The UN on Tuesday launched an investigation into racially motivated police violence as the world body grapples with the fallout from the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman last year.
In a resolution introduced by African nations, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council criticised “racially discriminatory and violent practices perpetrated by many law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent".
The document was adopted by consensus and it ordered the creation of an “international independent expert mechanism” to promote “racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement in all parts of the world".
Racial justice and police violence have been in the global spotlight since Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in handcuffs with a white police officer kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes in May 2020 in the US state of Minnesota.
Mobile phone footage of the incident quickly went viral and Floyd became the face of a national movement challenging police aggression and bias in the US justice system while provoking anger and soul-searching overseas.
The decision by the UN’s 47-nation human rights body followed a shocking report published by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet last month that called for an end to systemic racism against black people.
In the document, which tackled systemic racism globally, Ms Bachelet urged nations to confront their colonial-era misdeeds and to consider reparations.
The human rights chief’s study detailed some 190 deaths of Africans and people of African descent at the hands of law enforcement officials, mostly in Europe and the Americas.
They did not block the resolution, but Britain, the EU and others said the UN already had mechanisms in place to fight racism and a bespoke probe was not needed.
John Fisher, Geneva director for the campaign group Human Rights Watch, said former colonial powers should engage with UN investigators and “work to confront their harmful legacies”.
Jamil Dakwar, head of the human rights programme for the American Civil Liberties Union, urged the more than 18,000 US law enforcement agencies to co-operate with the UN inquiry.
“It’s time to double our efforts to reckon with the legacy of slavery … and take bold action to repair the damage."