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United States: UN experts condemn crackdown on peaceful protests and highlight calls to overhaul policing

GENEVA (10 June 2020) – UN independent human rights experts* today condemned the violent crackdown on widespread peaceful protests after police in Minneapolis killed African American George Floyd. They also urged the implementation of strong measures to eradicate racial discrimination and radically reform US policing of communities of colour and of peaceful protests.

"Police abuse and excessive use of force during peaceful assemblies is inexcusable at any time but it is especially distressing when demonstrators are precisely calling for accountability on police brutality and systemic racism in policing,” the experts said.

“Firing tear gas and beating peaceful protesters does not silence them. It only reaffirms the urgency of the struggle for police reform and racial justice in the United States.” 

The experts said video footage last week showing a 75-year-old man sustaining a head injury after being pushed to the ground by police in Buffalo, N.Y. was just one of hundreds of videos highlighting the unjustified use by police of batons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters.

The experts also expressed alarm at the militarisation of the crackdown, including the deployment of at least 62,000 National Guard soldiers who are not trained to manage protests, and said reports of police attacks against, and arrests of, journalists covering the protests were disturbing.

International law protects the right of everyone – including journalists and human rights defenders – to observe, monitor and report on such events. Attacking and arresting journalists and human rights defenders who perform this important public duty is simply unacceptable,” the experts said, echoing calls made in a statement by UN and OAS experts.

“We are particularly concerned at reports indicating that some law enforcement were deployed without identification in some cities including Washington, DC. This is a recipe for impunity for human rights violations and abuses.”

They welcomed measures by authorities in some cities, including Minneapolis, to open dialogue with African American communities and civil society organisations and respond to their calls to end systemic racism and violence in policing.

“We are inspired by the determination and innovation of civil society in the United Sates. They are putting forward ideas to recreate public security grounded in human rights. The voices and participation of affected communities in local and federal efforts to reform the system must be heard and ensured with no further delay,” the experts said.

The UN experts said the scale of arrests and the conditions of detentions during the COVID-19 crisis were also deeply disturbing. Detentions of protesters in the current context exacerbates the risk of serious disease,” they said, calling for the release of all detained.

The experts, who have had recent engagement with Government authorities, urged concerned authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly during future protests and to refrain from resorting to use of force and said they would continue monitoring developments closely.

*The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule,Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ms.Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof 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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests please contact Ms. Marta Franco (mfranco@ohchr.org) or write to freeassembly@ohchr.org 

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org) and John Newland (mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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