Systematic murder and dismemberment of unarmed African Americans by police constitute crimes against humanity that should be investigated and prosecuted under international law, investigation into U.S. police brutality found led by leading human rights advocates from around the world.
A week after former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd, the relentless epidemic of police murders of black men and women in the United States has now gained international attention torrid.
In a devastating 188-page report, human rights experts from 11 countries hold the United States accountable for what it says is a long history of violations of international law that in some cases reaches the level crimes against humanity.
They report what they call “police killings” as well as “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhumane acts” as systematic attacks against the black community that meet the definition of these crimes. .
They also call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to open an immediate investigation with a view to prosecution.
“This finding of crimes against humanity was not given lightly, we included it with a very clear mind,” said Hina Jilani, one of the 12 commissioners who carried out the investigation, at Guardian. “We have looked at all the facts and concluded that there are situations in the United States that require urgent ICC review.”
Among its other findings, the commission accuses the United States of:
violate its international human rights obligations, both in terms of the law governing the maintenance of order and the practices of law enforcement officials, including road stops targeting blacks and stops and searches based on the race;
tolerate an “alarming national pattern of disproportionate use of lethal force not only by guns but also by tasers” against black people;
operating a “culture of impunity” in which police officers are rarely held accountable while their acts of homicide are dismissed as “bad apples”.
The commissioners also accuse African Americans of being frequently subjected to torture at the hands of the police. They claim that the use of strangulation and other violent means of restraint during arrests amounts to torture – also a crime against humanity under international law.
Jilani, who is president of the World Organization Against Torture, said last week’s guilty verdict in Floyd’s murder confirmed the commission’s views. “This made it clear to us that the use of force in arresting an individual is not only dehumanizing, it clearly amounts to torture and the potential loss of life.”
The report stems directly from the fanfare that swept the country in the wake of Floyd’s murder last May. As protests erupted across the country and around the world, the families of Floyd and other blacks killed by police in recent years have called on the UN to open a formal investigation into the shootings.
Under intense pressure from the Trump administration, however, the UN has been reluctant to be drawn into the debate. A coalition of three leading law organizations – the US-based National Conference of Black Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild, and the World Association of Democratic Lawyers – entered the breach, joining forces to organize their own independent investigation into US police brutality.
A group of commissioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean met to examine police violence and the structural racism that underlies it. Virtual public hearings were held earlier this year, with testimony from the families of victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent times.
Among the 44 blacks who died or maimed by police and whose cases came under the commission’s spotlight were: Floyd; Sean Bell, killed on his wedding day in 2006 after police fired 50 bullets; Eric Garner, who died of suffocation in 2014 while shouting “I can’t breathe”; Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old playing with a toy gun fired in 2014 seconds after the police arrived; Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old whose murder sparked the Black Lives Matter movement; Freddie Gray, who died in 2015 after undergoing a “rough ride” in a police van; and Breonna Taylor, killed while sleeping during a police raid on her home in March 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.
On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced it was holding a civil rights investigation into police practices in Louisville.
Jilani told the Guardian that as a native of Pakistan and involved in numerous UN investigations into human rights abuses, she was familiar with accounts of extreme brutality from the forces of the United Nations. ‘order. “But even I found the testimony we heard in the United States extremely distressing. I was surprised that this country, which claims to be a world champion of human rights, does not respect international law itself.
She added that as she listened to relatives of police victims tell their stories, “it became clear that this was no longer a story of individual trauma, but a story of trauma inflicted on a whole body. part of the American population. “
The commission’s report highlights the human impact of systemic discrimination against African Americans. He says the United States operates two systems of law.
“One is for whites, and another is for people of African descent,” he says.
During public hearings held in January and February, relatives gave a more personal impression of what such trauma entails. Nicole Paultre Bell, wife of Sean Bell, testified: “Imagine living in a world where you have to explain to your children that their father, an unarmed husband on the morning of his wedding, can be rightly killed in a hail. of 50 police bullets. . “
One of the more visceral accounts came from Dominic Archibald, the mother of Nathaniel Pickett who was shot by a police officer in 2018 for doing nothing other than crossing the street unarmed. In his testimony, Archibald began by explaining that “Nate” was his only child.
“He was my heritage, my faith in the present moment and my hope for the future. Can I ever put this impact into words? Would anyone ever understand? she said.
Responding to her own question, she continued, “That answer is no. Nate was my perfect gift from God. When he was killed, every hope and dream in my head was destroyed, taken and relegated to a statistic.
The report gives its own scorching figures. Unarmed blacks are almost four times more likely than their white counterparts to be killed by the police.
Since 2005, around 15,000 people have been killed by law enforcement, a rate of around 1,000 per year. During this same period, only 104 police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with the incidents, and of these, only 35 were convicted of a felony.
The commissioners are making a number of demands on the US government and Congress. They want to see the demilitarization of local police forces and the ban on interdiction warrants that allow officers to raid black homes like Breonna Taylor’s without warning and often without cause.
They also want an end to qualified immunity by which police officers avoid civil lawsuits. The commissioners say that this loophole “amounts to tolerating brutal police violence”.
But the most controversial demand will probably be the call for the ICC prosecutor to open an investigation against the United States for crimes against humanity. It is questionable how effective this tactic would be even if such an investigation were opened, given that the United States has refused to recognize the International Criminal Court.
Jilani said she hopes the U.S. government sees such action supporting much-needed change. “We felt that the United States would benefit if individual police officers were deterred from using undue force, knowing that some sort of international criminal liability could be incurred against them.”