(CNSNews.com) – The United Nations has invited a Black Lives Matter activist to participate in a high-level debate in New York on human rights, with a particular focus on “combatting discrimination and inequalities.”
The two-day U.N. event Tuesday and Wednesday comes amid tensions over last week’s police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the killing by a gunman of five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest march in Dallas.
Hosted by U.N. General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft, the event entitled “Human Rights at the center of the global agenda” involves keynote speeches, a plenary debate among ministers from U.N. member-states, and three “interactive segments.”
The panel for the first of the three includes Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi and three other participants – the U.N. “special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism,” the executive director of U.N. Women, and a disabilities advocate.
The segment aims to discuss issues such as ways to advance equality and discrimination, and how to “mobilize greater political will at global and national levels.”
Tometi, who is also executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, describes herself as “a New York based Nigerian-American writer, strategist and community organizer,” who co-founded Black Lives Matter after the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year-old shot dead in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February 2012.
“The historic political project was launched in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin in order to explicitly combat implicit bias and anti-black racism and to protect and affirm the beauty and dignity of all Black lives,” she says on her website.
Tometi’s participation at the U.N. event comes after the head of the U.N.’s “working group of experts on people of African descent” said Friday it was time for the U.S. government “to strongly assert that black lives matter.”
“The Working Group is outraged and strongly condemns the new police killings of two African-American men,” said the group’s chairman, Ricardo Sunga, in reference to the deaths last week of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn. and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La.
“Excessive use of force by the police against African Americans in the United States is a regular occurrence. African Americans are reportedly shot at more than twice the rate of white people,” he said in a statement.
Sunga, a Filipino human rights lawyer, said the group has repeatedly voiced concern to the U.S. government about police killings of African-Americans.
It was “convinced that the root of the problem lies in the lack of accountability for perpetrators of such killings despite the evidence. The killings also demonstrate a high level of structural and institutional racism.”
“The United States is far from recognizing the same rights for all its citizens. Existing measures to address racist crimes motivated by prejudice are insufficient and have failed to stop the killings,” Sunga continued.
“It is time, now, for the U.S. government to strongly assert that black lives matter and prevent any further killings as a matter of national priority.”
Sunga’s statement also included a sentence on the killings in Dallas: “We also condemn the attacks on police officers in Dallas and call for the perpetrators to be held accountable.”
‘Dangerous ideology of white supremacy’
The working group is one of the U.N. human rights apparatus’ so-called “special procedures,” which also include “special rapporteurs” mandated to investigate and report back on various rights-related themes.
Several of these working groups and “special rapporteurs” have in recent years stepped up criticism of race relations in the United States.
Three months after Trayvon Martin was killed, another member of Sunga’s working group, French law professor Mireille Fanon Mendes-France, cited the case in asserting that “the process of justice was often different for people of African descent and other populations,” according to a U.N. report at the time.
Later that same year, another U.N. body, the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee, which oversees countries’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, pointed to the Martin shooting in criticizing Florida’s “stand your ground” laws.
Last February, three members of the “people of African descent” working group, including Sunga and Mendes-France, carried out a fact-finding visit to the U.S.
It ended with strong criticism, directed among other things at what they called “the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials committed with impunity.”
“Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynching of the past,” the trio said a statement, which elsewhere called for reparations for slavery.
“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,” they said.
“The dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion amongst the U.S. population.”
The trio’s report on the fact-finding visit is due to be delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.
The “working group of experts on people of African descent” was established by the U.N. after the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
The Bush administration withdrew from the Durban conference partway through, amid controversy over demands for slavery reparations and a campaign to label Israel an apartheid state.