US is guilty of crimes against humanity, says panel
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A group of legal experts says the US is guilty of crimes against humanity and major violations of international law after a spate of incidents where black people were killed at the hands of police.
This was contained in the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent report in the US. The inquiry was instituted by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and the National Lawyers Guild in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police officers.
Protests against police violence towards people of African descent erupted throughout the US and around the world with the “black lives matter” campaign gaining momentum.
Most recently, a South African former professional rugby player, Lindani Myeni, 29, from Empangeni was gunned down by Honolulu police officers in Hawaii, US, following a scuffle. Police alleged he entered a home, exhibiting strange behaviour, and proceeded to take off his shoes and made himself comfortable, leading the homeowners to believe they were in danger.
Responding to an alleged robbery in progress, officers found Myeni on the premises and attempted to make an arrest, which eventually resulted in his death.
The report was produced by experts from various countries, including two South Africans, Professor Rashida Manjoo from UCT and Maxwell Boqwana from Rhodes University.
It made findings and recommendations based on interviews with the victims’ families and court cases hearings.
The commissioners say they found violations of the rights to life, security, freedom from torture, freedom from discrimination, mental health, fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to be treated with humanity and respect.
“The commissioners find a prima facie case of crimes against humanity warranting an investigation by the International Criminal Court. The crimes under the Rome Statute include murder, severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution of people of African descent, and other inhumane acts, which occurred in the context of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population of black people in the USA,” the report says.
“There were violations of the state’s duty to provide medical care to detained persons to ensure investigations of extra-judicial killings that are independent, competent, thorough and effective.
“The commissioners find that USA laws and police practices do not comply with the international standards on the use of force, which require legal basis, legitimate objective, necessity, precautions, proportionality, protection of life, non-discrimination, and accountability.”
The commission recommended that the US government develop policies to accomplish a complete overhaul of current policies and training practices including, but not limited to outlawing the use of force except in conformity, outlawing chokeholds and tasers and prohibiting no-knock warrants.
It further recommended calling for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a full investigation into incidents of police violence against people of African descent in the US to determine, in particular,
whether the level of violence constitutes gross violation of human rights and whether crimes under international criminal law have been, and continue to be, committed.
“The commission calls for an end to impunity and accountability of police officials resorting to racist violence and unjustified force before independent civilian review boards and in criminal and civil proceedings of the justice system in the USA.
“Create an effective and robust system of combating institutionalised racism within all law enforcement agencies, to be monitored by an independently elected body, in consultation with civil society organisations committed to principles of civil liberties,” the report stated.
Judge Zak Yacoob, former justice of the Constitutional Court, who attended the virtual launch of the report, commended the legal minds who participated in the inquiry.
He said the report was a fundamental tool for the whole world to fight racism.
Boqwana called on the US to implement the recommendations of the reports. He recalled that a similar inquiry was established in the 1970s but its recommendations were never implemented.