The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning systemic racism against people of African descent, prompted by protests around the world following the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the United States last month.
"It is important to show that Africa and through it, the Human Rights Council, has heard the plight of Africans and people of African descent calling for equal treatment and the application of fundamental rights and human rights for all," the representative of Burkina Faso, speaking for the African group which tabled the amended resolution, told the 47-member state forum convening in Geneva.
The resolution denounced racial discrimination and related violence while requesting High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to "prepare a report on systemic racism...by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent."
In addition, the resolution called on Bachelet to "examine government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protestors, bystanders and journalists."
Although recent outrage on the issue of systemic racism has largely been driven by events in the United States, the final wording of the resolution ended up making no specific mention of the country as a potential target for a U.N. probe.
In response to the initial proposal explicitly naming the United States, many countries including Germany voiced concern over the "singling out of one state" despite the existence of racism in all societies and countries.
Speaking on behalf of some 600 groups from civil society, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union slammed the development as the United States "bullying other countries" as a way of "exempting itself from international investigation."
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced its withdrawal from the Human Rights Council two years ago, accusing it of being biased, but Washington is believed to continue influencing council negotiations behind the scenes.
On Wednesday, Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd implored the U.N. council "to investigate police killings of black people in America" and "violence used against peaceful protesters."
"You watched my brother die. That could have been me. 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," he said in a video message.
Member states of the panel had decided on short notice to include an urgent debate on the topic of racism in the council's agenda earlier in the week, leaving little time for delegations to draft and finalize the text of a resolution.
"The decisions this council will take in the context of this urgent debate will undoubtedly find their way into the history books, and we urge you to ensure that those decisions place this body on the right side of history," Tendayi Achiume, U.N. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance told the assembled representatives on Wednesday.
Public awareness of George Floyd's killing was ignited by video footage that quickly went viral on social media, showing Floyd gasping for air on the street as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck while he was being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill on May 25.
Floyd, handcuffed and pinned to the ground, said "I can't breathe" and also called for his mother before he stopped moving.
Chauvin was fired and charged with murder. The three other officers on the scene have also been fired and were charged with aiding and abetting murder.