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Trayvon Martin case: UN experts urge US to wrap up civil rights probe and examine discriminatory laws

GENEVA (3 September 2013) – The United Nations Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent and the UN Special Rapporteur on racism today called on the United States Government “to finalize without undue delay” the on-going review of the case involving the death of Trayvon Martin in February 2012, along with “the delivery of justice and appropriate reparations.”

The US Department of Justice, the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are currently evaluating the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial, trying to establish potential civil rights charges linked to the case.

The death of Trayvon Martin sparked a new debate about racial profiling in the US after the unarmed black 17-year-old was shot and killed in Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watchman. Mr. Zimmerman, who argued he acted in self-defence and with justifiable use of deadly force, was found not guilty of all charges against him.

“We call upon the US Government to examine its laws that could have discriminatory impact on African Americans, and to ensure that such laws are in full compliance with the country’s international legal obligations and relevant standards,” said human rights expert Verene Shepherd, who currently heads the Working Group.

The independent expert recalled that the US is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1992, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination since 1994, and many other international human rights law treaties.

“The Trayvon Martin case has highlighted the importance of the need to review those existing laws and policies that can have a discriminatory effect on the basis of race, as African Americans become more vulnerable to such discrimination,” she stressed.

According to the 2011 US Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics, 71.9 per cent of the total number of victims of hate crimes reported to the nation’s law enforcement agencies were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias. In a 2012 survey, the local NGO Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes over the course of a single year.

“States are required to take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists,” Special Rapporteur Mutuma Ruteere said, recalling the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

“Similarly,” noted the current Chair of the UN Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent, “the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires states to protect the right to life of its people and to ensure effective remedy to those whose rights have been violated.”

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. 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). Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

Mr. Mutuma Ruteere (Kenya) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in November 2011. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/SRRacism/Pages/IndexSRRacism.aspx

UN Human Rights Country Page – United States of America: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Niraj Dawadi (+41 22 928 9151 / ndawadi@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org

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

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