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Zeid urges restraint, and determined effort to root out institutionalized discrimination in wake of U.S. Ferguson verdict

The following statement was issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in Geneva on 25 November 2014

The Grand Jury’s decision not to charge a police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has led to violent protests, including looting and arson. I urge all protestors to avoid violence and destruction in the wake of this decision, in accordance with the expressed wishes of Mr. Brown’s parents and with the law. People have the right to express their dismay and their disagreement with the Grand Jury’s verdict, but not to cause harm to others, or to their property, in the process.

Without knowing the details of the evidence laid before the Missouri Grand Jury – which in turn depends on the quality of the investigation into the killing of Michael Brown – I am not, at this point, able to comment on whether or not the verdict conforms with international human rights law.

Nevertheless, I am deeply concerned at the disproportionate number of young African Americans who die in encounters with police officers, as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans in U.S. prisons and the disproportionate number of African Americans on Death Row.

It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems. I urge the US authorities to conduct in-depth examinations into how race-related issues are affecting law enforcement and the administration of justice, both at the federal and state levels.

Concerns about institutionalized discrimination in the US have repeatedly been raised, by respected national bodies and by UN bodies monitoring the implementation of international human rights treaties, ratified by the US. These include, this year alone, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Human Rights Committee.* In addition, just two weeks ago, Michael Brown’s parents addressed the Committee against Torture** which is currently reviewing the United States’ application of its obligations under the Convention against Torture. That committee will deliver its conclusions on Friday.

Coming just three days after a 12-year-old African-American boy, Tamir Rice, was shot dead by police in Cleveland, Ohio, because he was holding a non-lethal replica gun, the high number of gun-related deaths in the United States is once again in focus. In many countries, where real guns are not so easily available, police tend to view boys playing with replica guns as precisely what they are, rather than as a danger to be neutralized.

Any use of firearms by police must be in accordance with the UN’s Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.Article 9 of the Basic Principles clearly states that 'Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.'

I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families of both Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. Mr. Brown’s parents’ tremendous dignity and deep anguish for their lost son profoundly impressed everyone they met when they were here in Geneva, and have once again been demonstrated, despite their evident disappointment, by their call for protests to remain peaceful after last night’s verdict.”


* The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed the US in August 2014 and the Human Rights Committee reviewed the US in March 2014. Both expert committees expressed concerns about a number of issues, including racial profiling by law enforcement officials; gun-related deaths and injuries which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities; brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against members of racial and ethnic minorities, including against unarmed individuals; and that members of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, continue to be disproportionately arrested, incarcerated and subjected to harsher sentences, including life imprisonment without parole and the death penalty.

The full concluding observations are available at:

** The Committee Against Torture reviewed the US on November 12 and 13. Its concluding observations will be available on Friday at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=930&Lang=en

In addition, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and five other independent UN “Special Procedures” mandate holders have engaged with the US Government on these issues.

For more information or media enquiries, please contact Rupert Colville (rcolville@ohchr.org / +41 22 917 9767) or Ravina Shamdasani (rshamdasani@ohchr.org / +41 22 917 9169)

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