U.N. Human Rights Chief Asks Countries to 'Stop Denying' Racism, Dismantle it Instead

A new report from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet offers a sweeping look at root causes of racism and urges countries around the world to do more to "make amends" to African people and people of African descent, the Associated Press reported.

"I am calling on all states to stop denying—and start dismantling—racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress," Bachelet said in a video statement.

The report, which launched after the killing of George Floyd, seeks to ramp up efforts to end racial injustice, seek punishment for rights violations by police, ensure marginalized groups who speak out against racism are heard, and hold institutions accountable for past wrongdoings.

Bachelet suggests a host of solutions to remedy injustice, including issuing reparations.

However, she wrote that "reparations should not only be equated with financial compensation," adding that other measures include restitution, rehabilitation, acknowledgment of injustices, apologies, memorialization, educational reforms and "guarantees" that such injustices won't happen again.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

UN Human Rights Report
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet looks on after delivering a speech on global human rights developments during a session of the Human Rights Council on June 21, 2021, in Geneva. Bachelet recently released a new report urging countries worldwide to do more to end injustices against people of African descent. Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council commissioned the report during a special session last year following the murder of Floyd, a Black American who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison last week.

Protests erupted after excruciating bystander video showed how Floyd gasped repeatedly, "I can't breathe!" as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to stop pressing his knee on Floyd's neck.

The protests against Floyd's killing and the "momentous" verdict against Chauvin are a "seminal point in the fight against racism," the report said.

The report was based on discussions with more than 340 people—mostly of African descent—and experts; more than 100 contributions in writing, including from governments; and review of public material, the rights office said.

It analyzed 190 deaths, mostly in the U.S., to show how law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for rights violations and crimes against people of African descent, and it noted similar patterns of mistreatment by police across many countries.

The report ultimately aims to transform those opportunities into a more systemic response by governments to address racism, and not just in the United States—although the injustices and legacy of slavery, racism and violence faced by African Americans was clearly a major theme.

The report also laid out cases, concerns and the situation in roughly 60 countries including Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia and France, among others.

"We could not find a single example of a state that has fully reckoned with the past or comprehensively accounted for the impacts of the lives of people of African descent today," Mona Rishmawi, who leads a unit on non-discrimination at the U.N. human rights office, told a news conference. "Our message, therefore, is that this situation is untenable."

Compensation should be considered at the "collective and the individual level," she said, while adding that any such process "starts with acknowledgment" of past wrongs and "it's not one-size-fits-all." She said countries must look at their own pasts and practices to assess how to proceed.

The U.N. report called on countries to make " amends for centuries of violence and discrimination" such as through "formal acknowledgment and apologies, truth-telling processes and reparations in various forms."

It also decried the "dehumanization of people of African descent" that was "rooted in false social constructions of race" in the past to justify enslavement, racial stereotypes and harmful practices as well as tolerance for racial discrimination, inequality and violence.

It cited inequalities faced by people of African descent and the "stark socioeconomic and political marginalization" they face in many countries, including unfair access to education, health care, jobs, housing and clean water.

Michelle Bachelet
In a landmark report launched after the killing of George Floyd in the United States, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on June 28, 2021, is urging countries worldwide to do more to help end discrimination, violence and systemic racism against people of African descent and “make amends” to them, including through reparations. Above, Bachelet speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on December 9, 2020. Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP