A United Nations panel of human rights activists has urged the United States’ government to pay reparations to the descendants of Africans who were brought to the US as slaves. The committee blamed slavery for the plight of African-Americans today.The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent’s preliminary report follows a year of aggravated racial tensions in the United States that saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose members rally against the deaths of unarmed black men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Mireille Fanon Mendes-France, the chairwoman of the committee, drew parallels between the police killings in the United States and racist lynchings that occurred in the South until the civil rights era.
“Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynchings in the past,” Mendes-France told reporters. “Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
The committee released its preliminary recommendations on Friday after an 11-day fact-finding mission in the US, meeting with black Americans and others in different cities across the country.
Speaking at a press conference in Washington, DC, the group said that Congress should pass the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, establish a national human rights commission and publicly acknowledge that the Atlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity.
Mendes-France, who is the daughter of leading black intellectual Frantz Fanon, said that the group was “extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African-Americans,” according to AP.
“The colonial history, the legacy of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the U.S. remains a serious challenge as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” she continued.
While reparations are often envisioned in the United States as individual payments of cash, Mendes-France, a French woman, told Vice that she does not favor such a method. Instead, she recommended that the money be spent for the “full implementation of special programs based on education, socioeconomic, and environmental rights.”
The group will not release a full report of its findings until a September meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, but a preliminary statement said that issues such as mass incarceration and police brutality are proof that there is “structural discrimination” in the United States.
“Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of African-Americans today,” the report said.
“The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education and even food security… reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights.”
While the group criticized a lack of strict gun control and the implementation of stand-your-ground laws in many states, they praised initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act, which they say allowed 2.3 million black people to get health insurance.
However, the panel said that “despite the positive measures…the Working Group is extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African-Americans.” Despite legislative work to change mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes, the committee said that the war on drugs has led “to mass incarceration that is compared to enslavement, due to exploitation and dehumanization of African-Americans.”
In 2008, the House of Representatives successfully voted to apologize for slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed, and a year later the Senate passed its own apology bill as well. However, the two chambers of Congress could not agree on wording that would prevent the government from being liable for future reparations lawsuits, preventing the bill from ever reaching the president’s desk.
A United Nations working group visiting the United States walks away “extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African Americans,” members said in a preliminary report released Friday, in which they urged the US government to address the legacy of slavery with “reparatory justice,” a national human rights commission, and ongoing criminal justice reform.
“The colonial history, the legacy of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism, and racial inequality in the US remains a serious challenge as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” wrote members of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, at the conclusion of a 10-day trip to the United States.
The Working Group is preparing a final report to deliver in September 2016, as part of the International Decade for People of African Descent, which the UN began in 2015 to recognize and remedy the ongoing impacts of slavery and colonialism on more than 200 million people of African descent living around the world. Many of its preliminary recommendations are drawn from a similar report following a study visit to the US.
“The state is also not acting with due diligence to protect the rights of African American communities,” the group writes, citing problems from disproportionate imprisonment and police violence to hate crimes such as the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015:
The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education and even food security, among African Americans and the rest of the US population, reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights.
According to Pew, wealth inequality between blacks and whites has reached its highest point since 1989, when white households had 17 times the wealth of black households.
The working group applauds a number of criminal justice reforms, such as the Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the Fair Sentencing Act, as well as the Affordable Health Care Act, and urges the creation of a national commission for African American human rights. Many of its suggestions, however, are focused on education and commemoration, including “reparatory justice”:
There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity and among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
Their recommendations do not specify what is meant by “reparatory justice.” Frequently, however, reparations involve financial compensation for a community’s violated human rights, as when West Germany paid more than $7 billion (in today’s currency) to the newly-created state of Israel and the World Jewish Congress, a move bitterly opposed by many Germans and Jews alike.
The working group does encourage Congress to pass H.R. 40, a bill introduced year after year by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the longest-serving member of Congress. Rep. Conyers, who is black, was first elected in 1965.
H.R. 40 calls to create a commission to study slavery’s past and present impact on African American communities, and to consider appropriate reparations.
The Lynching of Jesse Washington
Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks, was castrated, and his ears were cut off.
A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the tire. Jesse attempted to climb up the skillet hot chain. For this the men cut off his fingers.
Jesse was 15.
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