Race /

The United Nations and California Discuss Reparations

The UN debate on a global stage mirrors the discussion taking place in California 

The U.N. human rights chief wants countries across the globe to do more to end racism and make amends for violence and discrimination against people of African descent.

In a novel report published in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet examined the treatment of Africans and African-descended people over history, primarily in relation to the transatlantic slave trade.

“The report, a year in the making, hopes to build on momentum around the recent, intensified scrutiny worldwide about the blight of racism and its impact on people of African descent as epitomized by the high-profile killings of unarmed Black people in the United States and elsewhere,” says AP News

The report is based on conversations with 340 people, the majority of whom are of African descent, as well as experts, according to the Human Rights Council. It reviewed 190 deaths, mostly in the U.S., and asserted that law enforcement is rarely prosecuted or punished for the mistreatment of people of African descent.

Bachelet, the former president of Chile, commended Black Lives Matter for its “grassroots leadership through listening to communities” and urged that the organization receive “funding, public recognition and support.”

The report also noted similar concerns for other countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia, and France.

Mona Rishmawi, who heads a unit on non-discrimination for the Human Rights Commissioner, called the study’s findings “untenable.”

“We could not find a single example of a state that has fully reckoned with the past or comprehensively accounted for the impacts of the lives of people of African descent today,” she said.

The report calls for apologies, “truth-telling” and reparations, which Rishmawi says can take place at the “collective and the individual level.”

The report says “a main part of the problem is that many people believe the misconceptions that the abolition of slavery, the end of the transatlantic trade and colonialism have removed the racially discriminatory structures built by those practices.”

Leaders from Africa (South Africa and Cameroon) to the Caribbean (Saint Kitts & Nevis and Saint Lucia) were joined by representatives of countries that are unlikely to be tapped to pay up — Cuba and Malaysia among them — in explicitly endorsing the creation of reparation systems,” reports ABC News.

ABC notes that the United States, Britain, Germany and other developed nations were not a part of the discussion on reparations. 

While we acknowledge that the wounds run very deep, we believe that the most effective way for the U.K. today to respond to the cruelty of the past is to ensure that current and future generations do not forget what happened, and to address modern-day slavery and racism,” the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement.

Domestically, forms of reparations are being debated by government commissions.

As part of California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans, Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber said the task force and reparations would “heal the injustices of the past and present with tangible action.”

At a virtual meeting on September 24, Weber argued that education at every grade level should be free to African American students in the state, regardless of their socio-economic status. 

“University of California should be free to every black person in California, period,” she said. “I think you have to do those kinds of things that are bold. Every black child in California that’s born should basically be going to preschool, because they have to catch up for themselves and their mother who didn’t go.”

She added: “This 400-year challenge is not going to be solved in 400 days. It’s going to take much more than that and a commitment from the state of California, the fifth-largest economy in the world, to make it happen.”

Weber would not speculate about a price tag and noted that multiple generations may need to be compensated to offset the effects of slavery.

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