On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union joined hundreds of civil organizations and families harmed by police violence in urging the U.N. Human Rights Council to independently investigate police killings of Black women and men in the U.S., as well as violent police responses to antiracist protests.
The coalition of activists and affected family members put their demands in a joint letter to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that was released Monday morning.
“Police violence is not a uniquely American problem, but the impunity and disproportionate killing of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people at the hands of law enforcement are, and it requires the entire international community to act,” Jamil Dakwar, head of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, said in a statement.
Last June, as a wave of antiracist protests washed over the United States in response to incidents of anti-Black police violence, a similar coalition including the ACLU, mourning families and human rights groups demanded that the Human Rights Council “swiftly convene a special session to investigate the escalating situation of police violence and repression of protests in the United States.”
Fearing embarrassment on the global stage, Trump administration officials at the time succeeded in pressuring U.N. officials to water down the planned report and focus on racism worldwide rather than specific injustices in the United States.
Historically, the United States has spurned the U.N.’s efforts to hold the nation and its allies accountable for racism, to antiracist activists’ dismay.
In their joint letter Monday, the coalition urging the Human Rights Council to issue a report on racism in the U.S. decried U.S. officials’ attempts to help the nation elude criticism. “We believe that a robust international accountability mechanism would further support and complement, not undermine, efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States, especially in the context of police violence against people of African descent,” the coalition members said.
When the Human Rights Council met last October, Bachelet, a former Chilean president, criticized law enforcement across the globe for mistreating “Africans and people of African descent” but made no mention of the United States specifically.
Law enforcement officials “have a duty to perform their functions in line with human rights law, while respecting equality and dignity,” Bachelet said. “In every State where there is rule of law, there must also be oversight – and an absolute commitment to ending impunity.”
In March, Bachelet said the report, which she will lead, will “recommend an agenda for transformative change to dismantle systemic racism and police brutality against Africans and people of African descent, and to advance accountability and redress for victims.”
Activists across the globe have stressed that reparations ― compensation for damages incurred ― are essential for victims and their oppressors to mend the wounds caused by racism.
In addition to demanding the Human Rights Council independently investigate brutality by U.S. law enforcement, the joint letter from the ACLU, civic groups and victims’ surviving family called on the council to “remind Member States that the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism were grave violations of international law.”
The group said the council must “require States to make reparations proportionate to the harms committed,” call on members to double their investment in national antiracist programs and adopt national plans of action to end systemic racism.
Read the full letter to Bachelet below.