Human Rights Program Unites with Local Community to Call the United Nations to Minnesota

In collaboration with partners across the University of Minnesota and surrounding communities, the Human Rights Program’s graduate student-led “Networks for Justice” research team recently mobilized support to call on the United Nations International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement to visit Minnesota and investigate police violence. 

For decades, local community leaders and activists in Minnesota have worked relentlessly to address the systemic violations of human rights perpetrated by local law enforcement. Despite these efforts, institutional and structural racism remain alarmingly present in our current system of policing, disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. With few accountability mechanisms in place, Minnesotans’ calls for justice frequently go unanswered by city, state, and national agencies. 

Along with community partners, the Networks for Justice team has worked to urge the international community to pressure the United States, the state of Minnesota, and the City of Minneapolis to make meaningful change in their law enforcement practices and accountability mechanisms. 

Since early 2022, the team has conducted primary and secondary research on the surveillance and harassment of anti-police brutality human rights defenders in Minnesota outside the context of protest settings. Their research documents how members of law-abiding communities have been followed, surveilled, pulled over, cited, detained, and even had their homes raided by police to deter them from participating in human rights activism. These findings were shared internationally and used to inform the OHCHR’s August 2022 report on systemic racism and racial justice in law enforcement. 

When the United Nations International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement announced it was preparing for a country visit to the United States in spring 2023, the Networks for Justice team united with a diverse community of leaders, organizations, and activists to call on the UN to come to Minnesota. Together, they spread the word quickly and organized a wealth of submissions to the Expert Mechanism.

With the help of the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School and the social media promotion of Giiwedin (@giiwedinindizhinikaaz), the Networks for Justice team drafted and distributed an invitation letter throughout the Twin Cities community. Within just two days, more than 2,300 community members, leaders, and organizations signed on to call the Expert Mechanism to Minnesota. A number of civil society organizations and government agencies also made individual submissions.

To express solidarity with the local community, offer their support, and urge the Expert Mechanism to visit the Twin Cities, several University of Minnesota departments and centers additionally came together to submit a joint university letter. Among the signatories from the College of Liberal Arts and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs were the Department of African American and African Studies, the Human Rights Initiative, the Human Rights Program, and the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice. Many of the Law School’s centers and clinics also signed the joint letter, including the Human Rights Center, the Human Rights Litigation and International Advocacy Clinic, the James H. Binger Center for New Americans, and the Racial Justice Law Clinic

The Expert Mechanism’s visit provides a unique opportunity to increase visibility of police violence and share with the international community the human rights work of the activists at the forefront of the racial justice movement. Not only does it give impacted individuals and families a chance to share their experiences of racism and violence perpetrated by law enforcement; it also empowers them, along with their community, to be at the center of calls for just solutions. 

During their visit, the Expert Mechanism’s members will meet with national and local stakeholders in the Twin Cities to better understand the issues faced by Africans and people of African descent in Minnesota and across the United States. Through studying systemic racism, access to justice, and accountability for human rights violations and the alignment of domestic laws, policies, and practices with international norms and standards, they will offer recommendations to support the United States’ ongoing efforts to combat structural and institutional racism in the context of law enforcement.

As the epicenter of the racial justice uprising following the brutal murder of George Floyd, the Twin Cities are essential sites for the Expert Mechanism to visit to gain a deeper understanding of the discrimination and violence faced by Africans and people of African descent at the hands of law enforcement. Our community has valuable experience, expertise, and input to share as we work to transform Minnesota’s current system of policing, but we can’t do it alone. We need the support and engagement of the international human rights community to pressure our local and national government into taking action towards eliminating the racist violence and discrimination our law enforcement system perpetrates.

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