Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism and police brutality – Op-ed

Joint reflexions by United Nations Senior African Officials: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 June 2020:

A desperate yearning for a long-departed mother. Reaching deep from the bowels of fragile humanity. Gasping for breath. Begging for mercy. The entire world heard the tragic cry. The family of nations saw his face pounded against the harsh tarmac. Unbearable pain in broad daylight. A neck buckling under the knee and weight of history. A gentle giant, desperately clinging to life. Yearning to breathe free. Till his last breath.

As senior African leaders in the United Nations, the last few weeks of protests at the killing of George Floyd in the hands of police, have left us all outraged at the injustice of racism that continues to be pervasive in our host country and across the world.

Not enough can ever be said about the deep trauma and inter-generational suffering that has resulted from the racial injustice perpetrated through centuries, particularly against people of African descent. To merely condemn expressions and acts of racism is not enough. We must go beyond and do more.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (Photo) stated that “we need to raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behaviour”.

Following the killing of Mr. George Floyd, the cry ‘Black Lives Matter’ resounding across the United States and throughout the world is more than a slogan.

In fact, they do not only matter, they are quintessential to the fulfilment of our common human dignity. Now is the time to move from words to deeds.

We owe it to George Floyd and to all victims of racial discrimination and police brutality to dismantle racist institutions.

As leaders in the multilateral system, we believe it is incumbent upon us to speak for those whose voices have been silenced, and advocate for effective responses that would contribute to fight systemic racism, a global scourge that has been perpetuated over centuries.

The shocking killing of George Floyd is rooted in a wider and intractable set of issues that will not disappear if we ignore them. It is time for the United Nations to step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups “in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” as stipulated in Article 1 of the UN Charter.

Indeed, the foundation of the United Nations is the conviction that all human beings are equal and entitled to live without fear of persecution.

It was at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States and during the emergence of post-colonial independent African nations joining the United Nations, that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) came into force in 1969.

This was a pivotal time in history. The collapse of apartheid in South Africa, driven in part by the United Nations, was one of the Organization’s proudest achievements.

The human rights and dignity of black people in Africa as well as across the African diaspora resonated as a powerful signal to future generations, that the United Nations would neither turn a blind eye on racial discrimination nor tolerate injustice and bigotry under the cover of unjust laws.

In this new era, the United Nations must in the same vein use its influence to once again remind us of the unfinished business of eradicating racism and urge the community of nations to remove the stain of racism on humanity.

We welcome the initiatives by the Secretary-General to strengthen the global anti-racism discourse, which would address systemic racism at all levels, as well as its impact wherever it exists, including in the United Nations Organization itself.

If we are to lead, we must do so by example. To initiate and sustain real change, we also must have an honest assessment of how we uphold the UN Charter within our institution.

Our expression of solidarity is well in keeping with our responsibilities and obligations as international civil servants to stand up and speak out against oppression. As leaders we share the core beliefs and the values and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations that do not leave us the option to keep silent.

We commit to harnessing our expertise, leadership, and mandates to address the root causes and structural changes that must be implemented if we are to bring an end to racism.

Almost 500 years after the revolting Transatlantic trade of Africans began, we have arrived at a critical point in the arc of the moral universe as we approach in 2024 the end of the International Decade for People of African Descent, a mere four years away. Let us use our collective voice to fulfil the aspirations of our communities that the United Nations will wield its moral power as an institution to effect global change.

Let us use our voice to contribute towards the realization of Africa’s own transformative vision contained in Agenda 2063 which is consistent with the world’s Agenda 2030.

Africa is the cradle of humanity and the forerunner of human civilizations. Africa as a continent must play a definitive role if the world is to achieve sustainable development and peace. That was the dream of the founders of the Organization of African Unity, that was also the strong belief of prominent leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and eminent intellectuals such as Cheikh Anta Diop.

Let us never forget the words of President Nelson Mandela: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Let us ever bear in mind the admonition of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free”, who was echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Their words were later embodied into the rainbow of the diverse nation of South Africa, as spelled by the peacemaker Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he stated that “Black liberation is an absolutely indispensable prerequisite to white liberation – nobody will be free until we all are free.”

About the authors

All signatories listed below are senior UN officials who hold the rank of Under Secretary-General. They signed this Op Ed in their personal capacity:

Tedros ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS

Mahamat Saleh ANNADIF

Zainab BANGURA

Winnie BYANYIMA

Mohamed Ibn CHAMBAS

Adama DIENG

François Lounceny FALL

Bience GAWANAS

Gilbert HOUNGBO

Bishar A. HUSSEIN

Natalia KANEM

Mukhisa KITUYI

Jeremiah Nyamane MAMABOLO

Phumzile MLAMBO-NGCUKA

Mankeur NDIAYE

Parfait ONANGA-ANYANGA

Moussa D. OUMAROU

Pramila PATTEN

Vera SONGWE

Hanna TETTEH

Ibrahim THIAW

Leila ZERROUGUI

1 Comment

  1. The killing of George Floyd, the 46year African American man in Minneapolis, by a white police Derek Chauvin provoked international outrage about the systemic racism suffered by African Americans in the hands of the police . People ask why did people react to this killing and not the others? The simple answers is, the police officer not only had his knee on his neck, his hands were in his pockets and he had a smug in his face. There is no sense of humanity, while the man is begging for his life. Before that there has been many such deaths in the hands of police officers right across the United States. Hence the founding of Black lives matter in July 2013,in protest against police brutality.

    The death of Eric Garner on similar circumstances in July 2014 in the streets of New York brought the use of police choke holds to the fore. George Floyd was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit 20 dollar note in a corner shop. Eric Garner was accused of selling fake cigarettes. None of them were armed or a threat to the police. So one wonders how comes when mass shooting is done by white men they are always taken to custody alive? Am I confused or missing something? None of these two misdemeanours, warranted them to lose their lives. The one thing they have in common is they are well built black men. To the eyes of a white police officer they are a threat.

    What white police officers need to be taught is that when their forefathers came to Africa to buy slaves, they were not looking for weaklings, they picked the well built and the most productive African men and women they knew will survive the long ship journey to America and the West Indies. So these are their descendants they are policing now. I think going forward with police reform, every police Academy in America should teach history of African Americans as part of their training manual. It will create a better understanding of the people they are policing. I am glad the African Union is adding their voice.

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