Last month, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent conducted a fact-finding mission to the United States to document human rights violations against people of African descent in the African Diaspora. The Working Group traveled to Jackson, MS, Baltimore, Washington DC, Chicago, and New York City to meet with local community members, organizations, advocates and attorneys, and to hear their testimony about the many human rights challenges they face. Along with Rob Robinson of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), I co-coordinated the Working Group’s visit to the New York area last week. It was a packed session.
New Yorkers testified about a wide range of issues, including mass incarceration, the use of solitary confinement, access to affordable housing, school-to-prison pipeline and disciplinary polices, discriminatory policing, sexual violence against Black women by police officers, and the rights of domestic workers and immigrants. Among the most moving testimony was that of Hawa Bah, whose son, Mohamed Bah, was killed by the NYPD after she called 911 for medical assistance and police arrived instead.
New Yorkers also testified about the status of stop and frisk reform, abuses throughout the criminal justice system, limitations in access to legal counsel, the impact of rights violations on young people, the state of reproductive and sexual health, and the lack of adequate structures to effectively implement and monitor human rights obligations at the local and state levels.
CCR has long engaged with UN working groups to bring attention to our work and highlight the experiences of those most impacted by the U.S. government’s human rights shortcomings. We’ve often traveled to Geneva to share our perspective with UN experts, submitted reports and testimony to assist their deliberations, and in some instances brought our clients so they could share their experiences directly.
For this fact-finding mission, CCR submitted a report, highlighting discriminatory and abusive policing practices in New York, discriminatory hiring practices in the Fire Department of New York, the NYPD’s suspicionless surveillance of Muslim communities, and the racially discriminatory application of the death penalty and widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
The Working Group’s full report is expected to come later this year, but their interim findings address many of these issues, in addition to concerns over the criminalization of homeless people and the lack of adequate police accountability for police killings. Notably, the Working Group was not granted full and unfettered access to any detention centers, something it had requested and which independent human rights experts regularly do when conducting fact-finding missions.
We will report on the Working Group’s final report and recommendations when they are released. Stay tuned!