New UN report published into systemic racism faced by people of African decent

A new United Nations report looking into systemic racism faced by people of African decent has recently been published.

Who produced the report?

The report was produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (the “High Commissioner”), pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 47/21. Resolution 47/21 arose out of the death of George Floyd and global reaction to it.

What is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights?

This report falls within the ambit of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”). The OHCHR is a department of the Secretariat of the United Nations that works to promote and protect human rights that are guaranteed under international human rights law. The work of the OHCHR and the Human Rights Council form part of the wider international human rights law system.

What did the report investigate

The report was tasked with investigating developments and initiatives undertaken by States to address systemic racism against Africans and people of African descent and to advance accountability and redress for victims.

This report was designed to act as a follow up to the High Commissioner’s report and accompanying conference room paper from last year which contained an agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality.

What did the report find?

In its report, the High Commissioner set out some positive developments and initiatives to recognize and address racism in different countries. The report found an increased willingness to take concrete steps to address racial discrimination endured by Africans and people of African descent.

However, the report concluded that for the most part these initiatives fall short and do not adequately address systemic racism, including structural and institutional factors, in State institutions, the private sector and societal structures across multiple interconnected areas.

One of the areas the report focused on which is of particular interest to us at Saunders Law, is the role played by law enforcement in perpetuating systemic racism. The report noted that, “Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives at the hands of law enforcement”. The report also noted the Home Affairs Committee’s recent report on the role of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which found that the “lengthy inquiries, poor communications and opaque processes” have a detrimental impact and that “the public perception remains that complaints against police are unlikely to succeed and would only result in minimal sanctions if officers were found to have committed misconduct”.

The report used the example of Kevin Clarke, among others, to illustrate “the second common context in which police-related fatalities of people of African descent repeatedly occur, namely, law enforcement acting as first responders in mental health crises”. The report cited the fact that the IOPC’s re-opened investigation into Kevin’s death remains ongoing. In its submission to the OHCHR, the UK Government stated: “There is no evidence of racial disproportionality in the number of deaths in custody in the United Kingdom, or that an individual’s race or ethnicity impacts their likelihood of dying in or following police custody”. Research conducted by the organisations including INQUEST has shown this statement to be incorrect.

The report concluded with the High Commissioner reiterating a call for States to accelerate implementation of the 20 actions contained in the agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality, noting that genuine and impactful change is only achievable with greater political will.


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