UN human rights chief urges nations to pay reparations for slavery, colonialism

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UN human rights chief urges nations to pay reparations for slavery, colonialism

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Michelle Bachelet urged countries to address today’s systemic racism and “centuries of violence and discrimination” through reparations and other processes.

In a Human Rights Council meeting held in Geneva, Wednesday, council members addressed racism globally and focused on the recent calls for reform changes, particularly in the United States.

The commissioner pointed to the “gratuitous brutality” that police used in the U.S. resulting in the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody on May 25, sparking nationwide protests.

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“Behind today’s racial violence, systemic racism and discriminatory policing lies the failure to acknowledge and confront the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism,” Bachelet said.

Demonstrations also took place throughout Europe in response to police brutality and racial injustices. Dozens of statues of slave traders and figures representing colonial imperialism were removed.


Bachelet said it was not enough to condemn racism and police brutality but that “it was also necessary to make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination, including through formal apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms.”

Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, addressed the council in a video message Wednesday, requesting the UNHCR’s assistance in combating racism in the U.S.

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“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,” Philonese Floyd said. “I am asking you to help him. I am asking you to help me. I am asking you to help us — black people in America.”

President Trump removed the United States as a member of Human Rights body two years ago. But the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, Andrew Bremberg, released a statement prior to the meeting Wednesday, noting an executive order on police reform signed by the President Tuesday.

“The United States recognizes and is committed to addressing its shortcomings, including racial discrimination, and injustices that stem from such discrimination, that persist in our society,” Bremberg said. “Every democracy faces challenges — the difference is how we deal with them.”

Twenty African nations have requested that the Human Rights Council investigate racism and police brutality in the U.S., but Bachelet has not yet said whether or not she supports the resolution.

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Instead she stressed the need for “decisive action” and reform, noting she was “heartened” to see measures on local and national levels banning chokeholds, tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades for police forces.

The debate is expected to continue Thursday where a vote on the resolution could be addressed.

“All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights: that is what this council, like my office, stands for,” Bachelet said Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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