WASHINGTON – The United States should consider reparations to African-American descendants of slavery, establish a national human rights commission and publicly acknowledge that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity, a United Nations working group said Friday.
The U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent released its preliminary recommendations after more than a week of meetings with black Americans and others from around the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, the District of Columbia and Jackson, Mississippi.
After finishing their fact-finding mission, the working group was “extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African-Americans,” chair Mireille Fanon Mendes-France of France said in the report. “The colonial history, the legacy of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the U.S. remains a serious challenge as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent.”
For example, Mendes-France compared the recent deaths of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police to the lynchings of black men in the South from the post-Civil War days through the Civil Rights era. Those deaths, and others, have inspired protests around the country under the Black Lives Matter moniker.
“Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynchings in the past,” she told reporters. “Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Some of the working group’s members, none of whom are from the United States, said they were shocked by some of the things they found and were told.
For example, “it’s very easy in the United States for African-Americans to be imprisoned, and that was very concerning,” said Sabelo Gumedze of South Africa.
Federal officials say 37 percent of the state and federal prison populations were black males in 2014. The working group suggests the U.S. implement several reforms, including reducing the use of mandatory minimum laws, ending racial profiling, ending excessive bail and banning solitary confinement.
“What stands out for me is the lack of acknowledgement of the slave trade,” said Ricardo A. Sunga III, who lives in the Philippines.
The working group suggests monuments, markers and memorials be erected in the United States to facilitate dialogue, and “past injustices and crimes against African-Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.”
The group will suggest several U.S. changes to improve human rights for African-Americans, which also include establishing a national human rights commission, ratifying international human rights treaties, asking Congress to study slavery and its aftereffects and considering reparations .
The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established in 2002 by the then-Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism in 2001.
It also visited the United States in 2010, where its final report found similar problems, including blacks facing disproportionately high unemployment, lower income levels, less access to education, “problematic access to quality health-care services and the high incidence of certain health conditions, electoral disenfranchisement and structural issues in the administration of justice (in particular incarceration rates).”
The current panel will give its final findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in September.