UN Human Rights Body Sets Up Inquiry Into Systemic Racism After George Floyd's Death

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasts 'disappointing, dishonest' decision, calling out member states Cuba, China and Iran for 'systemic racial disparities'

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
People take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2020.
People take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2020. Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/ REUTERS

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday condemned discriminatory and violent policing after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month and ordered a report on "systemic racism" against people of African descent.

The 47-member-state forum unanimously adopted a resolution brought by African countries. The mandate also asks United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to examine government responses to peaceful protests, including alleged use of excessive force, and deliver findings in a year's time.

Philonise Floyd, the brother of the Black man whose death under the knee of a white officer roused world protests against racial injustice, urged the forum on Wednesday to investigate U.S. police brutality and racial discrimination.

Burkina Faso's Ambassador Dieudonne W. Desire Sougouri presented the African resolution on Friday, urging its adoption by consensus.

"It is important to show Africa... the Human Rights Council has heard the plight of African and people of African descent calling for equal treatment and application of equal rights for all," he said.

The African group had made numerous "concessions" in the negotiations with other countries, he added.

Senegal's envoy Coly Seck, a former council president, welcomed the consensus, telling the talks: "Black Lives Matter."

The text was watered down during closed-door negotiations from an initial draft explicitly calling for a UN commission of inquiry on racism in the United States and elsewhere.

"It is absurd that the final resolution passed by the United Nations strips mention of the United States, where police kill people, particularly Black people, at alarmingly higher rates compared to other developed countries," said Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led 600 activist groups in calling for the urgent debate.

"The United Nations needs to do its job – not get bullied out of doing it – and hold the United States accountable," he said in a statement.

The Trump administration, which quit the forum two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel, made no immediate comment. U.S. Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Andrew Bremberg said on Wednesday that his country was "not above scrutiny" as it grappled with racial discrimination but was implementing police reforms after Floyd's killing.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meanwhile accused the Human Rights Council of hypocrisy on Saturday, calling the resolution a new low for the Council and reaffirming the United States' decision to withdraw from the organization.

"The United Nations Human Rights Council, now comprised of Venezuela and recently, Cuba and China, has long been and remains a haven for dictators and democracies that indulge them," Pompeo said in a statement. "It is a grave disappointment to those genuinely seeking to advance human dignity."

Pompeo said the civil discourse currently unfolding in the United States was a sign of the country's democracy, strength and maturity. "If the Council were serious about protecting human rights, there are plenty of legitimate needs for its attention, such as the systemic racial disparities in places like Cuba, China, and Iran," he said.

"If the Council were honest, it would recognize the strengths of American democracy and urge authoritarian regimes around the world to model American democracy and to hold their nations to the same high standards of accountability and transparency that we Americans apply to ourselves."

During the debate, Western delegations including Australia, Germany, Italy, Poland and the European Union said that the United States should not be singled out.

"This problem does not belong to any one country, it is a problem around the world," said Australian ambassador Sally Mansfield.

Activists said that Australia had been particularly active in negotiations to take the spotlight off the United States.

Germany's ambassador Michael Ungern-Sternberg said: "We are convinced a report with a broader approach and less focus on one specific case would have been more appropriate".

Click the alert icon to follow topics: