Senior UN officials and George Floyd’s brother opened an exceptional debate on racism and police violence on Wednesday, June 17 at the Human Rights Council, in Geneva. And the least we can say is that the atmosphere was heavy. Asked by the African countries, the exchanges which must continue Thursday were engaged in the context of the historical movement which shakes the United States since the death, on May 25 in Minneapolis (Minnesota), of George Floyd, a black forty-year-old asphyxiated by a white policeman. It was with force that each of the speakers invited to speak denounced the violence and discrimination suffered “for centuries” by Africans and people of African origin in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
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Bachelet pleads for reparations
At the opening of the debate, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, denounced, without directly mentioning the United States, “racial violence, systemic racism and discriminatory police practices by ‘today’, deploring ‘the inability to recognize and confront the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism’.
“We must make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination, including through official apologies, truth processes and reparations in various forms,” she said.
It was then the turn of Philonise Floyd, the brother of the deceased African-American, to address himself by video link to this body from which the United States withdrew two years ago. “You have the power to help us get justice,” he said in a very combative tone, calling for an “independent commission of inquiry into black people killed by police in the United States and the violence deployed against peaceful protesters. “
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“The time has come to move from words to action”
Before the opening of the proceedings, some twenty senior United Nations officials of African descent or descent, including the head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had also personally signed a declaration for state that “mere condemnation of expressions and acts of racism is not enough”.
“The crimes and consequences of the transatlantic slave trade are still being felt today. Systemic racism and poverty mean that people of African descent are among those most affected by Covid-19, “launched before the assembly in Geneva Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
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Thursday, the Council is due to rule on the draft resolution presented by the African group condemning “the discriminatory and violent racial practices of the police against Africans and people of African descent and the endemic structural racism of the penal system, in the United States and other parts of the world. “
In its initial version, the text called for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry, a high-level structure generally reserved for major crises such as the Syrian conflict.
A new version of the text is content to ask Michelle Bachelet “to establish the facts and the circumstances relating to systemic racism, to alleged violations of international human rights law and to ill-treatment against Africans and persons of African origin ”.
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First American responses
Andrew Bremberg, US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, highlighted his country’s “transparency” in the fight against racial discrimination and injustice, citing the reform launched by Donald Trump. Indeed, the president launched the day before a limited police reform with a decree prohibiting controversial strangulation, except in case of danger to the life of the police. Measures which should hardly satisfy the American demonstrators, who demand among other things the outright ban of these takes.
We must “bring the police and the communities together, not drive them away,” President Trump said on Tuesday, hammering out his desire to restore “law and order.” Only a “very small” number of agents made mistakes, he insisted, in remarks that sometimes took the form of campaign speeches.
If he deplored the death of George Floyd and other black victims, the Republican president has since the beginning of the protests dodged the debate on racism.
The American president has only limited power over the police, which depend mostly on states and cities. The decree will use the lever of federal subsidies to “encourage” them to respect “the highest professional standards”.
Without waiting for the Trump administration or Congress, several cities have banned controversial police practices since the death of George Floyd.
The anger was rekindled with death Friday night in Atlanta (South) under the bullets of a white police officer of another African-American, Rayshard Brooks. And several cases continue to fuel outrage. the United States withdrew in 2018 from the Human Rights Council
Many countries recognized on Wednesday in Geneva that racism does not only concern the United States. Some, like Australia, also supported Washington by expressing their confidence in American justice, while the representative of Japan called for preventing the subject from becoming the subject of a “confrontation”.