International Commission of legal experts recommends investigation of US for crimes against humanity

On April 27, the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States held a press conference where it released the final 188-page report of its investigations into the U.S. for its violations of human rights of its citizens and residents of African descent, concluding these crimes warrant prosecution under international law.

The International Commission of Inquiry was organized by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the National Lawyers Guild. The Commission was comprised of 12 legal experts from 11 countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Costa Rica, France, India, Jamaica, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, the UK – and four rapporteurs from the U.S.

The Executive Summary of the Commission’s report states its purpose is to “examine whether widespread and systematic racist violence in policing against people of African descent in the United States of America (U.S.) has resulted in a continuing pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Commissioners find a pattern and practice of racist police violence in the U.S. in the context of a history of oppression dating back to the extermination of First Nations peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the militarization of U.S. society, and the continued perpetuation of structural racism.”

The Commission held public hearings from January 18 to February 6, 2021. The Executive Summary explains that “All cases selected for the hearings involved the egregious and unjustified killing or maiming of individuals of African descent in the U.S., including: (1) the killing of unarmed individuals who posed no threat of death or serious bodily harm; (2) the killing of individuals fleeing the police who posed no serious threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officers they were fleeing or others; (3) the use of, or threat to use, physical or psychological intimidation to extract confessions; and (4) the maiming of individuals fleeing the police and/or who posed no serious threat of death or serious bodily harm to others.” Of the 44 Black people whose cases were reviewed in the hearings, all but one was killed by police.

In the “Summary of Findings and Recommendations” in the Executive Summary, the Commissioners state that they “find violations of the rights to: life, security, freedom from torture, freedom from discrimination, mental health, access to remedies for violations, fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to be treated with humanity and respect. The Commissioners find violations of the State’s duty to provide medical care to detained persons; to ensure investigations of extrajudicial killings that are independent, competent, thorough and effective; and to provide prosecution of suspects and punishment of perpetrators to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable. The Commissioners find that U.S. laws and police practices do not comply with the international standards on the use of force, which require legal basis, legitimate objective, necessity, precautions, proportionality, protection of life, non-discrimination, and accountability.”

The Commissioners point out the “disproportionate use of excessive force by police led to the deaths of the 43 Black people in the cases they examined” through the use of restraints, firearms and Tasers, and that they “similarly find a pattern of unlawful and excessive force employed against people of African descent by chokeholds and compression asphyxiation, by kneeling or standing on the victim, by cuffing the victim face down and by applying pressure to the victim’s head and neck.”

The Commissioners also highlighted “that the use of force against unarmed people of African descent during traffic and investigatory stops is driven by racial stereotypes and racial biases resulting in U.S. law enforcement agencies routinely targeting people of African descent for questioning, arrest and detention based on racist associations between Blackness and criminality.” They similarly noted a pattern for “race-based street stops, otherwise known as ‘stop-and-frisk,’ […] a form of ‘order maintenance’ policing that drives not only racially disparate rates of arrests, but also often triggers the use of deadly force by police. […] The continual harassment of Black people via stop-and-frisk is reminiscent of the socially accepted practice during the era of the slave patrols, when every white person had the right to control the movements and activities of Black people.” They also highlighted how the police carry out wrong-doing with impunity and with collusion from other parts of the legal system that compounds the violation of rights.

Based on their investigations, “The Commissioners find a prima facie case of Crimes against Humanity warranting an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The crimes under the Rome Statute include: Murder, Severe Deprivation of Physical Liberty, Torture, Persecution of people of African descent, and other Inhumane Acts, which occurred in the context of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population of Black people in the U.S.”

The Commission goes on to call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ”to support the following in her report mandated by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in its Resolution 43/1:

“a. Constitution by the UNHRC of an independent Commission of Inquiry mandated to conduct
full investigation into incidents of police violence against people of African descent in the United States and to determine, in particular, whether the level of violence constitutes gross violation of human rights and whether crimes under international criminal law have been and continue to be committed;

“b. In order to establish a continuous process to monitor systemic racist police violence in the United States, the appointment by the UNHRC of an Independent Expert on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States;

“c. Call for the demilitarization of law enforcement throughout the United States; and

“d. Call for an end to impunity and for accountability of police officials resorting to racist violence and unjustified force before independent civilian review boards and in criminal and civil proceedings of the justice system in the United States.”

Further, “The Commissioners call on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, upon receipt of the report of the Commission of Inquiry, to initiate an investigation into Crimes against Humanity (Article 7), pursuant to her/his powers under Rome Statute, Article 15.”

Given that the U.S. has thus far refused to ratify the Rome Statute to become a party to the ICC, to avoid being held to account for its crimes at home and abroad and protect its military forces from prosecution, “The Commissioners call on the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government to:

“a. Accept the jurisdiction of the ICC in relation to the U.S. under Article 12 with respect to any and all Crimes against Humanity as defined in the Rome Statute;

“b. Sign the Rome Statute of the ICC and transmit it to the U.S. Senate for consent to ratification;

“c. Remove the non-self-executing language in the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and/or pass full implementing legislation of this treaty, including the provisions in Article 20, which prohibits propaganda for war and speech that promotes hatred of racial or religious groups or incites discrimination or violence against people of racial or religious groups;

“d. Fully enforce the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the U.S. has ratified;

“e. Ratify all other international human rights treaties, as well as regional treaties;

“f. Support legislation aimed at divesting federal resources from incarceration and policing as well as ending the criminal legal system-driven harms that have disproportionately criminalized Black and Brown communities, LGBTQIA people, Indigenous people, and disabled people, and instead, utilizing funding initiatives, and invest in new non-punitive and non-carceral approaches to community safety;

“g. Create an effective and robust system of combating institutionalized racism within all law enforcement agencies, to be monitored by an independently elected body, in consultation with civil society organizations committed to principles of civil liberties and non-discrimination;

“h. Remove the personal immunity that protects individual police officers from civil lawsuits filed by members of the public, and impose a clear duty on police officers to de-escalate all encounters before force is used; and

“i. Develop policies and support for legislation to demilitarize policing throughout the United States and accomplish a complete overhaul of current policies and training practices including, but not limited to: (i) outlawing use of force except in conformity with UN Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement during arrest, custody and assembly based on: precaution, necessity, and proportionality; (ii) outlawing chokeholds and outlawing other subduing tactics that cut off breathing or blood circulation; (iii) outlawing excessive use of Tasers; (iv) prohibiting no-knock warrants; and (vi) outlawing use of force except in conformity with UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials […]”

In their final two recommendations, the Commissioners highlight the need for the U.S. government to provide reparations for its role in the historical crimes associated with the enslavement of African peoples:

“The Commissioners recommend that the U.S. executive and legislative branches acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization and colonialism were Crimes against Humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance. Past injustices and crimes against people of African descent in the U.S. must be addressed with reparatory justice.

“The Commissioners also recommend that the U.S. Congress establish a commission to examine enslavement and racial discrimination in the colonies and the U.S. from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. The Commissioners urge the U.S. to consider seriously applying analogous elements contained in the Caribbean Community’s Ten-Point Action Plan on Reparations, which includes a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer, financial support, and debt cancellation.”

To view the entire report, click here.

Videos and transcripts from the live hearings in 44 cases are available at the Commission’s website: inquirycommission.org.

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