GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations human rights
chief is urging countries around the world to do more to help end discrimination
, violence, and systemic racism
of African descent and “make amends” to them, including through reparations
, in a landmark report released
in the aftermath of the murder
of George Floyd
in the United States
The report from Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, takes a broad look at the origins of centuries of mistreatment of Africans and people of African descent, most notably the transatlantic slave trade, and seeks a “transformative” approach to addressing its ongoing impact today
The report, which has been in the works for a year, hopes to capitalize on the recent, increased global attention paid to racism and its impact on people of African descent, as exemplified by high-profile killings of unarmed Black people in the United States and elsewhere.
“Today, there is a historic opportunity to achieve a watershed moment for racial equality and justice,” according to the report.
The report seeks to hasten countries' actions to end racial injustice; to end impunity for police
rights violations; to ensure that people of African descent and those who speak out against racism are heard; and to confront past wrongs through accountability and redress.
“I am calling on all states to stop denying – and start dismantling – racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront and deliver redress for past legacies,” Bachelet said in a video statement.
While addressing the issue of reparation in her most direct manner yet, Bachelet suggested that monetary compensation alone is insufficient and would be part of a package of measures to help rectify or compensate for the injustices.
“Reparations should not only be equated with financial compensation,” she wrote, adding that they should also include restitution, rehabilitation, acknowledgment of injustices, apologies, memorialization, educational reforms, and “guarantees” that such injustices will not occur again.
Former Chilean President
Michelle Bachelet praised the efforts of advocacy groups such as the Black Lives Matter
movement, saying they provided “grassroots leadership through listening to communities” and that they should be given “funding, public recognition, and support.”
The report was commissioned by the United Nations-backed Human Rights Council during a special session last year in response to the murder of Floyd, a Black American, by a white police officer in Minneapolis
in May 2020; the officer, Derek Chauvin
, was sentenced to 22-1/2 years in prison
erupted after a bystander video showed Floyd repeatedly exclaiming, "I can't breathe!" while onlookers yelled at Chauvin to stop pressing his knee against Floyd's neck.
According to the report, the protests against Floyd's death
and the "momentous" verdict against Chauvin mark a "seminal point in the fight against racism."
According to the rights office, the report was based on discussions with over 340 people, mostly of African descent, and experts, as well as more than 100 written contributions, including from governments, and a review of public material.
It examined 190 deaths, the majority of which occurred in the United States, to demonstrate how law enforcement
officers are rarely held accountable for human rights violations and crimes against people of African descent, and it found similar patterns of mistreatment by police in many countries.
The report's ultimate goal is to transform those opportunities into a more systemic response by governments to racism, and not just in the United States — despite the fact that the injustices and legacy of slavery
, racism, and violence faced by African Americans
were clearly a major theme.
The report also detailed cases, concerns, and the state of affairs in roughly 60 countries, including Belgium
, the United Kingdom
, and France
“We could not find a single example of a state that has fully reckoned with the past or comprehensively accounted for the impacts of people of African descent’s lives today,” Mona Rishmawi, who heads a non-discrimination unit in Bachelet’s office, said. “Our message, therefore, is that this situation is untenable.”
Compensation should be considered at both the “collective and individual levels,” Rishmawi said, adding that any such process “begins with acknowledgment” of past wrongs and “is not one-size-fits-all.” She also stated that countries must examine their own histories and practices to determine how to proceed.
According to Rishmawi, Bachelet's team discovered that "a major part of the problem is that many people believe the misconceptions that the abolition of slavery, the end of the transatlantic trade, and colonialism
removed the racially discriminatory structures built by those practices."
“We discovered that this is not true,” Rishmawi said, also condemning a popular belief among some that “blackness is synonymous with criminality... there is a need to address this.”
The report urged countries to “make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination” by engaging in “formal acknowledgment and apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms.”
It also condemned the “dehumanization of people of African descent” in the past, which was “rooted in false social constructions of race” and used to justify enslavement, racial stereotypes
, and harmful practices, as well as tolerance for racial discrimination, inequality
, and violence.
According to the report, people of African descent face inequalities and “stark socioeconomic and political marginalization” in many countries, including unequal access to education, health care
, and safe drinking water.
“We believe very strongly that we have only touched the tip of the iceberg
,” Rishmawi said of the report, adding, “We truly believe that there is a lot more work that needs to be done.”