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Black Lives Matter: UN's human rights body to hold urgent debate on police brutality and systemic racism in US

Special session comes after African counties called on UN council to discuss US racism 

Gino Spocchia
Monday 15 June 2020 11:42 BST
Protests in New York in support of the Black Lives Matter movement
Protests in New York in support of the Black Lives Matter movement (Getty Images)

The United Nations’ top human rights body will hold an urgent debate on allegations of “systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests” in the United States on Wednesday, a statement said.

The decision by the UN Human Rights Council followed a request last week by Burkina Faso on behalf of African countries, it said in a statement on Monday. The United States is not a member of the 47-member state forum in Geneva.

“The death of George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated incident,” the letter said, referring to the unarmed black man who died on May 25 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, igniting worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality.

“The numbers of previous cases of unarmed people of African descent who met the same fate because of uncontrolled police violence are legion,” the letter added.

The “international outrage” provoked by the death underlined the importance of the Human Rights Council discussing these issues, it said, noting that 600 activist groups and victims’ relatives had called last week for a special session.

Campaigners across the US have called on authorities to either de-fund, reform or abolish police departments after four weeks of street clashes between law enforcement and demonstraters.

Minneapolis councillors voted on Friday to pursue a community-led public safety system that will replace the police department following Floyd’s death.

Council president Lisa Bender also described the city’s relationship with its police department as “toxic”, and called on lawmakers to rethink what policing is.

“Our commitment is to do what’s necessary to keep every single member of our community safe, and to tell the truth: that the Minneapolis police are not doing that”, said Ms Bender last week.

That comes as anti-racism protests in Atlanta were reignited after police fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a black man, on Friday night.

His death was ruled as a homicide on Sunday, with an examiners office confirming that he had suffered two gunshot wounds to the back.

Senior African leaders within the UN, including World Health Organisation head Tedros Ghebreyesus, have also called on the UN to “use its influence to once again remind us of the unfinished business of eradicating racism”.

In a statement, signatories to the letter argued that “The shocking killing of George Floyd is rooted in a wider and intractable set of issues that will not disappear if we ignore them. It is time for the United Nations to step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups”.

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