The UN yesterday condemned the Government for a failure to tackle racism and the large number of black people who die in police custody.
In a wide-ranging report, it also criticised the legal system for racial discrimination and condemned the controversial Asylum and Immigration Bill.
The report, by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, will be an embarrassment to the Government, but it is not compelled to act on the findings. Last night pressure groups called for immediate changes to the law.
John Wadham, director of the Liberty, said: "The UN's comments on the Government's failure to address racist attacks, police brutality, discrimination in employment, education, housing and criminal justice are right on target. Racism in this country is institutionalised, widespread and routine."
The study expressed "serious" concern that "police brutality appears to affect members of minority groups disproportionately" and that allegations of police brutality and harassment against black people did not appear to be investigated as vigorously as those against white people. Police officers guilty of such offences were sentenced more leniently. Between October and December 1995, six black men died in custody.
Among the UN's recommendations were that: "All complaints of police brutality be vigorously and independently investigated and the perpetrators punished. It recommends that investigations into deaths in custody be carried out expeditiously by independent inquiry mechanisms."
The report will be sent to government departments and UN members.