15th June, 2020
Twenty-two senior United Nations officials have issued a joint statement condemning “pervasive and systemic racism” in the United States and beyond.
The officials, who are Africans or of African descent, urged authorities and the international community to “go beyond and do more” than just condemning the act.
Among the signatories are the Director-General, World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, and the Executive-Director, Joint UN AIDS Programme, Winnia Byanyima, the UN said in a report on Sunday.
The statement comes amid massive protests in major cities across the U.S. and around the against racism.
The protests were sparked by the death of an African American, George Floyd, after a white police officer knelt on his neck in the U.S. city of Minneapolis on May 25.
The UN officials’ position came a few days after the Secretary-General, António Guterres, said employees of the organisation were free to protest in a private capacity.
Guterres’ clarification was in response to complaints by staff over guidance issued earlier by the UN Ethics Office that warned them against demonstrations.
“I also want to be clear about the recent guidance issued by the Ethics Office and relevant departments,” he said in an internal memo.
“It does not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the face of racism.
“To the contrary, there is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity.”
The UN officials said their expression of solidarity with the peaceful demonstrations was in line with their “responsibilities and obligations as international civil servants to stand up and speak out against oppression”.
“As leaders, we share the core beliefs and the values and principles enshrined in the Charter of the UN that do not leave us the option to keep silent,” they said.
Referencing Floyd’s last words while pleading for breathing space, the UN officials said they conveyed the “deep trauma and inter-generational suffering” from racial injustice, particularly against people of African descent
“A desperate yearning for a long-departed mother,” the said in reference to Floyd’s cry to his late mother for help.
“Reaching deep from the bowels of fragile humanity. Grasping for breath. Begging for mercy. The entire world heard the tragic cry”.
They said it was time for authorities to go beyond simply condemning acts of racism, which they described as a “global scourge that has been perpetuated over centuries”.
The officials also called on the UN to “step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups”, according to the report.