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Police killings of unarmed African Americans unleashes nationwide wave of civil unrest
by UN Office for Human Rights, agencies
4 June 2020 (Reuters, agencies)
Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton has told a memorial for George Floyd that the African American man''s death was symbolic of four centuries of struggle for black people in America.
Mr Floyd died in police custody after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt heavily on his neck for over eight minutes.
Video from the incident shows bystanders demanding Mr Chauvin to get off Mr Floyd.
Mr Floyd repeatedly cried "I can''t breathe" while calling out for his mother. He died in handcuffs with his face pressed to the street.
Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service inside a university chapel in Minneapolis, Sharpton said Floyd’s fate - dying at the hands of police, pinned to the ground under the knee of a white officer - symbolized a universal experience of police brutality for African Americans.
"When I stood at that spot, the reason it got to me is that George Floyd''s story has been the story of black folks," Reverend Sharpton said.
"Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck''.
"What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services and in every area of American life. It''s time to stand up in George''s name and say get your knee off our necks."
"George Floyd should not be among the deceased," Reverend Sharpton said. "He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction. He died because there has not been the corrective behaviour that has taught this country that if you commit a crime, it does not matter if you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform, you must pay for the crime you commit''.
Sharpton led mourners in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the amount of time Floyd lay on a Minneapolis street with a knee pressed into his neck.
Mr. Floyd’s wife, Chirlane McCray, the mother of their two children, said her husband''s killing was a reminder of the fear that black families in the country endure on a daily basis.
”We fear for their lives, and we also fear for their ability to live with dignity,” she said.
Mr Floyd''s brother Philonise shared memories of growing up together. "All these people came to see my brother," he said.
"And that''s amazing to me that he touched so many people''s hearts. Because he''s been touching our hearts. Everybody wants justice. We want justice for George. He''s going to get it."
Mr Floyd''s attorney told mourners he would find justice for the 46-year-old. "It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd," said Benjamin Crump, who is representing Mr Floyd''s family. "It was that other pandemic. The pandemic of racism and discrimination."
Mr Floyd''s death has reignited long-felt anger over police killings of African-Americans and unleashed a nationwide wave of civil unrest unlike any seen in the US since Dr. King''s 1968 assassination.
With demonstrations for racial justice sweeping through dozens of US cities and around the world, Reverend Sharpton said Mr Floyd''s death would not be in vain.
"You changed the world George," the 65-year-old Baptist minister said. "We''re going to keep fighting George." "We''re going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice''.
In addition to hundreds who gathered inside the North Central University chapel, a crowd of hundreds more clustered outside, listening to the service broadcast over loudspeakers. One was Zsa-Vona Williams, 36, who knew Floyd from his days working at the homeless shelter where she once lived, recalling him as a caring, friendly soul.
“He gave to and fed a lot of people. He was a gentle, peaceful person,” Williams said, adding that in death, “He has changed the world.”
The day of remembrance capped 10 days of protests, accompanied by civil unrest across more than 100 cities. The size and scope of disturbances seemed to ebb after prosecutors in Minneapolis on Wednesday elevated 2nd degree murder charges against Derek Chauvin the police officer jailed last week and arrested the three others officers accused of aiding and abetting the crime.
The four former officers, all dismissed from the Minneapolis police department the day after Mr. Floyd died, each faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges against them.
3 June 2020
US protests: Deep-seated grievances must be addressed
The grievances at the heart of the protests that have erupted in hundreds of US cities need to be heard and addressed if the country is to move on from its tragic history of racism and violence, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday.
“The voices calling for an end to the killings of unarmed African Americans need to be heard. The voices calling for an end to police violence need to be heard. And the voices calling for an end to the endemic and structural racism that blights US society need to be heard,” Bachelet said.
“At all times, but especially during a crisis, a country needs its leaders to condemn racism unequivocally; for them to reflect on what has driven people to boiling point; to listen and learn; and to take actions that truly tackle inequalities,” she said.
The protests, which began in response to the killing of an African American man, George Floyd, while in police custody on 25 May, have continued, spreading to more than 300 US cities.
There are credible reports of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officers, including indiscriminate and improper use of less-lethal weapons and ammunition. Tear gas has been used to disperse peaceful demonstrators and rubber bullets and pepper balls have been fired at demonstrators and journalists who did not pose an imminent threat of serious injury. These tactics have been used in some instances in which many victims were retreating.
There have been at least 200 reported incidents of journalists covering the protests being physically attacked, intimidated or arbitrarily arrested, despite their press credentials being clearly visible.
“What has been happening is an unprecedented assault on journalists. In some cases they have been attacked or even arrested while on air. It is all the more shocking given that freedom of expression and of the media are fundamental principles in the US, central to the country’s identity,” Bachelet said.
“I call on the authorities at all levels to ensure the message is clearly understood – reporters must be able to do their important work free from attacks or repression.”
Several people, including a federal law enforcement agent, have died in the unrest, dozens have been injured and numerous properties destroyed. Police officers have been targeted and injured in a number of locations.
“As I have said before, violence, looting and the destruction of property and neighbourhoods won’t solve the problem of police brutality and entrenched discrimination. I repeat my calls to protesters to express their demands for justice peacefully, and for the police to take the utmost care not to enflame the situation through the use of excessive force,” the High Commissioner said.
Bachelet called for all actions by the authorities and protesters that have led to death or injury, including of law enforcement officials, to be subject to independent, impartial and transparent investigations.
She also voiced deep concern at statements that have sought to label protesters as terrorists, or to delegitimize the mass outpouring of grief and peaceful protest by pointing to violence or destruction of property that has occurred in many locations.
“There can be no doubt as to what or who is ‘behind’ these protests. We have seen thousands upon thousands of peaceful protesters, of diverse backgrounds, taking to the streets to demand their rights and to call for change. Many police officers, as well as National Guard troops, have also responded peacefully to those gathered on the streets,” Bachelet said.
“Structural racism and police violence are of course found across the world,” the High Commissioner said. “The anger we have seen in the US, erupting as COVID-19 exposes glaring inequalities in society, shows why far-reaching reforms and inclusive dialogue are needed there to break the cycle of impunity for unlawful killings by police and racial bias in policing.”
“In addition, there must be a profound examination of a wide range of issues, including socio-economic factors and deep-seated discrimination. To move forward, communities must be able to participate in shaping decisions that affect them and be able to air their grievances,” Bachelet said.
28 May 2020
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday condemned the killing of George Floyd, an African American man whose death in police custody on Monday was captured on video and has led to serious ongoing protests in Minneapolis, and a number of other U.S. States.
“This is the latest in a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public,” Bachelet said.
“I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd’s name to that of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police -- as well as people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin who were killed by armed members of the public.”
“The US authorities must take serious action to stop such killings, and to ensure justice is done when they do occur. Procedures must change, prevention systems must be put in place, and above all police officers who resort to excessive use of force should be charged and convicted for the crimes committed.”
“I welcome the fact that the Federal authorities have announced that an investigation will be prioritized,” she said. “But in too many cases in the past, such investigations have led to killings being deemed justified on questionable grounds, or only being addressed by administrative measures.”
“The role that entrenched and pervasive racial discrimination plays in such deaths must also be fully examined, properly recognized and dealt with,” she added.
While saying she understood the anger unleashed by Floyd’s killing, Bachelet urged people in Minneapolis and elsewhere to protest peacefully.
“Violence and destruction of property won’t solve the problem of police brutality and enshrined discrimination,” she said. “I urge protestors to express their demands for justice peacefully, and I urge the police to take utmost care not enflame the current situation even more with any further use of excessive force.”
May 26, 2020
The Congressional Black Caucus Condemns Killing of George Floyd by Police
The Congressional Black Caucus, released the following statement on the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department:
This time his name was George Floyd. His crime, being a Black man in America. On Monday evening, George Floyd was killed at the hands of racist police officers, who insisted on using unnecessary force, which included kneeling on his neck, until he could no longer breathe. Within minutes and despite his cries out because he could not breathe, Floyd lost consciousness and died.
How many times will the police officers be the judge, jury, and executioner towards our people? How many times will our human rights be violated? It is unacceptable to threaten and take our lives because you feel threatened by the color of our skin.
The Congressional Black Caucus is calling on the Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to conduct a full investigation of all officers involved and that all participating officers are immediately fired, arrested, and charged with murder. Our community can no longer be targeted, attacked, and killed with impunity. Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.

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Time to move beyond the rhetoric of protecting civilians in conflict
by UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
May 2020
Time to move beyond the rhetoric of protecting civilians in conflict, by Simon Bagshaw, Senior Policy Advisor at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (UNOCHA)
In his annual protection report to the United Nations Security Council, released this month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a clear call to parties to conflict and States: move beyond the rhetoric and make the protection of civilians a reality for the millions of people affected by armed conflict. And with good cause.
As reported by the New York Times and others, Guterres warns that the current COVID-19 pandemic may create “incentives for some parties to conflict to press for an advantage, leading to an increase in violence, while others may see opportunities because the attention of governments and the international community is absorbed by the health crisis.”
State of the protection of civilians in 2019: Another year of suffering
Guterres bluntly describes the state of the protection of civilians last year as “a year of suffering.” Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, injured, and traumatized in attacks. More than 17,000 were killed and injured by bombing and shelling in urban areas, underlining the urgency of Guterres’ repeated call on parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Attacks destroyed countless homes, schools, hospitals, markets, places of worship, and vital infrastructure, such as electricity and water supply lines, which civilians rely on for their survival.
Millions of people were forced from their homes, adding to the more than 70 million already displaced by conflict and violence at the beginning of the year. Women and girls, in particular, were subject to sexual violence. Tens of thousands of children were forced to take part in fighting. Older persons and persons with disabilities remained at considerable risk, while alarming numbers of people went missing in armed conflicts.
Throughout the year, the efforts of humanitarian organizations to assist and protect people in need were hampered by violence and bureaucracy, and attacks against hospitals and clinics continued. Meanwhile, armed conflict remained the principal driver of global hunger.
Protection of civilians in the era of COVID-19
Guterres notes that COVID-19 could devastate conflict-affected States whose ability to contain the virus, care for infected people, and sustain essential health services for the general population, is severely constrained.
Referring to his appeal in March for a global ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian assistance and bring hope to places most vulnerable to COVID-19, Guterres states that the multiple expressions of support have been encouraging. However, challenges remain, particularly in protracted conflicts, involving multiple armed actors and complex interests.
Moreover, the pandemic may create incentives for some parties to conflict to press their advantage or strike as international attention is absorbed by the pandemic. Both scenarios could increase violence, with civilians bearing the brunt.
In these and other conflict situations, international humanitarian law (IHL), human rights and refugee law continue to apply. For Guterres, they must be respected both to protect conflict-affected populations and to support the pandemic response.
Only by protecting civilians, including health and humanitarian workers and infrastructure, can we relieve pressure on overstretched health systems.
The principal challenges remain: ensuring respect for the law and accountability for its violation
Judged by the reality of last year, the prospects for effective compliance with the law are bleak. As Guterres states, civilian suffering would be significantly reduced if parties to conflict respected IHL. “However, one simple truth remains: respect for law and accountability for serious violations are the two most pressing challenges to strengthening the protection of civilians.”
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the protection of civilians agenda in the Security Council and the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, the cornerstone of IHL. Throughout the year, governments reaffirmed their commitment to protecting civilians and implementing IHL.
In September 2019, France and Germany presented the call for action to strengthen respect for IHL and principled humanitarian action, endorsed to date by more than 40 States. The year ended with the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, at which States adopted a roadmap for better national implementation of international humanitarian law.
These initiatives are welcome, but as Guterres observes, we must move beyond the rhetoric of demanding respect for the law. States must take concrete steps to strengthen respect for IHL.
Possible steps proposed by Guterres include developing national policy frameworks on the protection of civilians and sustained engagement with non-State armed groups — both of which were recommended in his 2018 and 2019 protection reports.
Guterres welcomes the ongoing efforts of States to develop a political declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and stresses “the fundamental need for such a declaration to, inter alia, commit States endorsing it to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and to develop operational policies against such use.“
Guterres places particular emphasis in this latest report on the need to ensure accountability for violations as instrumental to enhancing respect for the law. Yet, “efforts to that end remain insufficient.”
Guterres notes that the Security Council has itself taken significant steps in the past to enhance accountability for serious violations, including the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as the referral of the situations in Darfur and Libya to the International Criminal Court.
Important initiatives have also been taken by the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council in relation to Myanmar, Syria, and Yemen, as well as by individual States, including through the application of the principle of domestic jurisdiction.
But the current approach is neither comprehensive nor systematic. For Guterres, war crimes “require credible investigation and prosecution wherever and whenever they occur.”
The report outlines a broad set of recommendations for enhancing accountability, aimed at parties to conflict, Member States, and the Security Council, while emphasizing the need for greater political and financial investment in national processes in conflict-affected countries and other States.
Guterres also calls for action on issues that will assume increasing importance in the years to come.
First, States must rethink their approach to urban warfare. They must develop new doctrine, strategy, and tactics that recognize the vulnerability of civilians and prioritize their protection in the planning and conduct of military operations.
Second, the proliferation and use of armed drones to conduct attacks reinforce longstanding concerns over compliance with the law, accountability, and transparency, which must be addressed. So too must the legal, ethical, and moral concerns posed by lethal autonomous weapon systems.
Third, Guterres calls for action to prevent and respond to the malicious use of digital technologies to spread hate speech and incite violence; and to conduct cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, such as health and water systems, which could cause significant harm to civilians.
Fourth, efforts are needed to mitigate civilian suffering resulting from the impact of conflict on the environment; and to better understand the relationship between conflict and climate change.
As the world confronts the monumental challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guterres notes that “the need to silence the guns could not be more acute.”
Where conflict cannot be prevented or resolved, it is imperative that parties to conflict, governments, the U.N., and civil society work collectively to strengthen the protection of civilians.
In very basic terms, that means ensuring respect for the law in all circumstances and accountability for violations. As Guterres notes, the tools to achieve that already exist and are available.
“What is needed more than ever is the political will and commitment to prioritise the protection of civilians in order to ensure that it becomes a tangible reality for those affected by armed conflict, today and in the future.”
* Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Report of the UN Secretary-General; May 2020:
* Civil Society agencies renew call for Action to Protect Civilians:
May 2020
Conflict and COVID-19 are a deadly mix, by Mark Lowcock, Izumi Nakamitsu & Robert Mardini.
We are all grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but it could not have come at a worse time for people already made extremely vulnerable by warfare.
In places such as Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the bombing and shelling of cities and towns has left people without access to water, electricity, sanitation or a functioning healthcare system – the basic services that will help protect them from the virus.
Back in March the Secretary-General of the United Nations called for an immediate, global ceasefire so aid workers could reach people in areas affected by conflict. So far more than 115 governments, several regional organizations, 200 civil society groups, and 16 non-state armed groups have publicly endorsed this call.
But many have ignored it. Protracted conflicts continue to rage in many parts of the world. Often this involves the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas, with devastating effects on civilians. Right now, more than 50 million people are affected by conflict in urban areas. The impact on entire societies is profound and will endure for generations to come.
We urge warring parties to immediately and unconditionally adhere to a pause in fighting to allow aid supplies and staff to get to those in need. Not only will this save lives, it will give warring parties a chance to reconsider their weapons and tactics and take steps to avoid civilian harm if fighting resumes.
In cities more than anywhere else, the choice of weapon used has a significant impact on civilian suffering.
Many of the explosive weapons with wide area effects being used in urban warfare today were originally designed for use in traditional, open battlefields.
This includes inaccurate weapons that put entire neighbourhoods at risk, systems that fire multiple rockets simultaneously over a wide area, and munitions that produce large blast and fragmentation effects. It also includes large improvised explosive devices used mainly by non-State armed groups.
When used in populated areas, they inflict massive and often indiscriminate destruction. We can see it in the images of devastation from Mosul, Taiz and Donetsk.
The overwhelming majority of casualties are civilians. Countless are killed or gravely wounded. Hospitals are faced with multiple casualties and complex injuries that are difficult to treat, quickly overwhelming emergency rooms.
Many survivors are left with life-long disabilities or severe psychological trauma. Homes are destroyed, and people are forced to seek shelter with relatives or in overcrowded camps with poor sanitation and over-stretched healthcare services.
For victims of this kind of warfare, who are already reeling from injury, disability, displacement and insecurity, the threat of COVID-19 pandemic is too much to bear.
Health care systems already severely disrupted by bombing and shelling face huge challenges in providing the medical assistance and preventive measures needed to overcome the virus.
The use of heavy explosive weapons damages and destroys essential infrastructure needed to run healthcare systems, such as hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as power and water supply lines and sanitation networks. This sets off domino effects and more civilian death and suffering well beyond the weapons’ blast zones.
At a time when preventing the spread of the virus is key, lack of access to clean water and electricity makes it impossible to implement basic hygiene measures such as hand-washing and to access to critical internet-based public health information, crippling the capacity of conflict-affected societies to contain the current pandemic.
Back in September, the UN Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for specific actions. They recalled the protective power of international humanitarian law when its rules are faithfully respected, all the more so when armed conflicts are waged in populated environments, where civilians are at great risk of harm.
They also called on warring parties to employ strategies and tactics that take combat outside of cities and to reduce urban fighting altogether. And they appealed to them to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, because of the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is now reaching some of these places this appeal is now more necessary and more urgent than ever.
Governments are working to develop a political declaration on addressing the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We welcome the ongoing efforts led by Ireland to develop such a declaration.
And we encourage all governments to support this effort and to commit to avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
If action is taken now we can prevent further deterioration of the world’s most fragile healthcare systems.
Instead of attacking and devastating cities, they should be supported in their fight against this new immense threat to humanity - COVID-19.
* Mark Lowcock is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; Izumi Nakamitsu is UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; and Robert Mardini is Director-General of the ICRC.

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