A group of 66 United Nations human rights monitors have issued a devastating critique of what they call modern-day “racial terror” lynchings in the US in the form of state-sponsored police violence against black Americans.
The group released two joint statements on Friday, prompted by the wave of protests against police brutality that has swept the nation in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
The action marks an almost unparalleled outpouring of criticism by the UN’s independent body of human rights experts. Rarely have so many come together to speak as one voice. The language they deploy is also highly unusual in its excoriating critique of what the monitors state is the “fundamental racial inequality and discrimination that characterize life in the United States for black people”.
Most piercingly, the experts make a direct link between police killings of unarmed African American men today with the spate of thousands of racial lynchings that terrorized black communities in the era of segregation.
“African Americans continue to experience racial terror in state-sponsored and privately organized violence … In the US, this legacy of racial terror remains evident in modern-day policing.”
The authors, who have sent an official complaint to the US government via diplomats in Geneva, also specifically refer to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man in Georgia. He was allegedly chased down by three white men and shot three times as he was out jogging.
On Thursday, a court heard that the white man accused of wielding the pump-action shotgun that killed Arbery used the N-word as he stood over the victim’s body.
“The last few moments of Ahmaud’s life involved pursuit by a lynching party identical to the lynching parties of the Jim Crow era,” the UN monitors write. They add that the video showing white men “chase, corner and execute a young man who was out jogging, evoke the very terror that the lynching regime in the US was intended to inspire”.
The group of 66 experts, known as “special rapporteurs” in the UN system, also have unbridled words for Donald Trump. They heavily criticize his threat to deploy the US military against peaceful protesters as well as his glorification of violence in a tweet in which he said “when the looting starts, shooting starts”.
The UN monitors state: “The response of the president of the United States to the protests has included threatening more state violence using language directly associated with racial segregationists from the nation’s past. We are deeply concerned the nation is on the brink of a militarized response that re-enacts the injustices that have driven people to the streets to protest.”
The signatories include more than two-thirds of human rights watchdogs who form the backbone of the UN’s monitoring of human rights abuses around the globe. They include Agnès Callamard, who acts as observer on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Tendayi Achiume, the special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia; Felipe González, on the human rights of migrants; and Nils Melzer, on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Callamard told the Guardian that the joint statement came at a critical time for the UN. “There has never been a more urgent moment for us, UN independent experts, to stand together, speak together and act together. I cannot think of more crucial issues than those we are confronting as a global community.”
The joint statements raise powerful concerns about other aspects of modern life in America. They say there are “significant rule of law concerns” in the way the current crop of anti-police brutality protests have themselves been policed with many incidents of teargassing of peaceful protesters.
They also note that the coronavirus pandemic has ripped through African American and Latino communities in the US, producing a death rate three times that of white people. They also point to “staggering police and military budgets” at a time where healthcare, education, housing and pollution prevention are all suffering depleted resources.
The UN monitors propose a series of profound reforms to policing in America, including the appointment of civilian oversight boards, mandatory use of body cameras and an end to the provision of military equipment to police forces.
“This is a time for action and not just talk,” they say, “especially from those who need not fear for their lives or their livelihoods because of their race or ethnicity.”