Unaddressed systemic racism remains the most serious issue in the United States today. And it has been so since before the founding of our nation. So the killing of African-American George Floyd by a police officer was not an isolated incident.
In the past, similar killings occurred to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many other African-Americans as a result of racial violence. This tells the level of systemic racial injustice in the USA.
In fact, there’re countless individuals within the black community who have suffered for far too long at the hands of a complacent America. It is high time to speak out against police brutality. It was absolutely right for people to rise up to resist injustice and to rebuild a future that is rooted in human rights and true equality.
Turning to George Floyd, no one on this planet could have failed to see the 8 minutes and 46 seconds in which George Floyd was killed. The killing of George Floyd has shocked many in the world, but it is the lived reality of black people across the United States. The uprising nationally is a protest against systemic racism that produces state-sponsored racial violence, and licenses impunity for this violence.
The uprising also reflects public frustration, anger and protest against many other glaring manifestations of systemic racism that have been impossible to ignore in the past months, including the racially disparate death rate and socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disparate and discriminatory enforcement of pandemic-related restrictions. This systemic racism is a prevalent phenomenon in the USA as it is in other places in the world. The protests the world has witnessed are a rejection of the fundamental racial inequality and discrimination that characterize life in the United States for black people.
More often than not the USA purports to be a role model of upholding the core values of human rights, but the killing of George Floyd further affirms a perpetuated systemic racism in American society.
In view of the above, one would wonder if the USA lives up to its international obligations. To begin with, the United States signed the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“ICERD”) in 1966, ratifying the same in 1994. Article 2 of ICERD contains fundamental obligations assumed by parties to ICERD, which says:
“1. States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races, and, to this end: (a) Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation;
(b) Each State Party undertakes not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any persons or organizations; (c) Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists; (d) Each State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization; (e) Each State Party undertakes to encourage, where appropriate, integrationist multiracial organizations and movements and other means of eliminating barriers between races, and to discourage anything which tends to strengthen racial division.
2. States Parties shall, when the circumstances so warrant, take, in the social, economic, cultural and other fields, special and concrete measures to ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These measures shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved.”
The United States’ fundamental obligations under Article 2 of the ICERD merit serious consideration, especially when one recalls various domestic legislation initiatives in the United States to establish a committee to study and develop reparations proposals for African-Americans who suffered racial injustices.
This is a time for action and not just talk, especially from those who need not fear for their lives or their livelihoods because of their race or ethnicity.
Globally, people of African descent and others have had to live the truths of systemic racism, and the associated pain, often without meaningful recourse as they navigate their daily lives. International leaders that have spoken out in solidarity with protestors, and with black people in the United States should also take this opportunity to address structural forms of racial and ethnic injustice in their own nations, and within the international system itself.
It’s absolutely important to encourage African-Americans, and by support of human rights defenders, never again to remain silent to such glaring injustices. Inaction is simply unacceptable, and all of us must stand up and speak out racism and inequality.
The writer is a law expert.