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UN expert group on people of African descent urges British authorities to keep on building a more inclusive society

LONDON (5 October 2012) – The United Nations Working Group* of Experts on People of African Descent welcomed efforts made by the United Kingdom Government to promote equality of treatment among all sectors of the population, but warned that manifestations of racial discrimination that disproportionally affect people of African descent still exist in the country.

“The move to take a more holistic approach to equality risks masking the inequalities faced particularly by people of African descent,” said Verene Shepherd who currently heads the group of independent experts, at their first official mission to the UK. “Despite the large amount of detailed data which highlight inequality faced by people of African descent, it does not appear as if the government acts fully on this evidence.”

The Group expressed concern that the austerity measures adopted in response to the current financial and economic crisis, threaten to dilute the UK’s achievements in the fight against racial discrimination. “Responses to the crisis must not lead to a situation which would potentially give rise to racial discrimination against people of African descent and exacerbate their already precarious economic conditions,” Ms. Shepherd stressed.

In their preliminary observations, they also noted that racial disproportionality in all aspects of the administration and functioning of the justice system cannot be justified and has serious impact on individuals of African descent, communities and the wider society, highlighting that the lack of accountability damages trust and confidence in the justice system.

In relation to the issue of the administration of justice the Working Group learned that when cases of racially motivated violence and killings are brought before the courts, due to lack of evidence and racial bias within the system, the racial motivation element is often lost.

The human rights experts urged the government to amend the legal framework for stop and search in order to abolish stop and search powers without reasonable suspicion. It also stressed the need for research into the experiences of people of African descent working in the law enforcement and justice system to identify the barriers to recruitment, retention and promotion.

“Young people of African descent are entering the criminal justice institutions extremely early, which leads to early and easy criminalization,” Ms. Shepherd said. “Many sections of the system have a biased approach towards people of African descent which leads to their higher presence to prisons.”

People of African descent are also disproportionally institutionalised under the Mental Health Act and experience differential treatment throughout the mental health care system. “We call on the Government to commission independent public inquiries into black deaths in custody and institutions identifying the links between their experiences in the justice system and mental health care system,” she said.

With regards to the educational experiences of people of African descent, the Working Group is concerned about the quality of education, the content of the curriculum and lack of under representation of people of African descent in the teaching service.

The Working Group visited London and Liverpool, where they met with representatives from the British Government both at the national and local levels, representatives of non-governmental organizations, people of African descent community members, academics, and others working in the field of equality and social inclusion.
The visit to Liverpool added another dimension to the expert’s understanding of racial discrimination and inequality in the UK. “Despite the long presence of people of African descent in Liverpool as well as their proven contribution to the development of the city of Liverpool both historically because of its participation in the transatlantic slave trade and contemporarily, people of African descent remain on the margins of society,” underscored Ms. Shepherd.

The Working Group acknowledged the efforts made by the Government through policy and some practices to create an inclusive and equal society. Such practices include the positive obligations on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity on grounds of race, disability and gender; the existence of governmental bodies such as the Government Equality Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an independent body with powers to take legal proceedings or other enforcement action against governmental bodies.

They also highlighted the extensive anti-discrimination legislation including the 2010 Equality Act; the collection of disaggregated data by ethnicity which has allowed the Working Group to get access to information of people of African descent and local government initiatives to support supplementary schools in order to accelerate the advancement of children of African descent in the educational system.

Ms. Shepherd expressed her appreciation on behalf of the Working Group to the government authorities, and civil society and NGO groups for their full openness and cooperation throughout the visit, the first one to the United Kingdom by an independent expert group appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the rights of people of African descent.

The Working Group will present a detailed mission report with its observations and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2013.

(*) The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Verene SHEPHERD (Jamaica), Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Monorama BISWAS (Bangladesh); Ms. Mireille FANON-MENDES-FRANCE (France); Ms. Mirjana NAJCEVSKA (The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Ms. Maya SAHLI (Algeria).

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established by resolution 2002/68 of the Commission on Human Rights on 25 April 2002 following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. The UN expert body, among other activities, conducts country visits at the invitation of Governments in order to facilitate in-depth understanding of the situation of people of African descent in various regions of the world and focus on promoting full and effective access to health, education and justice by people of African descent. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country page – United Kingdom: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GBIndex.aspx

For further information, please contact Sandra Aragon-Parriaux (+41 22 928 9393 / saragon@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN Special Procedures:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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