African nations seek scrutiny of U.S., others over racism

A crowd of demonstrators march to the Capitol Monday, June 15, 2020 in Atlanta. The NAACP March to the Capitol coincided with the restart of the Georgia 2020 General Assembly. Lawmakers returned wearing masks and followed new rules to restart the session during the pandemic. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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The European Union and some Western nations appealed Tuesday for more time to discuss a resolution drafted for the U.N.’s top human rights body that seeks international scrutiny of systemic racism against people of African descent in response to the recent killings of African Americans by police.

The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, singles out the United States and could become the centerpiece of a hastily scheduled debate by the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday.

The text calls for a commission of inquiry — the rights body’s most powerful tool to inspect human rights violations — to look into “systemic racism” and abuses against “Africans and of people of African descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected by law enforcement agencies” especially encounters that resulted in deaths.

Such work would be carried out “with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice,” the text states. The proposed commission would “examine the federal, state and local government responses to peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.”

At an “informal” meeting to discuss the initiative presented by the Africa Group late Monday, diplomats and human rights defenders expressed overwhelming support for efforts to fight racism.

But Peru’s envoy appealed for more time, saying her country was consumed by the COVID-19 crisis and that such an “important topic” merited a consensus from the 47-member council.

The European Union’s representative, Ida Krogh Mikkelsen, said the bloc’s 27 member nations were “still looking at this, and are reserving our position.” She also proposed tweaks to the draft.

One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told the AP it was not appropriate for a democracy with a “working” judicial system like the United States to be held to the same level of scrutiny that countries like Syria have faced through the commission of inquiry mechanism.

Botswana’s representative to the U.N. in Geneva, Bokani Edith Seseinyi, argued for support for a resolution that “addresses the urgency of the matter today.”

“There is nobody who doubts that the American system has a judiciary system that is functional,” Seseinyi said. “If it is so good, then why is it happening over and over and over again?” she said, alluding to the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other unarmed black people who were killed by police officers in the U.S.

Seseinyi said Western countries that had expressed good intentions needed to do more than just “talk shop” and take action this time.

The U.S. mission in Geneva declined immediate comment on the resolution.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 47-member body two years ago, accusing it of an anti-Israel bias and of accepting members from some countries with autocratic governments that are serial rights violators.

On Monday, the council agreed unanimously to hold the urgent debate Wednesday afternoon on “racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests” in the wake of Floyd’s killing. It was not clear whether the vote would.