UN draft resolution calling for probe into US police brutality only passes after mention of America and investigation is dropped

Mandate watered down following pressure from Western governments

Tom Embury-Dennis
Saturday 20 June 2020 10:14 EDT
Officer ignores onlooker's calls not to let George Floyd die

A United Nations (UN) draft resolution calling for an investigation into police brutality against black people in the US and elsewhere only passed after both mention of America and an investigation was dropped.

The resolution ultimately adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council on Friday instead condemned discriminatory and violent policing generally and ordered a report on “systemic racism” against people of African descent.

The watering down of the resolution came following days of grappling over language after African nations on the 47-member-state forum backed away from their initial push for a commission of inquiry, the council’s most intrusive form of scrutiny, focusing more on the US.

Western delegations on the council, including Australia, Germany, Poland the the European Union, said the US should not be singled out.

The mandate also asks the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to examine government responses to peaceful protests, including alleged use of excessive force, and to deliver the findings in a year’s time.

The aim is “to contribute to accountability and redress for victims” in the US and beyond, the resolution says.

Iran and Palestine signed on as co-sponsors for the resolution that condemns “continuing racially discriminatory and violent practices” by law enforcement against Africans and people of African descent “in particular which led to the death of George Floyd”, it says. Any state can sign on as a resolution co-sponsor at the council.

The council debate on racism and police brutality was called after the police killing in Minnesota last month of George Floyd, which sparked Black Lives Matter protests worldwide.

Mr Floyd, a black man, died after a white officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck for almost nine minutes as he pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. His death prompted a wave of outrage.

Philonise Floyd, the brother of Mr Floyd, urged the forum on Wednesday to investigate US police brutality and racial discrimination.

Burkina Faso’s ambassador, Dieudonné Kere, presented the African resolution on Friday, urging its adoption by consensus.

“It is important to show Africa ... the Human Rights Council has heard the plight of African and people of African descent calling for equal treatment and application of equal rights for all,” he said.

The Africa group had made numerous “concessions” in the negotiations with other countries, he added.

Officer laughs after breaking black man's ankle

Senegal’s envoy Coly Seck, a former council president, welcomed the consensus, telling the talks: “Black Lives Matter”.

But Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led 600 activist groups in calling for the urgent debate, said: “It is absurd that the final resolution passed by the United Nations strips mention of the United States, where police kill people, particularly black people, at alarmingly higher rates compared to other developed countries.”

“The United Nations needs to do its job — not get bullied out of doing it — and hold the United States accountable,” he said in a statement.

The Trump administration, which quit the forum two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel, made no immediate comment. US ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Andrew Bremberg, said on Wednesday his country was “not above scrutiny” as it grappled with racial discrimination but was implementing police reforms after Floyd’s killing.

Activists said Australia in particular had been active in negotiations to take the spotlight off the US.

“This problem does not belong to any one country, it is a problem around the world,” said Australian ambassador Sally Mansfield.

Germany’s ambassador Michael Ungern-Sternberg said: “We are convinced a report with a broader approach and less focus on one specific case would have been more appropriate.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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