UN Human Rights Council, spurred by Floyd killing, approves report on systemic racism

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday condemned discriminatory and violent policing that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, and ordered a report be drawn up on "systemic racism" against people of African descent.

Rejected 1st draft had explicitly called for an inquiry on racism in the U.S. and elsewhere

George Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, spoke Wednesday via video at the Human Rights Council, which is led by High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, right. (Martial Trezzini/Reuters)

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday condemned discriminatory and violent policing after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, and ordered a report on "systemic racism" against people of African descent.

The 47-member state forum in Geneva unanimously adopted a resolution, brought by African countries. The mandate also asks UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to examine government responses to peaceful protests, including accusations of the excessive use of force, and deliver findings in a year's time.

Burkina Faso's Ambassador Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri presented the African resolution on Friday, urging its adoption by consensus.

"It is important to show Africa … the Human Rights Council has heard the plight of African and people of African descent calling for equal treatment and application of equal rights for all," he said.

The Africa group had made "concessions" in the negotiations with other countries that were "quite numerous," he said.

ACLU pans compromises

The text was watered down during closed-door negotiations from an initial draft explicitly calling for a UN commission of inquiry focusing significantly on racism in the United States and elsewhere. The Trump administration quit the forum two years ago, alleging anti-Israeli bias, but U.S. officials have engaged in back-channel diplomacy as the text was being drawn up.

"By bullying other countries to water down what would have been a historic resolution and exempting itself from international investigation, the United States is yet again turning its back on victims of police violence and Black people," said Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led 600 activist groups in calling for the debate.

"We will not rest until the U.S. is fully held accountable for police violence and structural racism."

Floyd's younger brother on Wednesday urged the panel to investigate U.S. police brutality and racial discrimination.

"The way you saw my brother tortured and murdered on camera is the way Black people are treated by police in America," Philonise Floyd told the Geneva meeting by video.

He urged the creation of an independent commission to investigate American police killings of Black people and violence used against peaceful protesters.

"You watched my brother die. That could have been me. I am my brother's keeper. You in the United Nations are your brothers' and sisters' keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother George Floyd," he said.

Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, issued a statement earlier this week before the Human Rights Council convened the debate. Bremberg admitted that the country was grappling with racial discrimination and implementing police reforms after Floyd's killing, but stressed that other countries should show the same level of openness as the U.S. is in confronting the issues.

"As the world's leading advocate for human rights, we call upon all governments to demonstrate the same level of transparency and accountability that the U.S. and our democratic partners practice," Bremberg said. "We are not above scrutiny; however, any HRC resolution on this topic that calls out countries by name should be inclusive, noting the many countries where racism is a problem."

During the debate, Western delegations including Australia, Germany, Italy, Poland and the European Union said that the United States should not be singled out.

"This problem does not belong to any one country, it is a problem around the world," said Australian ambassador Sally Mansfield.

Activists said that Australia had been particularly active in negotiations to take the spotlight off the United States.

Germany's ambassador Michael Ungern-Sternberg said: "We are convinced a report with a broader approach and less focus on one specific case would have been more appropriate."

Still, Senegal's envoy Coly Seck, a former council president, welcomed the consensus that was reached, telling the talks: "Black Lives Matter."

With files from The Associated Press