Press Release

IACHR calls on the United States to implement structural reforms in the institutional systems of security and justice to counter historical racial discrimination and institutional racism

August 8, 2020

A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - In the framework of the protests against racial discrimination, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the United States to make progress with structural reforms in its security and justice systems. The IACHR urges the State to make said reforms a central axis of transformation in eradicating institutional racism present in the actions of law enforcement authorities, as well as in the operation of the justice system, which have a disproportionate impact to the detriment of Afro-descendant persons.

The IACHR notes that discrimination factors deepen inequalities in arrests and incarceration rates, making Afro-descendants more vulnerable to practices of racial profiling, police brutality, over-representation in the incarcerated population, as well as high rates of impunity, and a lack of responsibility of police officers in cases of Afro-descendant victims. In this regard, the Commission recalls that structural obstacles to access and full enjoyment of human rights, are inter-twined with discrimination in police action and in the criminal justice system.

According to the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2017, while Afro-descendant persons constituted 12% of the total national population, they represented 33% of the convicted prison population. Along these same lines, according to information available from the NAACP, in 2015, African-American people represented 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of arrests for drug crimes and 33% of people incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.

According to the database US Mapping Police Violence, between 2013 and 2019, Afro-descendant people accounted for 28% of killings by police despite constituting 13% of the US population; it also recorded that as of July 9, 598 people had been killed by police officers in 2020.

Likewise, the Commission and its Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) take note of available public information that highlights that the homes of African-American people in the United States earn 60% less income compared to those of families of other ethnic-racial origin.

These factors, combined with the fact that more than 20% of African-American people nationwide were living in poverty in 2018 according to figures from the US Census Bureau, contribute to hampering access to effective judicial resources, legal defense, among other guarantees of due process, if the person does not have sufficient means and support; thus deepening existing inequality and discrimination at a systemic level that may even have intergenerational effects.

The IACHR notes with concern that current citizen security policies, which include the use of militarized police forces, in relation to the hardening of drug policies using data and techniques from contexts of armed conflict, have disproportionately impacted African-American people. Because of institutional racism, policies of surveillance, control, and sanction have been disproportionately affecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of members of historically marginalized ethnic-racial groups, as well as inhabitants of urban areas with a higher demographic composition of these population groups.

Accordingly, the Commission notes the current situation of social protests in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia opposing the historical discrimination and racial police violence against African-American people. At the same time, the IACHR observes the more than 125 incidents of excessive use of force by local and state police and security agents, documented up to June 5, 2020 in different states in the context of the "Black Lives Matter ” protests, according to the database of Mapping Police Violence across the USA.

The Commission takes note of progress with various legislative processes in the area of security, such as the Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities and initiatives such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. In this regard, the IACHR values efforts made for comprehensive changes and urges that these proposals extend to the justice system, which require sound reforms that seek to eradicate structural racism.

In this sense, the Commission considers it necessary to implement measures such as independent instances of police surveillance and control; as well as a community policing model that guarantees social participation and monitoring; activate training curricula for police, security and justice agents, focused on initial training and continuing education covering human rights , conflict mediation and violence reduction with an ethnic-racial perspective; make available basic services and affirmative actions that guarantee the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of African-American people; as well as adopt special measures for effective access to justice for this ethnic-racial group. Other recommendations indicated in its thematic report on Police violence against Afro-descendants in the United States, should also be implemented consistent with the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 196/20