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US admits flaws as UN human rights body set to debate racism

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GENEVA

A U.S. ambassador said Wednesday that Washington “is committed to addressing its shortcomings, including racial discrimination,” and is being transparent about holding violators accountable — as the U.N.’s top human rights body was taking up an urgent debate.

Andrew Bremberg, the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, noted that President Donald Trump has condemned the actions of police officers linked to the May 25 death of George Floyd, and on Tuesday signed an executive order on police reform. Floyd was a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving.

“The United States recognizes and is committed to addressing its shortcomings, including racial discrimination, and injustices that stem from such discrimination, that persist in our society,” Bremberg said. “Every democracy faces challenges — the difference is how we deal with them.”

The executive order, Bremberg said in a statement, was “an example of how transparent and responsive our government leaders are in holding violators accountable for their actions and reforming our own system.”

The comments came as the Human Rights Council in Geneva, following a call championed by African nations, was set to take up an “urgent debate” on “racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests.”

The U.N.-backed council, which counts 47 member states, was also discussing a draft resolution floated by the Africa Group that singles out the United States. The text calls for a commission of inquiry — the rights body’s most powerful tool to inspect rights violations — to look into “systemic racism” and abuses against “Africans and of people of African descent” in the U.S. and beyond.

Such work would be carried out “with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice,” the text states.

Calling the U.S. the world’s “leading advocate” for human rights, Bremberg said: “We are not above scrutiny; however, any HRC (Human Rights Council) resolution on this topic that calls out countries by name should be inclusive, noting the many countries where racism is a problem.”

“We call upon all governments to demonstrate the same level of transparency and accountability that the U.S. and our democratic partners practice,” Bremberg said, making veiled references to Iran and China over their alleged shortcomings when it comes to human rights too.

He alluded to recent accusations of “concentration camps directed at an ethnic minority” and a policy of “systemic racial discrimination against African nationals during the COVID-19 crisis” — a reference to detention centers for China’s Uighur minority and allegations of racial discrimination against blacks in China during the coronavirus outbreak.

Bremberg pointed to how “another member state brutally murders more than 1,500 peaceful protesters,” in a reference to a crackdown against anti-government protesters in Iran in November. That figure is far in excess of the 304 people that Amnesty International estimated were killed.

Many countries, including other Western countries like the U.S., appealed for greater time to discuss the Africa Group resolution, but expressed overwhelming support for efforts to fight racism.

Defenders of the resolution say such abuses in the U.S. are too common despite a working judicial system, and now is the time to act — through intensified scrutiny.

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