U.N. Rights Body To Examine U.S. Systemic Racism And Police Brutality

As of June 15, 2020, The U.N. Human Rights Council will be following a request by Burkina Faso on behalf of 54 African nations to examine the U.S.’s “systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests,” in response to the killing of George Floyd. 

The request specifically cited the case of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody after a white Minneapolis officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd’s death sparked a series of global protests; protesters marched in all 50 U.S. states and in cities within all continents except for Antarctica. 

“The tragic events of 25 May in Minneapolis that led to the death of George Floyd led to protests around the world in protest of injustice and police brutality that persons of African descent face on a daily basis in many regions of the world,” Burkina Faso’s ambassador to the U.N., Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, said in the formal urgent debate request. “The death of George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Many other cases of persons of African descent having faced the same fate because of the origin and police violence exist.” The group’s formal letter adds, “The numbers of previous cases of unarmed people of African descent who met the same fate because of uncontrolled police violence are legion.” 

Austria’s ambassador and current president of the Council Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger states, “We think it is a moment to really discuss this issue, as you have seen with the demonstrations all over Europe, including here in Geneva.” “This is a topic which is not just about one country, it goes well beyond that.” Tichy-Fisslberger added that African countries may prepare a resolution for consideration at the debate.

The request letter noted that 600 activist groups and victims’ relatives had called the previous week for a special session, implying the Human Rights Council’s importance in the resolution of this issue. Campaigners across the world have also called on authorities to to defund, reform and/or abolish police departments. 

In addition to Burkina Faso’s request, a group of Senior U.N. leaders who are either African or of African descent – including World Health Organization Head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – signed a statement calling for world leaders to “go beyond and do more.” The group has called on the U.N. to “use its influence to once again remind us of the unfinished business of eradicating racism.” 

The group’s statement reads, “We owe it to George Floyd and to all victims of racial discrimination and police brutality to dismantle racist institutions.” “As leaders in the multilateral system, we believe it is incumbent upon us to speak for those whose voices have been silenced, and advocate for effective responses that would contribute to fight systemic racism, a global scourge that has been perpetuated over centuries.” Signatories argue that “The shocking killing of George Floyd is rooted in a wider and intractable set of issues that will not disappear if we ignore them. It is time for the United Nations to step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups”.

Meanwhile, the U.S. mission in Geneva had no immediate comment on the Council’s decision to follow Burkina Faso’s request. But it issued a statement in the previous week decrying the “senseless death of George Floyd” and saying that justice and transparency were “core values” of the United States. The United States is not a member of the 47-member state forum in Geneva. In 2018, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved to withdraw from the forum over the U.N.’s allegedly biased handling of Israel, the U.S.’s ally. 

In the United States, Minneapolis councillors voted on Friday, June 12, to pursue a community-led public safety system that will replace the police department following Floyd’s death. Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender described the city’s relationship with its police department as “toxic”, and called on lawmakers to rethink what policing is. She stated, “our commitment is to do what’s necessary to keep every single member of our community safe, and to tell the truth: that the Minneapolis police are not doing that.” 

This local council vote occurred on the same day that police fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a black man, at a Wendy’s restaurant drive-through in Atlanta. His death was ruled as a homicide by the end of the weekend. Examiners office confirmed that he had suffered two gunshot wounds to the back. The homicide has reignited protests. 

While the globe awakens to injustices and inequalities suffered by black people, it has become a responsibility of the U.N. Human Rights Council to take part in the conversation, and establish guidelines for a resolution that can help influence action in the United States and all over the world.