UN report records piecemeal progress in combating systemic racism against people of African descent


Activism led by people of African descent, joined by many others, has resulted in increased recognition of the systemic nature of racism, yielding concrete initiatives in some countries. But there remains an urgent need for comprehensive approaches to dismantling deep-rooted systems perpetuating racial discrimination across all areas of life, a new UN Human Rights report states.

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action, in particular by implementing key recommendations made in the UN Human Rights Office’s Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality*.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

The report describes international, national and local initiatives, including, in the United States, the adoption of a Presidential executive order on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; the passing of the Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures in Sweden to evaluate the use of ethnic profiling by police; the collection of census data in Argentina allowing for self-identification as a person of African descent; the European Commission’s adoption of guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; as well as apologies, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

“The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent. States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

The report warns that there remain “disproportionate outcomes for people of African descent in many countries, notably regarding access to health and adequate food, poverty, education, social protection, justice, enforced disappearance and violence.”

The report notes continuing patterns of allegations of discriminatory treatment; unlawful deportations, excessive use of force and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials; the continued disproportionate impact of the death penalty, punitive drug policies, arrests and over-representation in prisons; as well as lack of accountability and redress for deaths of Africans and people of African descent during or after an encounter with law enforcement officials.

“Where available, recent data continue to point to disproportionately high rates of deaths of people of African descent by law enforcement in different countries,” the report states. “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 focuses in detail on seven cases of police-related fatalities of people of African descent: George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the United States; Adama Traoré in France; Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto in Brazil; Kevin Clarke in the United Kingdom; and Janner (Hanner) García Palomino in Colombia.

The report states that while there has been some progress towards accountability in some of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism.”

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