By Robin Gomes
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday made an urgent call to states across the globe to adopt a “transformative agenda” to uproot “systemic racism”. Her call came in a report that casts the spotlight on a series of violations of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights suffered by people of African descent – on a daily basis and across different states and jurisdictions.
Legacy of slavery
The global study that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, in the United States, in May 2020, said that police use of racial profiling and excessive force is entrenched in much of North America, Europe and Latin America. Bachelet expressed particular concern over situations in some 60 countries including the UK, Belgium, France, Canada, Brazil and Colombia. The study demonstrated that systemic racism is most prevalent in countries with a legacy of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, or colonialism resulting in large communities of people of African descent.
The High Commissioner’s analysis of 190 deaths of Africans and people of African descent worldwide at the hands of law enforcement officials showed that their killers were rarely held accountable for human rights violations and their crimes. This, in part, was because of inadequate investigations, a lack of independent and robust oversight and complaint and accountability mechanisms, and a widespread “presumption of guilt” against people of African descent.
The report is based on online consultations with over 340 individuals, mostly of African descent and over 110 written contributions, including with states.
It selected seven “emblematic cases”, including that of Floyd, whose killer, former police officer Derek Chauvin, was sentenced on Friday to 22-1/2 years. Video of Floyd’s murder galvanized the national Black Lives Matter protest movement across the US and the globe.
Other cases that were particularly closely examined were those of Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Breonna Taylor (United States); Kevin Clarke (United Kingdom); Janner (Hanner) García Palomino (Colombia) and Adama Traoré (France).
The report also set out concerns of “excessive policing of Black bodies and communities, making them feel threatened rather than protected,” citing the criminalization of children of African descent as one key issue.
According to Bachelet, structural racism creates barriers to minorities’ access to jobs, healthcare, housing, education and justice. The UN rights chief stressed that systemic racism needs a systemic and comprehensive response. “I am calling on all States to stop denying, and start dismantling, racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress,” she added.