UK: Discrimination against people of African descent is structural, institutional and systemic, say UN experts

UK: Discrimination against people of African descent is structural, institutional and systemic, say UN experts.

LONDON/GENEVA (27 January 2023) – Racism in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is structural, institutional and systemic, UN experts* said today, warning that people of African descent in the country continue to encounter racial discrimination and erosion of their fundamental rights.

“We have serious concerns about impunity and the failure to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, deaths in police custody, ‘joint enterprise’ convictions and the dehumanising nature of the stop and (strip) search,” the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said in a statement at the end of an official visit to the UK.

The experts documented the “trauma” felt by people of African descent who were suffering racial discrimination and injustice in the UK. “A woman of African descent we met during our visit lamented, ‘will this ever end?’” they said.

A decade of austerity measures in the UK had exacerbated racism, racial discrimination and other intolerance people of African descent encounter, which had an adverse impact on their fundamental rights, the experts observed.

“From the perspective of people of African descent, racism in the UK is structural, institutional and systemic,” the experts said.

The experts pointed out that for people of African descent, their experience with state and public institutions, the private sector and society was that it perpetuated racial hierarchies. “Racialised acts targeting people of African descent have remained steadfast, and the experience is similar across different parts of the UK,” the experts said. “They are victimised and have no assurance of effective redress from authorities or the justice system,” they said.

Welcoming emerging efforts towards reparation for the legacies of the trade and trafficking in enslaved Africans, the Working Group encouraged all stakeholders including the government to do more to ensure the rehabilitation, restoration, and reconciliation of the state with its people.

“Streamlining accessible, independent and effective complaint mechanisms to address racism, ensuring police accountability, fair trial guarantees for all persons, and redress to all persons affected by the Windrush scandal are imperative” said Catherine S. Namakula, Chair of the Working Group. “Austerity to the peril of fundamental rights is a costly undertaking for the UK,” she said.

The Working Group, which also included human rights experts Barbara Reynolds and Dominique Day, visited London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

The experts will present a report with their findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2023.

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts: Ms. Catherine Namakula (Uganda) current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Barbara Reynolds (Guyana) current Vice-Chair; Ms. Dominique Day (United States of America); and Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko (Hungary).

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. 

UN Human Rights, country page – UK

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