“Piecemeal.” This is the word used in a new U.N. human rights report to describe the progress made in “combating systemic racism against people of African descent.”

The report points to the continued disproportionate experiences and life expectations of people of African descent in many countries regarding poverty, education, social justice, and access to adequate health care and food.

Police brutality is also addressed in the report, highlighting the reality of those who die in police custody, the result of excessive force and discrimination, which is due to the absence of social protection. The problems are layered and ongoing.

While it includes reports of states that have taken action to address systemic racism, the nations are compelled to move beyond individual actions to a collective response that insists on accountability for law enforcement while addressing the legacy of the European slave trade and colonialism.

Released to the public on September 30, the report was prepared in August in accordance with the Human Rights Council resolution 47/21.

The report found: “Activism led by people of African descent, joined by many others, has resulted in increased recognition of the systemic nature of racism, yielding concrete initiatives in some countries. But there remains an urgent need for comprehensive approaches to dismantling deep-rooted systems perpetuating racial discrimination across all areas of life.”

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif called on states to exhibit an increased political will to this end as well as to execute key recommendations made in the UN Human Rights Office’s Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality. This, she believes, will accelerate social action.

These recommendations were highlighted in “The Four-Point Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality” from her 2021 report. The recommendations are:

  1. Step up: Reverse cultures of denial, dismantle systemic racism and accelerate the pace of action.
  2. Pursue justice: End impunity for human rights violations by law enforcement and close trust deficits.
  3. Listen up: Ensuring that the voices of people of African descent and those who stand up against racism are heard and that their concerns are acted upon.
  4. Redress: Confront legacies, including through accountability and redress.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part, they are piecemeal,” al-Nashif said. “They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today.”

Al-Nashif called on the states to provide a full-scale response to racism that results in the dismantling of the system on all levels.

She acknowledged the local, national and international initiatives of the states to include “accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies, the passing of the Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada, (and) measures in Sweden to evaluate the use of ethnic profiling by police” but also addressed the need for an ongoing global response to present and past injustices.

“The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” al-Nashif said.

Cases of police brutality, which resulted in the deaths of people of African descent, were a focal point of the report.

Seven cases of police-related deaths involving people of African descent were centered: George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the United States; Adama Traoré in France; Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto in Brazil; Kevin Clarke in the United Kingdom; and Janner (Hanner) García Palomino in Colombia.

The report points out that not one of these cases has resulted in justice for the families as they have not been brought to “a full conclusion.”

With the goal to protect the human rights and freedoms fundamental to all human beings, al-Nashif asked states to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism.”

To read the full report, click here. To read “The Four-Point Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality,” click here.

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