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UN human rights experts says deaths in custody reinforce concerns about ‘structural racism’ in UK

UK: “structural racism”

27 April 2018

GENEVA (27 April 2018) - UN human rights experts* have expressed serious concerns over the deaths of a disproportionate number of people of African descent and of ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom as a result of excessive force by State security.

“The deaths reinforce the experiences of structural racism, over-policing and criminalisation of people of African descent and other minorities in the UK,” they said.

The UK Government last month responded to the concerns of the experts, recognising that further improvements were needed to develop solutions on healthcare in police custody, inquests and legal aid and support to families.

Data disclosed by the Metropolitan Police in August 2017 found that people of African descent and of ethnic minority background, in particular young African and Caribbean men, subject to deadly use of force by restraint and restraint equipment, were twice as likely to die after the use of force by police officers and the subsequent lack or insufficiency of access to appropriate healthcare.

According to the experts, these deaths occurred in a range of circumstances, including following the use of force involving firearms, CS spray, long handed batons, electroshock weapons, physical restraint resulting in the inhibition of the respiratory system and asphyxia, restraint equipment, and denial of appropriate healthcare.

“Failure to properly investigate and prosecute such deaths results in a lack of accountability for those individuals and State agencies responsible, as well as in the denial of adequate remedies and reparation for the families of the victims.”  

Reportedly, people of African descent are disproportionally subjected to electroshock weapons in pre-custody and custody setting, and its use is especially apparent in psychiatric settings. Official figures show that people of African descent and persons belonging to ethnic minorities are three times more likely to be subjected to the use of these weapons when discharged by police officers.

“People of African descent with psychosocial disabilities and those experiencing severe mental or emotional distress reportedly face multiple forms of discrimination and are particularly affected by excessive use of force,” said the experts.

“We have raised our concerns with the Government of the United Kingdom, in particular the conclusion of the Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody that there has never been a successful prosecution for manslaughter in this context, despite unlawful killing verdicts in coroner’s inquests.

This points to the lack of accountability and the impunity with which law enforcement and State agencies operate.”
The Government said it had commissioned the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody to implement the recommendations from the Report, the experts said.

The experts urge the Government to ensure an independent review of deaths and grave incidents in police custody and hold law enforcement to account, combat racial discrimination in law enforcement, to implement the prohibition of disproportionate and excessive use of force and restraint, and to ensure adequate remedies and reparations for families of victims.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Racism will visit the UK from 30 April to 11 May 2018 at the invitation of the UK Government.


* The UN experts: Mr. Michal Balcerzak, Chairperson, on behalf of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Fernand de VarennesSpecial Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Catalina Devandas is Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

The Special Rapporteurs are 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 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 organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – United Kingdom

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Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human