GENEVA — A webinar titled “Racism and Social Discrimination in the USA” was held here on Tuesday during the 44th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The virtual event was jointly sponsored by a group of non-governmental organizations, including the Civil Society Organizations Congress of the Peoples of Colombia, International Solidarity Committee of Venezuela, European Collective of Ecuadorian Diversity, Chinese Society for Human Rights Studies, and Latin American Foundation for Human Rights and Social Development.
Prof. Zhang Wanhong, executive director of the Institute for Human Rights Studies at China’s Wuhan University, said at the webinar that the tragic event unfolded on May 25 in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd illustrates the deep-rooted racism and social discrimination against people of African descent in the country.
After reviewing the situation of Asian Americans through a historical timeline, Zhang turned to contemporary issues by focusing on COVID-19 related practice, and said that anti-Asian American harassment has been further stoked by U.S. government’s repeated use of stigmatizing and offensive words.
Racism and xenophobia in the United States during the pandemic, he noted, undermine the solidarity in global cooperation against the virus, deteriorate the lives and livelihoods of certain ethnics, and further strengthen the existence of racism and xenophobia.
Dr. Zhou Li of China’s Southwest University of Political Science and Law, told the webinar that the COVID-19 outbreak and the waves of protests after Floyd’s death are interconnected, since the epidemic has led to increasing risks for certain groups.
African Americans, who make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 22.4 percent of related deaths of COVID-19 cases, said Zhou, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In the institutional and psycho-social structure of the United States, there is not only white supremacism, but also the foundation of the interests of capital priority,” he said.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, former UN independent expert, said in a written speech to the webinar that Floyd’s death was not a unique occurrence, but one among thousands of African Americans who have been victims of the excessive use of force by the U.S. police.
The United States now needs long-term solutions instead of “band aids,” de Zayas said, adding that it is crucial to address the root causes of violence, including social injustice, income inequality, lack of proper education training, and employment possibilities.
Lucrecia Hernandez, lecturer attorney and director of the social organization SURES, told the webinar that racism as a state policy and a structural policy has long been rooted since the founding of the United States, and the idea of white supremacy has fueled two centuries of racial violence.
Floyd’s death is just the most recent example, in a long history of killings of African-American people by police in the United States with little or no accountability, the expert said.
Gideon Award recipient Mark Burton told the webinar that there is a massive amount of police violence in the United States, and black people are two and a half times more likely to be killed by the police.
For the American attorney, Floyd’s death is just the last straw that breaks the camel’s back, since people have seen over the recent years so many similar videos of young African-American people being killed by the police.
Burton said it is a shame that the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council.
The United States took a “very hostile attitude” towards the protests and even threatened demonstrators with violence, he said, which he believes is also regretable.