By Doris Abdullah
The Working Group of Experts on the People of African Descent was established in 2002 following the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. Their mandate was renewed by the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council in various resolutions during the subsequent years leading up to their 2016 findings which were put forward at the Sept. 26 meeting of the council.
The working group is mandated to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent; to summit recommendation on the design, implementation, and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling; to propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system; to make proposals on the elimination of racial discrimination; to address all the issues concerning the well being of Africans and people of African descent; and to elaborate short-, medium-, and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent in collaboration with international and development institutions and agencies to promote the human rights of people of African descent.
At the invitation of the United States government, three members of the working group–chair Ricardo A. Sunga III of the Philippines, Mireille Fanon-Mendes France of France, and Sabela Gumedze of South Africa–visited Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Miss., from Jan. 19-29. The group met with the attorney generals of Illinois and New York, the Chicago police department, the Congressional Black Caucus, and various civil society organization representatives and human rights activists.
These are the findings that I made note of after listening to the group’s report to the Human Rights Council:
The United States has a long racial discrimination history of enslavement of people of African descent, followed by legal segregation known as Jim Crow. The recent killings by police of unarmed black men and boys highlights the continual institutional racial disparities within the United States, while remembrances of lynching and other violence from days prior to the enactment of civil rights and voting rights laws of the 1960s are still fresh. Racial bias and disparities within the criminal justice system have resulted in mass incarceration of people of African descent and are the outcome of tough-on-crime policies. The disproportional impact of racial bias on children of African descent subjects the children to being prosecuted as adults and disproportionately placed in adult jails and prisons. School children discipline policies include criminal charges of misdemeanors for minor disturbances, causing further stigmatization. An increase in finds and fees for minor infractions has resulted in criminalizations of poverty, resulting in persons of African descent going to prison for being unable to pay their debts.
The group called for justice and various legal and policy reforms within the United States society to combat structural racism against people of African descent. The group concluded that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a “crime against humanity.” They recommend that the United Station government pay reparation for the crime of slavery. They noted that a commission to study reparations had been proposed previously, but Congress had not taken any action.
The working group also gave a report of findings on racial discrimination against people of African descent in the country of Italy at the September session of the Human Rights Council.
— Doris Abdullah is the Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations.