The year 2020 was a watershed moment for the movement for racial justice and equality, according to a new report by UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet. The report highlights that 2020 saw an unprecedented number of protests demanding racial justice across the world.
Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” Yet, while preparing the report, UN Human Rights received credible and consistent allegations about Government responses to some anti-racism protests that were “not in accordance with international human rights law, including unnecessary and disproportionate use of force.”
The treatment of journalists, observers and medics was also highlighted as a concern in some States, as was the use of surveillance technologies to monitor some protests and COVID-19 measures to restrict them.
Some anti-racism protests were also reportedly policed differently to other protests, with reported failures to stop confrontations between protestors and counter-protestors; militarised responses that some compared to “conditions in war zones;” as well as high numbers of protesters arrested and detained in some States.
“Protest is a very powerful tool; parts of nations are created out of protest. We have a responsibility and a right to speak up when we see things that are not working to advance humanity” said LaTosha Brown, one of the founders of Black Voters Matter.
Brown was one of the many civil society actors across the world consulted by UN Human Rights to produce the High Commissioner’s report. The report also puts forward a Four Point Agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality, which recommends measures to ensure that the voices of people of African descent and those who stand up against racism are heard and that their concerns are acted upon.
A call to protect those who stand up against racism
Bachelet’s report puts the clampdown on anti-racism protests within a broader context, in which the voices of people of African descent, and people combatting racism, are stifled, and human rights defenders of African descent face reprisals, including harassment, threats, criminal prosecutions, violence and killings.
Bachelet’s report notes that the past and current contributions of individuals, including human rights defenders and journalists, many of whom are women, and of organizations must be recognized and publicly supported. They must be heard and acted on, the report states, adding that civil society activism is “crucial for advancing ideas and aspirational goals in the public domain as a constructive way of affecting change” the report stated
In a set of recommendations listed in her report, Bachelet calls on States to honour their obligations to protect those standing up against racism within and outside the context of assemblies”
She further urges States, within the context of assemblies, to respect the rights of organizers, participants, medical staff, journalists, bystanders and observers without discrimination, including by protecting them from abuse and attacks.
Bachelet also highlights that all stakeholders should affirm that the work of actors fighting for racial justice and equality is legitimate and should prioritize protecting spaces in which they can operate freely and safely.
Bachelet also reminds States that they “have an obligation to investigate effectively, impartially and in a timely manner any allegation of unlawful use of force or other violations by law enforcement officials.”
“The Black Lives Matter movement and other civil society groups led by people of African descent have provided grassroots leadership through listening to communities,” High Commissioner Bachelet said. “They are also providing people with the necessary agency and empowerment that enables them to claim their human rights. Such efforts should receive funding, public recognition and support.”
15 July 2021
This story is the last in a four-part series presenting UN High Commissioner Bachelet’s Agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality. Each part highlights the historic specificities, the lived experience and current realities of people of African descent in several States