Brazil: Invite UN Experts on Racial Justice

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Activists hold a sign that reads in Portuguese “Justice for Jacarezinho. End massacres in favelas” during a protest a day after police killed 27 people during an operation in Jacarezinho favela, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 7, 2021.
© Wilton Junior/Estadão conteúdo (Agencia Estado via AP Images)

(São Paulo) – The Brazilian government should invite the new UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement to conduct a fact-finding mission in Brazil, more than 100 international and Brazilian organizations said today in an open letter to Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franco França. The official invitation is necessary for the UN experts to be able to visit the country, where police abuse, disproportionately of Black people, is a chronic problem.

Police killed more than 6,400 people in 2020, according to the latest data available, the highest number ever recorded by the nonprofit Brazilian Forum of Public Security, which collects official data from Brazilian states. While Black people make up about 56 percent of Brazil’s population, nearly 80 percent of those killed are Black.

“Police abuse has an enormous toll on people of African descent in Brazil,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should invite the UN experts to assess the situation and provide recommendations, which would be valuable contributions to ensuring professional and efficient police forces that collaborate with and protect communities, and uphold the rule of law, without discrimination.”

The signatories include grassroots groups working in communities affected by police abuse, associations of mothers of victims of police violence, and organizations focusing on racial equality, national human rights organizations, and academic institutions.

During a visit to Brazil, the UN experts could gather information and meet with members of directly affected communities, civil society organizations, public security experts, justice officials, and representatives of federal and state governments. Their independent assessment and recommendations could significantly help and inform federal and state authorities in the process of developing reforms to uphold basic rights and advance racial justice and equality.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing the group of experts “to further transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement globally” in July 2021. The Group of African States brought the resolution forward at a time when a growing chorus around the world has been calling for fundamental, systemic reforms to advance racial justice, accountability, and reparations.

The three expert members – Justice Yvonne Mokgoro of South Africa, Tracie L. Keesee of the United States, and Juan Méndez of Argentina – were appointed in December 2021. They will present their first report at the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, scheduled for the second half of 2022.

The Expert Mechanism is mandated with examining the root causes of systemic racism, particularly in the excessive use of force and other violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement officials.

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