June 16, 2020 / 7:05 AM / 17 days ago

Exclusive: African nations seek U.N. inquiry into U.S. racism, 'police brutality' - text

GENEVA (Reuters) - African countries are lobbying to set up a U.N. inquiry into “systemic racism” and “police brutality” in the United States and elsewhere, aiming to defend the rights of people of African descent, a draft resolution seen by Reuters shows.

The text, circulating among diplomats in Geneva, voices alarm at “recent incidents of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators defending the rights of Africans and of people of African descent”.

It will be considered at an urgent debate of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

The Council agreed to convene at the request of Burkina Faso on behalf of African countries after the death last month of George Floyd, an African American, in police custody in Minneapolis, which ignited protests worldwide.

The United States quit the Council two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel.

A senior U.S. diplomat in Geneva defended its record, saying: “Our transparency, commitment to a free press, and insistence on the right to justice allow the world to see our problems and openly engage on our efforts at finding solutions.”

“And when violations of people’s rights are committed we hold people accountable through independent courts, and through an independent media,” he added.

The resolution, subject to change after negotiation at the Council, calls for “an independent international commission of inquiry ... to establish facts and circumstances related to the systemic racism, alleged violations of international human rights law and abuses against Africans and of people of African descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world”.

The inquiry would report back in a year.

“It is countries that hide the truth, violently silence their critics, don’t have democratic accountability, and refuse even to recognise fundamental freedoms that merit censure,” the senior U.S. diplomat said.

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More than 600 activist groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, called last week for the Council to launch an investigation into U.S. abuses.

But Hillel Neuer of the Geneva-based UN Watch told the forum: “We are concerned this session may be a farce when some of the worst practitioners of police brutality and racism will be the ones asked to be the judges.”

The Council already has commissions of inquiry or fact-finding missions into human rights violations in hotspots including Syria, Burundi, Myanmar, South Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean and Giles Elgood

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