IBA and IBAHRI call on the US to address racism and police brutality in wake of George Floyd killing

Tuesday 9 June 2020

The International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemn the police brutality that led to the death of United States citizen George Floyd, as well as the attacks against peaceful protestors and journalists by law enforcement agencies. The entities call on the US Government to address the structural inequalities and institutional racism at the root of the rolling protests following the killing of yet another unarmed Black man in police custody.

Amid the global outpouring of grief, condemnation and anger at the killing of Mr Floyd, and following the filing of the case Black Lives Matter DC v Trump, the IBA and the IBAHRI call on the US government to ensure justice for the family of Mr Floyd, and to provide the legal protections that should be afforded to peaceful protestors and journalists.

We appeal to the US national, state and local governments to enact and enforce meaningful measures to provide increased accountability for police forces. Under the US Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment asserts ‘nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ As arms of the state, police authorities are obligated to protect every individual’s fundamental human right to life. The trust of communities is essential for effective policing; that is what provides its legitimacy.

The IBA and IBAHRI support the rights of all citizens to engage in peaceful protest. The US must fully observe and uphold the right to assembly and freedom of expression under international and domestic law. The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right of the people to peaceable assembly. Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantee individuals’ rights to peaceful assembly. Moreover, under the American Convention of Human Rights (signed by the US in 1977 but not ratified), Article 4 protects the rights to life, Article 15 the right to peaceful assembly, and Article 13 the freedom of expression and thought.

Further, the IBA and IBAHRI urge the US government to end the excessive use of force immediately. Thus far, more than 10,000 people have been arrested across US cities for taking part in protests. Reports and videos have exposed grave violence including the use of rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash grenades. Police cars have struck peaceful protestors at speed and journalists have encountered threats, intimidation and violence while executing their professional reporting duties.

The IBA and the IBAHRI remind the US government of its duty to create safe conditions in which people are able to exercise their freedom of assembly. The violent crackdown on peaceful protests under the guise of protecting ‘public health’ during the COVID-19 pandemic serves only to elicit more violence, which is wholly detrimental to the public’s right to life and health.

The victim, George Floyd, the latest unarmed American man of African descent, was arrested on a minor offence involving a single allegedly counterfeit $20 bill. The violence exacted by law enforcement officers, and the failure of one officer to intervene, during his arrest led to Mr Floyd’s needless death. Other officers also looked on and failed to take action to prevent his premature demise. This conduct is an abuse of power to be deplored and denounced wherever it takes place. The policemen responsible and complicit must face the full force of the law and due process.

After centuries of enslaving people from Africa, lynching, racial segregation, the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King and systemic discrimination in the USA, it is not surprising that society would erupt in the way in which it has. However, a new generation wants to move forward, together, in a profound way. Through the protests, they are demonstrating their abhorrence to the legacy, signalling their intention for societal change and for justice not only to be seen to be done, but to actually be done.

The killing of Mr Floyd, has unleashed deep-seated frustrations around systemic racism, discrimination and inequality. The subsequent international protests are physical manifestation of societies’ unaddressed ills.

The global legal profession must play its part in making society just. More than platitudes and virtue signalling are required. What is needed is an attitude adjustment. In addition, police and law enforcement officers would benefit from, inter alia:

  • the introduction of improved training in citizen constitutional and universal human rights in police academies and training bodies;
  • an increase in recruitment of women and people from racial minorities and other communities; and
  • larger communal engagement with police colleges, educators and industrial unions, as potential avenues of securing internal reform.

We call on the US Government, and all governments, to respect the right to life as enshrined in Article 6 of the ICCPR and Article 3 of the UDHR. Black Lives Matter.

‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’
Dr Martin Luther King

Horacio Bernardes Neto
President, International Bar Association

Dr Mark Ellis
Executive Director, International Bar Association

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Director, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG
Co-Chair, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

Anne Ramberg Jur dr hc
Co-Chair, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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