All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights
by United Nations News
17 June 2020
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday heard powerful testimony from the brother of George Floyd, whose death, captured on video, while a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis, has sparked worldwide protest.
In a pre-recorded appeal to the Council to set up an international probe to investigate killings of Black people in America, and violence against demonstrators, Philonise Floyd urged the United Nations to act.
Echoing that message, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said: “Today, people are saying, loudly and movingly, ‘Enough.’ The United Nations has a duty to respond to the anguish that has been felt by so many for so long.
“This cause is at the heart of our Organization’s identity. Equal rights are enshrined in our founding Charter. Just as we fought apartheid years ago, so must we fight the hatred, oppression and humiliation today.”
Mr. Floyd delivered his message in the Council’s first Urgent Debate on racism, alleged police brutality and violence against protesters, who have marched by the million, after being sickened by the manner of George Floyd’s death, called by the African Group of nations.
“You watched my brother die. That could have been me,” he said in an impassioned recording. “I am my brother’s keeper. You in the United Nations are your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother George Floyd. I am asking you to help him. I am asking you to help me. I am asking you to help us. Black people in America.”
Addressing the Council at the start of the debate, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, struck a similarly urgent tone. “Time is of the essence. Patience has run out,” she said. “Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. The lives of people of colour matter. All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights and that is what this Council, like my Office, stands for.”
Reminding the Council’s delegates of the circumstances surrounding his 46-year-old brother’s death on 25 May in Minneapolis, Mr. Floyd noted that even after he was “unconscious, stopped moving and stopped breathing, the officer kept his knee on my brother’s neck for another four minutes as many witnesses kept begging the officer to take his knee off of my brother’s neck and save his life.
“The officers showed no mercy, no humanity and tortured my brother to death in the middle of the street in Minneapolis with a crowd of witnesses watching and begging them to stop, showing us black people the same lesson yet again: black lives do not matter in the United States of America.”
Ms. Bachelet called for the reform of specific institutions and law enforcement agencies across the world, and measures to address the “pervasive racism that corrodes institutions of government, entrenches inequality and underlies so many violations of human rights”.
“Gratuitous brutality has come to symbolise the systemic racism that harms millions of people of African descent”, she said, adding that it causes “pervasive, daily, life-long, generational and too often lethal harm”.
The urgent debate, only the fifth to take place since the Council began its work in 2006, was initiated by the Council’s African Group, after a call from more than 600 rights groups to investigate alleged police violence after Mr Floyd’s death.
“The African Group is profoundly worried by recurring acts of racial murder and police brutality and by recurring violations of human rights against people of African heritage in some parts of the world,” said African Group representative, Ambassador Léopold Ismael Samba (Central African Republic). “The African Group condemns firmly the senseless and unjustified killing of George Floyd.”
In a call for reform and notably a renewed commitment to the implementation of key pledges taken to combat racism in in 2002 at the Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Ambassador Samba added that it was “unacceptable” to still have to be “talking about and fighting for equality for some people 72 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaims that all people are born free and in dignity”.
In a session marked by expressions of sympathy for the family of George Floyd, speakers also addressed the issue of violence against protesters – a matter also raised by Philonise Floyd.
“When people dared to raise their voice and protest for my brother, they were tear-gassed, run over with police vehicles, several people lost eyes and suffered brain damage from rubber bullets, and peaceful protestors were shot and killed by police,” he said.
“Journalists were beaten and blinded when they tried to show the world the brutality happening at the protests. When people raise their voices to protest the treatment of black people in America they are silenced; they are shot and killed.”
Highlighting how the many protests around the world had been “the culmination of many generations of pain and long struggles for equality,” Ms. Bachelet noted that “too little has changed over too many years. We owe it to those who have gone before, as well as those to come, to seize this moment, at long last, to demand fundamental change and insist upon it.”
Nonetheless, the High Commissioner for Human Rights underlined how she had been “disturbed by the criminal acts undertaken by a small number of people amid the many peaceful protests around the world, which have often harmed property of racial and ethnic minorities in acts of fresh victimization. Video evidence has also shown excessive use of force against protestors by police, including during entirely peaceful protests. All these incidents should be investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice.” http://bit.ly/3fFkb1j http://bit.ly/2Yg2xeM http://bit.ly/2Yfz4BO
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We are losing, every single day of every single year, nearly 15,000 children under the age of 5
by Nicholas Freeland
COVID-19 is dangerous. But it is nowhere near as dangerous as having No Food to Eat (NOFUD-28). In the five months since the COVID-19 outbreak started, we have watched the number of worldwide deaths caused by it rise inexorably past 200,000, representing a tragic loss to the families and friends of those afflicted.
But NOFUD-28 is the root cause of the death of more than 200,000 children under the age of 5 years every single fortnight (in other words, NOFUD-28 causes double the total number of COVID-19 deaths to date, every month of every year), most of them from easily preventable causes. Yet the global reaction to these two crises is observably, and shamefully, different.
First, the arrival of COVID-19 has sparked extraordinary measures in developed countries:
Schools are closed - yet almost none of the under-5s who die each year will even have visited a school, let alone received any education from one (and many of their parents, especially their mothers, will not have done either).
International travel is effectively banned - yet most of those who die from NOFUD-28 will not have ventured beyond the boundaries of their village, or perhaps, if they have been very fortunate, the nearest health post.
Employees are being asked to work remotely from home - yet most of those whose children die young have no work at all, or have only work that is seasonal, poorly-paid, irregular, exploitative or remote (but a different kind of remote!).
Scientists are working round the clock to find a cure to COVID-19 - yet most of the NOFUD-28 deaths are caused by easily curable diseases: a third of them from simple pneumonia or diarrhoea; and many of the rest from malaria, polio, even the plague, diseases which no longer even exist in high-income countries.
Hospitals with intensive care units and over 1,000 beds are being built, equipped and staffed in the space of 10 days - imagine how welcome one or two of those would be in countries which currently have less than 1 hospital bed per 1,000 citizens!
Information systems are in overdrive - we are now kept informed on an hourly basis about how many cases and how many deaths there have been from COVID-19.
People can quote these statistics from countries that they would be hard pushed to identify on a map. Yet we are only able to estimate to the nearest few hundred thousand how many under-5s die each year.
Second, COVID-19 has caused a rash of panic-buying.
The shelves of supermarkets in rich countries have been stripped of a variety of what are seen to be basic necessities, yet would be totally alien to those facing NOFUD-28.
Loo-rolls: most of the households whose infants die young would not know what to do with a loo-roll if you gave them one. Many would not even recognise a loo: more than 20 per cent of the population of low-income countries still defecate in the open (the figure is more than 25 per cent in India and over 50 per cent in Niger, Solomon Islands and Eritrea, for example).
Sanitiser gel: again these would be unrecognisable objects to poor households, where even soap is a rare luxury: in fact, soap is often one of the first non-food items a household will buy if it is given a gift or a social transfer. Most young NOFUD-28 victims would be taught to wash their hands with ash or mud.
Bottled water: empty plastic bottles are a treasured storage item for many of the poorest households, but the household members would never get to drink the water that originally came in those bottles: their water more often comes from stagnant ponds, polluted rivers, saline boreholes, or arsenic-laden wells.
Packets of flou: for most NOFUD-28 victims, flour doesn't come in packets: rather it has to be pounded from grains (of maize, rice, sorghum, etc.) in a tedious, energy-sapping daily grind, usually by women and girls.
Toothbrushes: most of our NOFUD-28 infants would love a toothbrush as a toy; but, globally, more people now own a cell-phone than a toothbrush. Those whose children are most likely to die young would use coal or twigs (typically of oak, neem or arak) to brush their teeth or just their finger smeared with mud from the wall of their hut.
Guns (yes, there was a run on gunshops in America!): whilst the efficacy of guns against COVID-19 is still unproven (clinical trials are ongoing), it is unlikely that they will be an effective response to NOFUD-28.
Finally, there are outpourings of global sympathy for every fatality of COVID-19. This is right, and as it should be: every life lost is a tragedy. We watch with horror as the number of deaths rises daily.
But it should be the same with NOFUD-28. We should be given a constant reminder that we are losing, every single day of every single year, nearly 15,000 children under the age of 5, with their entire lives ahead of them.
Who knows how many of them would have gone on to make a genuine contribution to society as medics, pioneers, researchers, artists, sportspersons, scientists, rappers, entrepreneurs? Cutting so many young lives short represents an appalling and unforgivable waste to our world.
So, yes, let's pull together to defeat COVID-19, and minimise the depredations that it is causing. But let's remember as it recedes, and as loo-rolls, sanitiser gel, bottled water and toothbrushes reappear on our civilised supermarket shelves, that there is a much more terrible tragedy unfolding out there, killing more than five million infants and babies each year, that could be resolved with a smaller effort, and at a much lower cost, than that currently being mobilised against COVID-19.
Let's take seriously the pledge of the Sustainable Development Goals (specifically SDG2) that by 2030 the phenomenon of NOFUD-28 will have been eradicated from our world.
Let's also recognise now that we will not achieve this by a return to 'normal': 'normal' is why we are in this mess in the first place. What we should be looking for is something much better, and it will require substantial changes from the 'normal'.
At global level, we clearly need global solutions to what are now undeniably global problems: we have pretended for too long that we can cosset our pampered selves in comfortable isolation from the faraway problems of poverty, deprivation and climate change. At national level, we need far more enlightened and compassionate leadership than that offered by most of the current crop of posturing popinjays pandering to populist prejudice.
We need progressive systems of wages and taxation which reward handsomely those on the front-line who really make a difference to our lives, and much less those whose contribution to society is notional, superficial or ephemeral. And finally, at personal level, we all need to recognise we have a very comfortable life in developed countries (even when deprived of loo-rolls, sanitiser gel, bottled water and flour!). We must snap out of our current insularity, complacency and egotism before we go the way of previous 'civilisations' that have succumbed to these same vicissitudes.
If we can make all these changes, we will have no difficulty overcoming COVID-19, then NOFUD-28. Then that can become our new normal.
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