UN calls for soul searching in quest for global racial justice

The UN's human rights chief urged countries to confront the legacy of slavery and colonialism and make amends for "centuries of violence and discrimination" through reparations.

The UN’s human rights chief yesterday urged countries to confront the legacy of slavery and colonialism and make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination” through reparations.

Addressing an urgent debate on racism and police brutality at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet called on countries to examine their pasts and strive to better understand the scope of continuing “systemic discrimination.”

She pointed to the “gratuitous brutality” on display in the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis in the United States May 25 after a white police officer — since charged with murder — kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

This symbol of “systemic racism has become emblematic of the excessive use of disproportionate force by law enforcement against people of African descent, against people of color and against indigenous people and racial and ethnic minorities in many countries across the globe,” she said.

“Behind today’s racial violence, systemic racism and discriminatory policing lies the failure to acknowledge and confront the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism.”

She stressed the need to “make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination through formal apologies, truth-telling processes and reparations in various forms.”

Yesterday’s urgent council debate was called in response to Floyd’s killing — caught on amateur video — which has ignited demands to address systemic racism in the US and around the world.

African countries are calling for the council to ask Bachelet and other UN human-rights experts to investigate racism and police brutality in the US, but potential support for their draft resolution is unclear.

The US itself withdrew from the council two years ago, but a number of its allies are uncomfortable with the country being singled out in the text, according to observers of the process.

Bachelet herself did not speak out specifically in favor of the draft resolution, but she did stress the need for “decisive reforms.” She insisted on the importance of making clear that “black lives matter, indigenous lives matter, and the lives of people of color matter.”

“All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights — that is what this council, like my office, stands for.”

The brother of George Floyd called on the United Nations to set up an independent commission to investigate killings of African Americans by police.

“I am my brother’s keeper, that could have been me,” said Philonise Floyd. “You at the United Nations are your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother.”

“I’m asking you to help him,” he said. “I’m asking you to help me. I’m asking you to help us black people in America. I hope you will consider establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police killings of black people in America, and the violence against peaceful protesters.”

Floyd’s death sparked a wave of nationwide protests in the US and abroad.

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