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The UN, the UK and racism

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,  E. Tendayi Achiume, was recently in the UK, at the invitation of the Government, to meet with stakeholders across the nation.

She was here to:

  • examine manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and related trends in the UK;

  • assess the existing legal, institutional and policy framework for the protection of groups and individuals that may be subjected to racial discrimination and related intolerance;

  • follow up on recommendations made to the UK by various human rights groups;

  • seek information on existing good practices for combatting racial discrimination, and the challenges to their implementation;

  • gather information on achievements that have advanced racial equality;

  • document remaining gaps and challenges with a view to making concrete recommendations to the Government and other relevant stakeholders.

This fact finding mission included two sessions that BTEG staff attended. They covered:

  • the intersectionality between racial discrimination and discrimination based on gender and/or sexual orientation and

  • policing and the administration of justice.

The events gave us the opportunity to promote BTEG’s work, especially around criminal justice, education and employment. More importantly, we were able to express our frustrations around continuing racism, race disparities and discrimination that exist despite decades of UK legislation and initiatives. Questions around racism have arisen over the last year. Grenfell Tower, Brexit and the Windrush scandal have all led to public debate around race. Some may say that this is a good thing and that “at least we are talking about race and racism again”. This perception can be appreciated as it is true to say that racism was taken off the agendas of public sector bodies for many years,  allowing systematic and institutionalised traits to seep in and reinforce discrimination and disparities.

A complementary workshop was hosted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The event was for civil society organisation to consider how their work is relevant to the examination of the UK Government under the Convention against Torture that is expected to take place in spring 2019.  A UN committee will visit Britain to hear evidence from the British government and UK civil society organisations. Torture is most commonly associated with criminal justice and military settings but the scope of the committees review will include social care, mental health and asylum detention settings.

The committee’s visit will be an opportunity for BTEG to raise:

  • the consistent over-representation of BAME groups – including women and young people -and their poor treatment across the criminal justice system

  • the treatment of black, Muslim and ethnic minority prisoners, including the use of force and the likelihood of  harsher prison regimes

  • the police’s use of force and the treatment of BAME children.

BTEG will contribute to a report from civil society organisations on these issues to the UN committee.


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