Is the United Nations 'Backing' Black Lives Matter?

A new report criticizing 'pervasive racial bias' against African-Americans has right-wing websites in a tizzy.

Published Oct 8, 2016

A woman holds up a #BlackLivesMatter sign during a vigil at McGill University in Montreal on 25 November 2014. (Gerry Lauzon)
A woman holds up a #BlackLivesMatter sign during a vigil at McGill University in Montreal on 25 November 2014. (Image Via Gerry Lauzon)

A report from a United Nations-affiliated group harshly criticized police treatment of African-Americans, comparing the rash of fatal shootings that have prompted protests around the country to lynchings.

The United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent released their findings after meeting with not only White House officials, but with Chicago police and officials in cities such Baltimore and New York City:

Killings of unarmed African Americans by the police is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a pervasive racial bias in the justice system. The Working Group heard testimonies that African Americans face a pattern of police practices which violate their human rights: they are disproportionately targeted for police surveillance, and experience and witness public harassment, excessive force and racial discrimination. Due to racial bias, there is fear of approaching the police for help and there is also a failure on the part of the State to provide protection. The Working Group heard testimonies from African Americans based on their experience that from an early age they are treated by the State as a dangerous criminal group and face a presumption of guilt rather than of innocence. The rapid negative escalation of situations and the excessive use of force disproportionately used on African Americans demonstrates this concern. The Working Group heard reports that racial profiling is a rampant practice among law enforcement officials. During the country visit, the Working Group was informed about and observed the excessive control and supervision targeting all levels of the lives of African Americans. This control has been reinforced since September 2001 by the introduction of the Patriot Act, and affects not only United States citizens but also has a disparate impact on the detention, treatment and deportation of undocumented migrants, including people of African descent, who enter the United States.

The group, which was convened in 2002 and reports to the U.N's High Commissioner on Human Rights, also called for a reparations plan similar to that recommended by the Caricom Reparations Commission in 2014 to address the remaining effects of slavery in that region. The U.N. group's recommendation included the following:

A formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge programme, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation.

The conservative website Newsiosity's report on the group's findings stated in its headline that the U.N. "Decides to Back the Black Lives Matter Group." And New American stated that the U.N. group wanted to "Push Americans to Pay Reparations for Slavery."

The latter piece included this allegation to back up its headline:

Should Americans resist this forced acceptance of the UN’s anti-discrimination indoctrination, the Working Group has a plan to overcome that little setback.

Paragraph f(3) of the group’s mandate provides access to “financial and developmental institutional and operational programmes [sic].”

Having access to these financial institutions will make it much easier for the UN to force Americans to “contribute to the development programmes [sic] intended for people of African descent.”

The money siphoned from these sources will be used by the UN to exert control over “health systems, education, housing, electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures,” forcing them to employ an appropriate number of people of African descent.

While that wording makes it sound as if some form of payment would be coming directly from the U.S., the mandate actually stipulates that it covers U.N. affiliates and gives the Working Rights group the room to:

[Liaise] with financial and developmental institutional and operational programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations, with a view to contribute to the development programmes intended for people of African descent by allocating additional investments to health systems, education, housing, electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures and promoting equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative or positive measures and strategies within the human rights framework.

On 12 July 2016, one of Black Lives Matter's co-founders, immigrant rights activist Opal Tometi, addressed the organization's General Assembly, saying (in part0:

In the U.S. in particular, police forces kill unarmed black people with impunity. Besides this outright murder, the consequence is a mass criminalizing of black people.

On 28 July 2016, U.N. Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai said that though the U.S. is a "nation of struggle and resilience," racial inequality was negatively affecting the rights of political demonstrators. He specifically cited the "Three Strikes" sentencing guidelines signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994, as well as the "war on drugs":

The effects can often snowball: A minor criminal offense — or even an arrest without substantiated charges — can show up on a background check, making it difficult to find a job, secure a student loan or find a place to live. This marginalization in turn makes it more likely that a person will turn to crime, for lack of any other option, and the vicious cycle continues.

These discriminatory laws and practices need to be seen in the larger context. Wall Street bankers looted billions of dollars through crooked schemes, devastating the finances of millions of Americans and saddling taxpayers with a massive bailout bill. Yet during my mission I did not hear any suggestions of a “War on Wall Street theft.” Instead, criminal justice resources go towards enforcing a different type of law and order, targeting primarily African-Americans and other minorities.

There is justifiable and palpable anger in the black community over these injustices. It needs to be expressed. This is the context that gave birth to the non-violent Black Lives Matter protest movement and the context in which it must be understood.

Taken together, these are signs that the U.N. is taking Black Lives Matter seriously. But there is no indication that the organization is partnering with the movement in any formal capacity.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.

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