Racism, police violence and drug policies on the UN Human Rights Council agenda

Together with other human rights organizations, in this session we worked on various security and human rights issues.

The Human Rights Council, the United Nations body in charge of defending and promoting human rights throughout the world, held session through July 12. The Council is comprised of 47 States, elected by vote from among the UN Member States. Argentina is one of them for the 2021 period.

Many human rights organizations from different parts of the world participate in the sessions. Our perspective is independent from that of the States; we accompany victims or family members and/or present investigation findings and evidence of human rights violations. At CELS, our agenda usually includes a variety of issues from our region, as well as some thematic agendas that we work on in coalition with other organizations from different parts of the world.

In this session, we worked on various agenda items related to security and human rights, such as police violence and its relationship to structural racism, detentions and incarcerations related to drug prohibition and the use of force to suppress protests.

International mechanism against structural racism and police violence

In June 2020 the Human Rights Council had to call a historic emergency session due to the anti-racism protest movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Although there was an effort to form an investigation committee to address police violence against the African American community in the United States, diplomacy in that country exercised pressure to prevent it; a global investigation was ultimately conducted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. This year, the countries of the African group on the Council presented an initiative to establish a global mechanism to act against structural racism and, specifically against racist police violence, a phenomenon that persists in the United States, in Europe and in Latin America. Even today in 2021, major countries like the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and Canada put up resistance to this mechanism.

Different Afro-organizations from these regions have formed a coalition with human rights organizations to support the initiative of the African group and ensure that the UN as a whole provides a robust response to this historic problem, and to the colonial legacies that perpetuate discrimination against Afro-descendants. This alliance, with support from several Latin American countries (including Argentina) managed to defend resolution A/HRC/47/L.8/Rev.1 creating an international mechanism of experts who must move forward over the next three months in the cause for equality and racial justice on police issues in relation to colonial legacies and the enslavement of African persons, and to investigate state responses to anti-racism protests. This body will also work on accountability and reparations to victims.

— “Without justice, there is no peace. The UN’s role in accountability for police violence against Africans and Afro-descendants.” On July 7, a side event was held to debate these issues, co-organized by CELS, ACLU, ISHR, ILEX of Colombia, Conectas and the Organización Negra por Direitos Humanos.

See the full video here

Arbitrary detentions related to drug policies 

The prohibition of drugs has mounted a punitive system around drug production, trafficking and even consumption, in which the police, the criminal justice system and prisons play key roles. This system has been shown to have many problems. While numerous human rights violations involved in the “war on drugs” have been under investigation for some time now, drug trafficking and consumption continue to grow.

But what about the human rights violations that result from these policies? CELS was one of the first human rights organizations to denounce this situation in Latin America in the international system. Detentions of consumers, incarceration of women in situations of vulnerability for petty trafficking, forced internment and quasi military interventions in poor neighborhoods. This year, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions conducted an investigation into arbitrary detentions related to drug policy, presented to the Council for the UN Member States to debate its findings.

— “Strengthening the role of the UN system on drug policies: The case of Arbitrary Detentions”: A side event to the Council session took place on July 2, co-organized with the delegations from Switzerland, France, Portugal, Albania, Greece, Paraguay and Uruguay, in addition to several international organizations: PRI, HRI and IDPC.

They heard from people directly affected by these punitive policies: Yatie Jonet, a mother and drug user in Malaysia who was interned against her will in rehab centers. And Claudia Cardona, a Colombian activist who was jailed for a minor drug offense and has dedicated her experience to the fight against the injustice of incarcerating women.

See the full video here

Repression and the use of force in cases of social protest 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in inequality in numerous countries. Marginalized areas, indigenous peoples and racial minorities have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic and in many cases had higher death rates than the rest of society. In the midst of the health crisis, massive social protests erupted, such as the anti-racism protests or massive mobilizations like the National Strike in Colombia. The responses from States in many of these cases was violent and repressive: 17,000 detained in the two weeks following the George Floyd killing in the U.S., more than 1,600 victims of police violence and over 80 with eye injuries from rubber bullets.

The Council must provide States with recommendations and guidelines for the democratic management of social protest, particularly in times of crisis. Likewise, social organizations from countries like the U.S. and Colombia are demanding sanctions against those responsible for these acts of violence. CELS, along with 14 other organizations in the INCLO network, conducted follow-up on the responses by States during the pandemic, as well as the tools and strategies developed by social organizations to get through these difficult circumstances.

— “Social Protest: Use of Force by States in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic”: A side event was held on July 5 with participation by the UN Special Rapporteur on protest issues, in which CELS presented the principal State Responses to protests during COVID-19, with references to Colombia and recent events in our region.

See the full video here