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It may come as no surprise to Black people in North America that the United States’ closest European ally, the United Kingdom, has been accused of widespread, systemic discrimination against people of African descent.
After wrapping up a 10-day fact-finding mission on the treatment and experiences of Black people in the UK, a United Nations committee expressed “extreme concern” in a letter to the British government last week about its failure to address “structural, institutional, and systemic racism” against people of African descent.
The UN working group of experts on people of African descent called on the UK to stop the use of strip searches during police stops and the use of joint enterprise, in which two or more defendants are accused of the same crime by association, the Guardian reported on Friday.
“We have serious concerns about impunity and the failure to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, deaths in police custody, ‘joint enterprise’ convictions and the dehumanising nature of the stop and (strip) search,” the working group said in a statement.
UN working group on people of African descent finds continued systemic racism in UK
Established a year after the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD) is composed of five independent experts appointed on the basis of equatable geographic representation.
The group sent a 19-page summary of recommendations to the British government on Friday after speaking to hundreds of citizens throughout the country during a 10-day fact-finding mission.
Among the findings, the UN body discovered many Black elderly populations were made to feel like they don’t belong, school police officers regularly intimidated Black children, and the criminal justice system’s practices disproportionately targeted Black people.
What is the Windrush scandal?
Additionally, the UN body said extensive trauma remained following the Windrush scandal, when the government threatened to deport the children of Caribbean migrants after falsely classifying them as illegal immigrants. In 2019, the British government formally apologized.
Windrush refers to the people who arrived in the UK from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands between 1948 and 1971. The ship they sailed on was called the MV Empire Windrush, according to the BBC.
Notably, it was slave labor from those forcibly moved to the Caribbean that helped build the wealth of the former British Empire.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday in London, Dominique Day, one of the five members of the UN working group, said: “I’ve never visited a country before where there is a culture of fear pervading Black communities – relating to a range of asylum, residency, policing issues. An entire community experiences constant and ongoing human rights violations as a routine and normalized part of daily life.”
It’s unclear whether Day had ever visited the United States.
British government denies systemic racism
For its part, the British government pushed back against the report’s findings.
“We strongly reject most of these findings,” a British government spokesperson said, per the Guardian.
“The report wrongly views people of African descent as a single homogeneous group and presents a superficial analysis of complex issues that fails to look at all possible causes of disparities, not just race. We are proud that the UK is an open, tolerant and welcoming country but this hard-earned global reputation is not properly reflected in this report.”
The denial of racism comes just eight years after the UK finished forcing taxpayers to pay the descendants of slave owners as a bribe for abolishing slavery nearly two centuries ago.
Meanwhile, officials said they had a “robust” discussion about the report with the UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.
As part of its fact-finding mission, the UN working group visited London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol. It spoke with senior government officials, local city council representatives, Metropolitan police and members of the Human Rights Commission.
The UN working group will present their full findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2023.