Members Only | May 11, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Report by human-rights lawyers calls lethal police force against Black people ‘crimes against humanity’

It reflects intense focus on America from around the world, says Richard Sudan.

Report by human-rights lawyers calls lethal police force against Black people 'crimes against humanity'

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For many years, the United States condemned crimes against humanity in a global setting. Such claims were often a pretext for military invasion, regime change or installing so-called democracy while, of course, securing control of resources. We’ve gotten so used to hearing it, especially over the last few decades, that the phrase “crimes against humanity” has become part and parcel of the political lexicon.

When hearing the same claim thrown back at it, you’d think the US would be all ears given its track record of concern and swift action when such crimes are allegedly committed in other parts of the world. Well, that’s exactly what has happened. Just one problem. Rather than “all ears,” the charge seems to have fallen on “deaf ears.”

No longer can America accuse other countries of human rights abuses while ignoring similar accusations on its own doorstep, writes Editorial Board member Richard Sudan.

A report released in March, called The International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States, was produced by a panel of human-rights lawyers from 11 countries. It determined that the cycles of murder and violence against unarmed Black Americans at the hands of (often white) police officers fit the international legal definition of “crimes against humanity.” Its authors say the United States should be investigated under international law.

The commission report demands accountability from the United States, over the conduct of law enforcement, highlighting the violation of human rights obligations, with added scrutiny also examining the laws around policing. The commission also suggests that the International Criminal Court conduct an immediate investigation.

Now, this is unlikely to happen. The significance of the report, however, should not be lost. No longer can America simply accuse other countries of human rights abuses while ignoring similar accusations on its own doorstep concerning its own citizens. The report refers to “police murders” and contextualizes the pattern of killings as part of a broader history and continuation of racism and racial injustice. 

The report initially emerged after the family of George Floyd and other victims petitioned the United Nations to launch a probe into deadly racist policing in the United States, following Floyd’s murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. (Chauvin was convicted on all counts last month, including murder in the second degree. Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers for violating Floyd’s constitutional rights.)

While a draft resolution was eventually passed, the UN Human Rights Council merely adopted it after weeks of intense pressure by the US and its allies. That saw any specific mention of America and an investigation dropped from the final wording.

The US and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also accused the United Nations of hypocrisy, urging a more general investigation into systemic racism internationally, focusing instead on countries like China. In other words, racism didn’t exist in Donald Trump’s America. You can’t investigate something that doesn’t exist. 

The watered down plan, however, prompted the group of international legal experts to step in and conduct their own investigation, culminating in the recent report, which at the time of writing, has received no official acknowledgement from the White House. During his first address to joint-session of the Congress, President Joe Biden pledged to “root out systemic racism” within the United States criminal justice system.

The new report focusing on US police killings of unarmed Black people could certainly help. It has a number of strong recommendations for the government to follow. The commission emphasizes, moreover, that it did not reach its conclusions lightly. The report is a serious, thorough and comprehensive examination of the problem. It is forensic and uncompromising. It deserves to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the report has gone almost totally unnoticed by the national press corps. It has gotten only a smattering of English-language coverage in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Again, an investigation by the International Criminal Court is unlikely. That said, the report does reflect intense focus around the world on the US that’s acutely aware of and universally horrified by police violence and institutional racism. Many hope Chauvin’s conviction is a watershed in US history, though that remains to be seen.

Getting to the root of the problem requires a radical plan and a commitment to seeing it through. The same energy that was felt over the case of George Floyd now needs to reverberate and translate into all of the other similar cases that require justice, and into a vast overhaul of the system all across America. It’s no easy task but millions upon millions around the world are watching, hoping, and ultimately demanding, that the unjust killing, maiming and humiliation of Black Americans come to an end. 

Richard Sudan

Journalist Richard Sudan is based in London. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. His reporting has taken him across Europe and to Palestine. He specializes in racism, police brutality and human rights. He tweets at @richardsudan.

Published in cooperation with Alternet.


Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.

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