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UN agrees to urgent debate on US racism

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Burkina Faso's ambassador to the UN in Geneva last week sent Tichy-Fisslberger a letter on behalf of Africa's 54 countries. AFP

UN agrees to urgent debate on US racism

The UN’s top rights body on Monday agreed to a request from African countries to urgently debate racism and police brutality this week, following unrest in the US and beyond over George Floyd’s death.

As the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council resumed after breaking in March over the novel coronavirus pandemic, council president Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger proposed to hold the debate on Wednesday.

“I can see no objections. It is therefore so decided,” she said.

It is only the fifth time in the council’s 14-year history that it has agreed to hold an “urgent debate”, which is a special debate agreed upon within a regular session of the council.

The first-ever such urgent debate at the council came in 2010 to address a deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla bringing aid to Gaza. Urgent debates were also held in 2013, 2014 and 2018 on the situation in war-ravaged Syria.

Burkina Faso’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva last Friday sent Tichy-Fisslberger a letter on behalf of Africa’s 54 countries, calling for an urgent debate on “racially inspired human rights violations, police brutality against people of African descent and the violence against the peaceful protests that call for these injustices to stop”.

That call came after Floyd’s family, along with the families of other victims of police violence and over 600 NGOs this week called on the council to urgently address systemic racism and police impunity in the US.

Friday’s letter pointed to the case of Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, after a white officer, who has since been charged with murder, pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

His death, which was caught on video and has sparked massive protests across the US and around the world, “is unfortunately not an isolated incident”.

“Many other cases of persons of African descent [have] faced the same fate because of their origin and police violence,” Burkina Faso ambassador Dieudonne Desire Sougouri told the council on Monday.

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