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UN expert group urges the US to address legacies of the past, police impunity and racial injustice crisis

WASHINGTON D.C. (29 January 2016) – The legacy of enslavement in the United States of America remains a serious challenge as there has been no real commitment to recognition and reparations for people of African descent, a United Nations expert panel has said today at the end of its second official visit* to the country.

From 9 to 29 January, a delegation of the UN Working Group of experts on people of African descent visited Washington D.C., Baltimore, Jackson- Mississippi, Chicago, and New York City to address current concerns, and assess progress made in the fight agains racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia, and protecting and promoting the human rights of African- Americans.

“Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of African Americans today,” said human rights expert Mireille Fanon Mendes France, who currently heads the group of experts.

The Working Group visiting delegation, which also included human rights experts Sabelo Gumedze and Ricardo A. Sunga III, welcomed various efforts undertaken by the Government to address the issue, like a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal prison system announced this week.

“We understand these changes are part of a larger effort to pass criminal justice reforms now pending in Congress, and a lot more needs to be done”, Ms. Mendes France said.

However, they expressed serious concerns about the police killings, the presence of police in schools, and violence targeting the African American community with impunity and racial bias in the criminal justice system, mass incarceration and the criminalization of poverty which disproportionately affects African Americans.

During its eleven-day mission, the Working Group’s delegation heard from civil society, researchers and families of victims of police killings about racial discrimination and Afrophobia.

“The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education, housing, employment and labour, and even food security, among African Americans and the rest of the US population, reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights,” Ms. Mendes France stressed.
 
The human rights experts met representatives of the Government at the federal and the state levels, and the US Congress and Senate, as well as hundreds of civil society organization representatives, lawyers and human rights activists from more than 20 states who had gathered in the different cities.

They also promoted the International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024 and aims both to highlight the contribution of people of African descent to societies and strengthen national, regional and international cooperation to ensure the human rights of people of African descent are respected, promoted and fulfilled.

The Working group will present a report containing its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016.

(*) Check the Working Group’s full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17000&LangID=E

ENDS

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts:  Ms. Mireille Fanon Mendes-France (France), current Chair-Rapporteur; Mr. Ahmed Reid (Jamaica); Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa); Mr. Ricardo A. Sunga III (the Philippines) and Mr. Michal Balcerzak (Poland).

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

The International Decade of People of African Descent: http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/

UN Human Rights, country page – United States:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
In Washington (during the visit): Deborah Deyoung (
deyoung@un.org / +1 202 331 8670)
In Geneva: Christina Saunders (+41 22 9289197 or 079 444 4355 / csaunders@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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