During the Africities Summit Johannesburg 2015, the session “Associations of Migrants /Afro descendants”, recorded the participation of Mireille Fanon Mendès, France, expert and Chairperson of the Working Group of the United Nations on people of African descent. The Working Group undertook a visit to the USA in January and it shows that despite the positive efforts of the U.S. Government, the Afro descendants and Afro Americans still face important forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and intolerance.
The experts of the Working Group of the United Nations on the Afro descendants conducted a 10 day visit in the United States (January 19-29, 2016), at the invitation of the U.S. Government. The visit, which is conducted, to the previous suite in 2010 was designed to assess the situation of African-Americans and people of African descent in the United States. Five cities were thus visited by the delegation: Washington D.C, Baltimore, Jackson (Mississippi), Chicago and New York.
In its statement to the media, the Working Group is pleased to have been able to meet with the local authorities of these five cities. They also met a hundred organizations representing civil society, lawyers and individuals from the African-American community who have expressed their concerns and recommendations to the group work.
The Working Group regrets that it did not receive access according to the terms of reference for special procedure mandate holders to visit Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman. It also regrets that it was not possible to meet with all of the high level state and local level authorities requested. However, they managed to gather information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and intolerance facing African Americans and people of African descent in the country. The members of the Working Group indicate that they have “studied the official measures and mechanisms taken to prevent structural racial discrimination and protect victims of racism and hate crimes as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination.
Among the recent measures taken by the American Government to reform the criminal justice system and combat discrimination and racial inequalities, the Working Group appreciates:
– The fair sentencing Act;
– The report and recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to strengthen community-police relationships across the country.
– The new Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Or Gender Identity
– The adoption by the Government of a executive order to reduce the use of solitary confinement at the federal level by prohibiting solitary confinement of juveniles, diverting inmates with serious mental illness to alternative forms of housing and establishing that inmates should be housed in the least restrictive setting, among other issues.
– The White House Initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper and on Educational Excellence for African Americans, aimed at addressing opportunity gaps and improving educational outcomes for African Americans.
The Working Group of the United Nations on Afro Descendants welcomed the abolition of the death penalty in three additional States since its last visit in 2010. “This form of inhuman punishment is disproportionately used against African-Americans,” said the statement.
Experts appreciate the adoption of the law on health care that has helped 2.3 million adult Americans to acquire health insurance.
In New York, they welcomed measures that prohibit employers from asking about criminal history until an employee is hired, and that makes possible the issuance of municipal identification cards for undocumented immigrants.
In Chicago, the Group welcomes the measures taken to combat the crisis of repossessions that hit mostly African Americans and Hit the measures taken by the Mayor to promote the accountability of the police following the case Laquan Mc Donald (young Afro American aged 17 years, killed with 16 bullets by a white in October 2014 in Chicago. The video of the murder was broadcast in October 2015 and stirred up a wave of protest in the USA).
The efforts made by US government are not sufficient to reassure the working Group. Experts stay concerned by the situation of of African-Americans and human rights in the country
“Colonial history, the legacy of slavery, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge because there was no real commitment to repairs and, truth and reconciliation for the people of African descent,” according to the statement of experts.
During this visit, the experts heard testimonies of African Americans who declare that based on their experience “people of African descent are treated by the State as a dangerous criminal group and face a presumption of guilt rather than innocence”.
The expert’s reminders that the white supremacist terrorist groups are still active in the United States targeting the black community “as seen with the attack on the Church in Charleston in 2015. The Confederate flag is considered to be a symbol of hatred for many Americans and they led campaigns to remove, but it is still used by some local authorities.
The Working Group is concerned by the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by the police committed with impunity. “Non-official sources, such as the Washington Post and The Guardian, have identified between 38 and 75 cases of African Americans unarmed killed by the police in 2015,” fills in the document.
The other main concerns of the Working Group revolve around:
- -The maintenance of the death penalty in 31 States and at the federal level (African-Americans represent 41.7% of the population killed and 28 inmates executed in 2015, 10 were African Americans),
- -The inadequacy of the conditions of detention and access to quality health care, including mental health the criminalization of poverty which affects disproportionately African-Americans,
- -The continuation of minor children as adults (children are detained in jails and prisons exposes them to the risk of assault and sexual abuse of adults),
- -The rate of unemployment among young African-Americans without high school diploma,
- -That people of African descent continue to be underrepresented in high-level positions. In 2013, they accounted for only 7 per cent of employers in high level.
After hearing the testimony of the African-American communities in different parts of the country, the Working Group is concerned that the implementation of the laws on civil rights will not be effective enough to overcome and transform the structural racial discrimination against African-Americans. It therefore reiterates recommendations (35) made during its visit of 2010, to assist the United States of America in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance.
It is among others of:
– Establishment of a national human rights commission, in accordance with the Paris Principles. The Government should establish within this body a specific division to monitor the human rights of African Americans.
– Urging the Government of the United States to consider the ratification of the core international human rights treaties to which the United States is still not a party, with a view to remove any gaps in the protection and full enjoyment of rights therein. It also encourages the USA to ratify regional human rights treaties as well as review reservations related to the treaties it has signed or ratified.
– There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity and among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
– The Working Group encourages the government to undertake impact-oriented activities in the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
The complete recommendations and the preliminary statement of the working group are available here.
It should be noted that as a result of this preliminary statement, the conclusions and recommendations will be presented in the report of the Working Group mission to the Council of the human rights of the United Nations by September 2016.