by Kerry McLean, Commission of Inquiry Spokesperson and Steering Committee Member
Following the police murder of George Floyd, the United States and later, other parts of the world, erupted into protest. Mr. Floyd’s death reignited public discourse on systemic racism and sparked one of the largest sustained mobilizations against racist police violence in history.
Some activists and lawyers decided to take the fight to the UN as well. An international coalition of more than 600 organizations and individuals sent an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) requesting a special session of the UNHRC and urging that the UN convene a commission of inquiry to investigate racism and racist police violence in the United States. In an unprecedented move the UN African Group followed up on that request, requesting an urgent debate on racism at the UNHRC and also calling for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate racism. We learned that the US pressured some countries to oppose a commission of inquiry. The Human Rights Council declined the request to convene a commission of inquiry, though it did task the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights with preparing a report on racism.
Following the UN’s decision to not convene a commission of inquiry, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers decided to convene a commission of inquiry to conduct the thorough and impartial investigation of racist police violence in the US that the community had demanded. The Commission of Inquiry’s mandate was to investigate the systemic, widespread and grave violations of the rights of Black people by police in the United States and present its findings and recommendations in a report.
We assembled a team of 12 experts to serve as Commissioners—none of whom are from the United States— to conduct the investigations in an independent and impartial manner. Our Commissioners hail from Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Pakistan, South Africa, Japan, India, Nigeria, France, Costa Rica, and the United Kingdom.
We conducted live hearings of 44 cases, where the Commissioners heard testimony from the family members of victims of police violence, testimony from lawyers who represent the families of victims, and testimony from community activists. The Commissioners also reviewed reports, legislation and other relevant materials.
The Commission of Inquiry conducted a thorough investigation into anti-Black violence perpetrated by police in the US both historically and recently, with an emphasis on evaluating the most recent cases and addressing the connection of the current cases to the United States’ history of systemic racism.
We concluded our live hearings of cases in February and our Commissioners worked alongside a team of Rapporteurs to prepare a report. The report is almost 200 pages long and it would be impossible to summarize the findings and recommendations in a short article. In sum, the 12 international legal experts found the United States guilty of gross violations of human rights. Moreover, the Commissioners found that systemic racism and police violence against people of African descent in the United States constitute crimes against humanity.
The report has been shared with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and shared with the public at a press conference in the United States. We’ve also shared the report at virtual press conferences in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Geneva. News outlets such as The Guardian, Newsweek, Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera have discussed our project and report. We hope that the report will be utilized widely, and most importantly serve as a resource to the community. We ask for your solidarity and support in advancing the report and seeking implementation of its recommendations.
We thank the National Lawyers Guild Foundation for financial support of this initiative.
Download the report, watch the recordings of the hearings and read other information about the Commission of Inquiry at inquirycommission.org