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July 31, 2020

Human Rights Accountability for Systemic Racism in U.S. Policing


On July 31, in collaboration with Justice Revival, the live panel discussed our moment's potential to advance reform of law enforcement and learn how civil society, faith leaders, and communities can draw on the power of global human rights in their advocacy for police reform at home.

Panelists included:
Nicole Austin-Hillery
Executive Director, U.S. Program
Human Rights Watch

Justin Hansford
Executive Director, Thurgood Marshall Center for Civil Rights
Howard University School of Law

Gay J. McDougall
Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence
Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham University

The conversation will be moderated by Allyson McKinney Timm, Founder and Executive Director, Justice Revival

In June, the brother of George Floyd testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council about the trauma his family suffered after watching the death of their loved one at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin. At the same historic debate, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism and a coalition of African nations called for an independent Commission of Inquiry to probe systemic racism in law enforcement—in the U.S. and around the world.

Six years prior, the family of Michael Brown and civil society advocates testified before the U.N. Committee Against Torture about racially disparate excessive force in U.S. policing. Two years ago, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a comprehensive report on the human rights implications of racialized policing in the U.S.—the first report by this regional body on racism in this country.

In recent months, massive public outcry and unprecedented transnational protests have amplified longstanding concerns and sparked urgent conversations about the reforms urgently needed to overcome longstanding systemic racism in the U.S. criminal system.

What potential does this dynamic moment hold for further harnessing the power of global human rights principles and structures to advance reform? How can civil society, including faith leaders and communities, draw on the power of global human rights in their advocacy for police reform at home?

Panelists will reflect on the significance of the Floyd and Brown families’ engagement with the U.N. system in their search for justice. They’ll consider how survivors, advocates, and civil society can best utilize the human rights framework to further crucial goals of safeguarding Black lives, as well as moving the U.S. toward full equality and an end to grave racial discrimination in its criminal justice system.

Photo by Richard Grant

Live Chat
Private Member 2: 12:01 pm

Hello everyone, welcome. After signing in, please ask your questions to the panel here.

Jen Gee: 12:02 pm


Private Member 1: 12:14 pm

Hello and thank you. This is excellent in understanding the difference between human rights and civil rights.

Karin Ryan: 12:16 pm

Justin Hansford: human rights is more encompassing than civil rights. We should broaden our demands for the former.

Karin Ryan: 12:20 pm

Gay McDougall: The US has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), as well as the Convention Against Torture (CAT)

Karin Ryan: 12:21 pm

These UN treaties provide broader definitions of racial discrimination that should be used to decribe and address racial violence

Karin Ryan: 12:23 pm

GM: UN treaties also require governments to take postive measures --not just reacting after the fact.

Karin Ryan: 12:24 pm

The hatred expressed by the officers was evident and should be addressed by state authorities.

Karin Ryan: 12:26 pm

Nicole Austin-Hillery: This is a bust day for justice--Human Rights Watch just issued report on lack of access by Black and Brown people to have access to parole, the vote etc.

Jen Gee: 12:27 pm

Yes! Rights are global! Important to articulate the civil rights are one part of a broader set of rights!

Karin Ryan: 12:27 pm

NAH: We must explore inextricable link between civil rights and human rights --John Lewis reminded us the HUMAN RIGHTS and GLOBAL--civil rights are encompassed within and under Human Rights umbrella

Private Member 2: 12:27 pm

The report that Nicole Austin-Hillery mentioned can be found at

Karin Ryan: 12:28 pm

It was remarkable that John Lewis asked us in his final message to build connections to global human rights movements

Karin Ryan: 12:29 pm

GM: I have been urging since 1995 that we make this shift in understanding --Human Rights Network includes grass roots human rights workers throuout the country

Karin Ryan: 12:30 pm

These are community organizers, that took on board the Human RIghts banner. This has been building for 25 years

Karin Ryan: 12:32 pm

JM: We put together a "shadow report" which provided Ferguson acitivists with an alternative voice at the UN.

Karin Ryan: 12:34 pm

JM: We helped prepare witnesses to testify in Geneva at the UN. One of the most moving experiences was Michael Brown's mother testifying at the UN before the Human RIghts Council. She finally had her voice recognized.Says a lot that she had to travel to Geneva to be heard. This was the most meaningful thing I have done as a lawyer

Karin Ryan: 12:36 pm

JM: This was so useful. Some say civil rights are more important because they are enforceable. But when we cam back from Geneva, there was a lot of interest and behind the scenes the authorities faced increased pressure to address the case BECAUSE of the UN testimony.

Karin Ryan: 12:37 pm

JM: WHether or not the law acts on your behalf is ALWAYS political.

Karin Ryan: 12:38 pm

You need political dynamics to be on your side...the UN process can help create that political pressure.

Karin Ryan: 12:39 pm

People who say UN is useless, dont take into account the pressure that comes from engaging globally

Karin Ryan: 12:43 pm

GM: Regarding George Floyd case, UN Human RIghts Council Resolution calls for an investigation, which is ground breaking. We were disappointed that no resources were dedicated. But we are follwoing up.

Karin Ryan: 12:43 pm

Geoge Folyd's brother testified and was crucial in shining a light at the UN on US behavior.

Karin Ryan: 12:44 pm

WEB Dubois had called for a UN investigation of US racial injustice but the issue was buried by Elaeanor Roosevelt.

Karin Ryan: 12:45 pm

There is a long history to this but the Floyd case is historic

Karin Ryan: 12:46 pm

GM: Other countries said that their delegations were threatened (withdrawing aid packages, etc) by the US to vote against the Resolution

Karin Ryan: 12:47 pm

GM: Working for eqaulity at the global level can benefot our work here at home

Karin Ryan: 12:48 pm

NAH: WE need a reform agenda that does more than just scratching the surface.

Karin Ryan: 12:48 pm

NAH: Like banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants--tose are obvious but we need systems changes.

Karin Ryan: 12:49 pm

NAH: HRW has learned from communities that what is needed is to DI-vest in police and RE-invest in the communities.

Karin Ryan: 12:50 pm

The money is going toward militarizing police--instead it must go toward real needs.

Karin Ryan: 12:51 pm

NAH: Tulsa--more money was going toward police than toward transportation and other basic needs COMBINED

Karin Ryan: 12:51 pm

Fines for petty offense fill coffers of militarized police

Kimberley G: 12:52 pm

I appreciate this call for us to divest and reinvest, as well for audiences who have been disenfranchised to become more attentive and accountable for local government changes.

Karin Ryan: 12:53 pm

GM: Its stunning how much cities are spending on civil suits brought by people who are abused. NYC spent 300 MILLION DOLLARS to pay civil suits. Just think fo what bthat mioney could do if invested in community instead?

Karin Ryan: 12:54 pm

GM; What about IMPUNITY? Those who are committing human rights abuses actually are prosectued and convicted and punished in a commenserate manner

Karin Ryan: 12:55 pm

GM: there has to be a way of breaking the power of polic unions--they are not just about protecting jobs and normal labor rights. They have forced cities and states to enshrine impunity in their systems

Karin Ryan: 12:57 pm

NAH: When people ask about defunding police-- I tell them its about EFFECTIVE and FAIR allocation of resources to make communities stronger! Militarizing the police (which takes MONEY) is NOT doing that!

Kimberley G: 12:58 pm

Amen, listen to the people about what communities need to be strengthened. Relying on power and a patriarchal sense of power and righteousness is not the way to our best unity and living justly.

Private Member 1: 12:58 pm

So that the language and focus of conversation should be more to restructuring.

Jen Gee: 12:58 pm

We should have these three experts again! So good and so much more to discuss.

Karin Ryan: 12:59 pm

CALL TO ACTION--JH: WE are facing a HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS, not just a civil rights crisis. People should participate in protests. DIVEST from police--INVEST in communities. Reparations are part of that. BE INVOLVED> Civic leaders should support orgs doing that work.

Karin Ryan: 1:00 pm

GM: Ditto to Justi. YOUNG PEOPLE--please stay out in the streets. Others should find a way to support protests.

Private Member 1: 1:00 pm

Wall of Moms

Karin Ryan: 1:00 pm

GM: People should support BLM Movement

Private Member 1: 1:01 pm

NAH, yes, agreed. Agreed.

Karin Ryan: 1:01 pm

NAH: Whay can you do? Use your own personal bully pulpit to make a difference. Some wait fot others to do it. The time is NOW for each of us to look in the mirror and SHOW UP right where you are.

Karin Ryan: 1:02 pm

Our COLLECTIVE engagement will add up and make a difference.


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