability, with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations are held accountable
- Have a strong implementation mandate including monitoring the vast recommendations already issued by the UN, most recently the High Commissioner’s report and examine the reasons behind the lack of implementation
The mechanism should make recommendations on structural and systemic reforms needed to halt and prevent such violations, on the collection of disaggregated data of ethnicity/race, and on ensuring justice, accountability and reparations for both contemporary and historical racial injustices including supporting accountability processes at national, regional and international levels.
The mechanism should coordinate and work with all United Nations relevant mechanisms, regional human rights mechanisms in particular the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and national human rights institutions.
The mechanism should report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly during debates with the participation of directly affected individuals, their families and communities.
3. Follow up by other UN actors
- The OHCHR should continue its monitoring and reporting on the issue, including through its field presences, and organize inter-sessional meetings to discuss implementation at the national level
- The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights should present to the Council on an annual basis a report on the activities of the UN Inter-agency network on racial discrimination and protection of minorities
- All relevant UN agencies should mainstream racial discrimination and police violence across their work and consult broadly with impacted communities, in particular the youth, in developing and implementing their activities and programs, including development assistance programs to law-enforcement and on legal reforms.
 Background: In June 2020, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) convened a historic urgent debate on “current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police violence and violence against peaceful protests”. George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, made a historic address to the HRC to establish an independent international commission of inquiry focused on the situation in the United States. However, the HRC adopted a watered-down resolution due to diplomatic pressure from the United States under the Trump Administration and other allied countries. It mandated the High Commissioner to prepare a report on systemic racism, human rights violations against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement globally including in the United States, and governments’ responses to anti-racism protests. The High Commissioner’s report will be presented at the 47th session of the HRC. In May 2021, 171 families of victims of police violence in the United States and over 270 civil society organisations from more than 40 countries called on the UN High Commissioner and the Africa Group to ensure the HRC’s role in effective accountability and follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1 on systemic racism and police violence against Africans and people of African descent in the United States and globally.
 These situations were recognized by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its latest report Arbitrary Detentions relating to Drug Policies, where the Group established that “criminalization of drug use facilitates the deployment of the criminal justice system… with law enforcement officers often targeting members of vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as minorities, people of African descent…”.The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent had stated that people of African descent are affected by excessively punitive laws and racial profiling, which has made them a targeted group. See also CRP, para 98-99
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
For over five years, Assa Traoré, the sister of Adama Traoré, a black French man who was killed at the hands of the police, has faced judicial harassment for campaigning for a transparent investigation to establish the responsibility of the gendarmes, a name given to the paramilitary police officers in France, for the death of her brother and for them to be brought to justice. ISHR joined with the Adama Committee to call on the French Government to urgently put an end to the judicial harassment of Assa Troaré. This harassment diverts the public attention from the justice that is expected for Adama’s death and appears intended to dissuade Assa from continuing her struggle.
ISHR welcomes the Council’s historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and to promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.
ISHR joined 171 families of victims of police violence in the United States and over 270 civil society organisations from more than 40 countries in sending letters to the UN High Commissioner and the African Group regarding the UN Human Rights Council’s role to ensure effective accountability and follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1 on anti-Black racism and police brutality in the United States and globally.
In reaction to the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in the United States, anti-racist advocates and the families of victims have succeeded in turning the tide at the UN on the issue of anti-Black racism and violence policewomen. In a new video released today, ISHR highlights their essential contributions, in tribute to George Floyd and all victims of racially-motivated police violence.
In an online discussion organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Uyghur camp survivor Gülbahar Jalilova shared her story of long-term arbitrary detention. Her testimony echoes mounting evidence of human rights violations that call for systematic UN monitoring and public reporting.
Following limited remarks yesterday, ISHR joins with more than 20 organisations to press the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to initiate monitoring and reporting on the crisis targeting Uyghurs, as well as other key populations in China, especially in light of growing credible assessments of crimes against humanity.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder on 25 May 2020 in the U.S., antiracism defenders and families of victims of police violence have been turning the tables at the UN on anti-Black racism and police brutality. In a new video released today, ISHR is highlighting the essential contributions of defenders and victims' families and paying tribute to Floyd and to all the victims of racially charged police violence.
16 organisations* share reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines. A shortened version was delivered at the Council. Full written version below.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gave her second update to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 19 March 2021. She reaffirmed that she will center the lived experiences of victims and their families, emphasised the necessity for the HRC to continue addressing systemic racism, and warned that without addressing the root causes, impunity for racist police violence will prevail.