Activist groups invite United Nations to investigate Mpls racism

Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin at a press conference at Minneapolis City Hall
Photo by Henry Pan

A coalition of local human rights groups have invited the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism to visit Minneapolis as part of their visit to the United States this fall.

They invited the rapporteur, E. Tendayi Achiume of Zambia, who is a U-Cal-LA Alicia Miñana law professor, in hopes of drawing international attention to racism and ongoing human rights abuses, particularly by the Minneapolis Police Department. Rapporteur means “reporter of meeting proceedings” in French. 

Advocates are worried that even with damning findings made by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice, elected officials might not have the political will to make any changes. 

A “Frontline” documentary that debuted on May 31, for example, found Minneapolis police officers engaged in misconduct with impunity, even exacting revenge against their superiors who sought to do the right thing. Likewise, the legislature has failed to move reforms forward. 

“This is not the first time that the Department of Justice has taken a look at the actions of the Minneapolis Police Department. Nor is it the first time the Department of Human Rights has done so,” said James Roth, who volunteers with the local Amnesty International chapter and is one of the organizations that invited the rapporteur to Minneapolis. “And the police department has managed to rebuff the suggested changes every single time over decades.”

Special rapporteurs are elected by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the United States sits on, to serve unpaid, three-year terms. Their work involves visiting and advising countries and the council to evaluate and recommend strategies to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin is the United Nations’ special rapporteur on terrorism and human rights and is a University of Minnesota law professor. At a press conference organized by the organizations, she said rapporteurs can put pressure on states and nations that wish to remain influential in the world, even if they espouse it. It’s how she received an invitation in March to visit Guantanamo Bay to investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the United States in the days following the war on terror.

“The United States stands at a crossroads where it pretends its role to be a leader for democracy, for human rights, for the rule of law in the world. And the consequences of a failure to engage with international organizations on key issues like racism [and] structural violence is that actually the U.S.’s stature in the world diminishes,” said Ní Aoláin. 

Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence founder Toshira Garraway says the invitation is long overdue. “At this point, we have no further choice but to ask for outside help. Because if the help was going to come from within this state, it would have already happened,” said Garraway.

A rapporteur visit could occur sometime this fall. Achiume did not comment as of press time.

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