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I: Racism and the Administration of Justice
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Subject: Racism and the Administration of Justice
> * News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
> International *
> 25 July 2001
> ACT 40/028/2001
> The experiences of millions of people worldwide testify to a
> simple fact -- racism undermines all human rights. Justice
> systems all too often perpetuate racism by mirroring the
> prejudices of their society. Ahead of the 2001 third UN World
> Conference against Racism (WCAR), to be held in Durban, South
> Africa, Amnesty International is urging governments to ensure
> that the administration of justice in their particular countries
> is free from prejudice, discrimination and racial bias.
> The following briefing summarizes Amnesty International's
> report, Racism and the Administration of Justice, and the
> organization's concerns regarding the current disputes among
> states within the context of the WCAR.
> What is racism?
> Racism is a blatant attack on the very notion of basic human
> rights -- that human rights belong to all people, equally. It
> infects, to varying degrees and in various forms, every country
> in the world.
> The prohibition of racial discrimination constitutes a
> general principle of international law, included in all
> fundamental human rights standards. The UN International
> Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial
> Discrimination (CERD), adopted in 1965 and ratified by 157
> countries, outlines substantive rights and a series of steps for
> the elimination of racial discrimination in all its forms.
> Amnesty International's work against racial
> discrimination is based on the definition set out in Article 1 of
> the CERD:
> "In this Convention the term 'racial discrimination'
> shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference
> based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin
> which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the
> recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human
> rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic,
> social, cultural or any other field of public life."
> The world is familiar with some of the worst violations
> of human rights based on racism, such as Apartheid, the Holocaust
> of the Jews during World War II and the genocide against the
> Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. Yet less publicized abuses take place in
> the daily operations of governments as well as in civil society.
> How is Amnesty International involved in the work against racism?
> Amnesty International opposes racism through its work to promote
> the observance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
> around the world. It also works worldwide on cases of grave
> violations of the right to be free from racial discrimination.
> Specifically, Amnesty International opposes racism by
> working for the release of prisoners of conscience imprisoned by
> reason of race, colour, national, ethnic or social origin; and
> through its work on cases where racism is a factor in human
> rights abuses including torture, ill-treatment, the death
> penalty, "disappearances", unfair trials of political prisoners,
> unlawful killings, excessive use of force, forcible exile, mass
> expulsions and house destruction. Amnesty International
> intervenes in cases where racial discrimination prevents redress
> for victims and perpetuates impunity for perpetrators of human
> rights violations, or hinders the right of those fleeing
> persecution to seek asylum.
> In this report, which is not intended to be a global or
> comprehensive survey of racism, Amnesty International highlights
> particular countries and cases of relevance to the question of
> the administration of justice, focusing on law enforcement by
> security forces, the operations of the judicial system, and
> abuses in the context of asylum determination procedures.
> Global racial discrimination
> Racism often reflects deep-rooted historical patterns of
> oppression against groups singled out because of their race,
> colour, descent or ethnic or national origin. These patterns
> exist within particular societies, or may transcend national
> boundaries so that some groups, such as people of African, Roma
> or Kurdish descent, face discrimination in the different
> countries in which they reside.
> Racial discrimination on the basis of colour persists in
> many parts of the world and affects every aspect of life.
> In the United States of America, extensive studies have
> shown that racial discrimination is a major feature of the
> administration of justice across the country. Reports have found,
> for example, that blacks and whites are the victims of murder in
> almost equal numbers, yet more than 80 per cent of prisoners
> executed between 1977 and 2001 were convicted for the murder of a
> white person; black men are admitted to prison at more than eight
> times the rate of white men; and black men are incarcerated for
> drug offences at a rate 13.4 times higher than white men. The
> rate of imprisonment of black women is eight times higher than
> for white women; for Hispanic women the rate is four times higher.
> Racism in the administration of justice has been
> documented in much of Europe. In general terms, racial minorities
> are more likely than white people to be detained on suspicion of
> offences such as drug dealing or theft. They also figure
> disproportionately in cases of excessive use of force by police
> and deaths in custody. Allegations of racist abuses by police are
> rarely investigated effectively, and few authorities adequately
> monitor complaints of racist treatment by police or others
> administering justice.
> In the United Kingdom, police have been found negligent
> in their response to racist attack. Last year CERD's Committee
> expressed serious concern that "racist attacks and harassment are
> continuing and ethnic minorities are feeling increasingly
> vulnerable". The Committee was also concerned about the finding
> by a UK judicial inquiry in 1999 of institutional racism within
> the Metropolitan police force. Progress has been slow in rooting
> out racial prejudice within police forces and other public
> South Africa, which will host the WCAR, is still
> struggling with the legacies of apartheid, a system of
> legally-enforced racial discrimination which had been declared a
> crime against humanity under international law. The South
> African government, parliament and civil society organizations
> have been involved in law reform, training and other wide-ranging
> initiatives aimed at transforming public institutions and raising
> public awareness after more than four decades of apartheid rule.
> However, the struggle to transform institutions steeped in
> discriminatory practices is likely to be a long one. This was
> illustrated in November 2000 when state television broadcast a
> secretly-made police video which showed white police officers
> encouraging police dogs to attack three captive black men.
> In Asia millions of people suffer discrimination because
> of their descent or caste. Often the discrimination results in
> extreme poverty and marginalization for such groups, leading to
> further discrimination on the basis of economic status.
> In India, despite the abolition by law of
> "untouchability", Dalits continue to be discriminated against on
> the basis of their descent. They are marginalized, particularly
> in rural areas. Among the violations persistently reported are
> torture (including rape), arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial
> Dalits also often suffer violence in the community.
> Abuses against Dalits frequently go unpunished, with local police
> frequently refusing to record complaints by Dalits. Much evidence
> points towards a connivance between powerful caste groups and the
> police in violent attacks against Dalits.
> An estimated 300 million indigenous peoples worldwide
> face impoverishment and cultural marginalization as well as
> widespread discrimination and other human rights abuses. Around
> the world, states deliberately ignore abuses committed by their
> agents and others against indigenous communities. Disputes with
> landowners and national and multinational companies exploiting
> natural resources on indigenous territories have led to many
> serious human rights abuses, often carried out with the
> complicity or acquiescence of the state.
> Discrimination against Guatemala's indigenous peoples, an
> estimated 70 per cent of the population, was a major factor
> behind the wholesale rapes and massacres carried out during
> Guatemala's long "dirty war" in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
> Even though a formal peace was declared in 1996, discrimination
> continues to exclude Guatemala's indigenous peoples from most
> aspects of national life. For example, they are not customarily
> represented in their native languages in criminal trials where
> they are defendants, nor in proceedings in which they attempt to
> testify against alleged perpetrators of gross abuses.
> In Australia, the administration of justice remains
> heavily weighted against Aborigines. Aboriginal people are up to
> 22 times more likely than other Australians to be imprisoned.
> Aborigines are vastly over-represented in both the juvenile and
> criminal justice system and are more likely to die in custody
> than non-Aboriginal people.
> Racial discrimination against Roma occurs widely in
> Europe because Roma are perceived as an "inferior" ethnic group,
> a perception based in some countries on the lifestyle or relative
> poverty of Romani communities. The discrimination is most
> widespread in Central and Eastern European countries where Roma
> form sizeable minorities. In many of these states, subtle forms
> of discrimination have turned into open racial hatred and
> In the Czech Republic, Roma are particularly vulnerable
> to violent racist attacks, particularly by gangs of "skinheads".
> Police often fail to intervene to protect Roma or to investigate
> allegations of such violence seriously. There have also been
> allegations of police collusion with "skinheads" and racist
> And all over the world, the vulnerability of women to
> human rights abuses is heightened when they belong to ethnic or
> racial minorities suffering discrimination. In situations ranging
> from police interrogations to civil wars, the rape and sexual
> abuse of women is deliberately used to systematically intimidate
> and traumatize women, families and whole communities.
> In Indonesia, during widespread violence against ethnic
> Chinese in May 1998, many ethnic Chinese women were reportedly
> gang raped, allegedly with the help of the military. In the
> recent conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in African states such
> as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mass rape of women from
> the "enemy" population has been a favoured weapon of war.
> Some of the most virulent forms of racism in justice
> systems appear in societies torn apart by ethnic or nationalist
> conflicts, with the conflict forming the background and sometimes
> the official justification for discriminatory treatment by the
> police and security forces against people from the "enemy" camp.
> As a result, racism pollutes all aspects of society, including
> the justice system.
> In Europe and the Middle East, Kurds have been singled
> out for violations of their human rights because of their
> In Iraq waves of repression by the authorities have torn
> Kurdish communities apart and devastated millions of lives. In
> the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Kurds "disappeared" after
> arrest by Iraqi security forces, most never to be seen again.
> Since mid-1997, thousands of Kurds and a number of other
> non-Arabs living n the oil-rich Kirkuk region, have been expelled
> to Kurdish provinces in the north (now controlled by Kurdish
> organizations) because of their ethnic origin. Their empty
> properties have been given by the authorities to pro-government
> Arabs brought in from other regions of Iraq.
> The estimated 13 million Kurds in Turkey face widespread,
> although not open, discrimination on the basis of their ethnic
> identity both in law and in the administration of justice. The
> Turkish military and police have carried out extrajudicial
> executions, "disappearances", mass arbitrary arrests and the
> wholesale use of torture. Thousands of Kurds have also been
> imprisoned for political offences, many after grossly unfair
> trials. The majority of the victims have been Kurdish civilians.
> Most of these gross human rights violations still await proper
> In Sudan, in the context of a racially divisive civil
> war, government-allied militias mainly from the North have
> engaged in a form of slavery mostly targeted at people of the
> South. The victims are predominantly Dinka people from
> Bahr-el-Ghazal, and the people from the Nuba mountains and
> Ingessana hills. Thousands of people have been enslaved. Women
> and girls have been raped, and some boys forcibly recruited as
> child soldiers. Some s have allegedly had their names changed
> into Arab names and forced to convert to Islam. The Sudanese
> government has denied the existence of slavery and claims it has
> no control over what it calls "traditional tribal abductions".
> However in 1999 the government set up a Committee for the
> Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children which has
> helped to reunite a few hundred people who were held in slavery
> with their families.
> In Myanmar, in the ongoing conflict with armed ethnic
> groups, the army has targeted ethnic minority civilians for gross
> human rights violations. Ethnic minorities have also been
> forcibly relocated and forced to work as porters or on heavy
> construction projects and they are often ill-treated, deprived of
> food and tortured. Many thousands have fled abroad to escape
> these violations.
> In Israel, prejudice against Palestinian citizens of
> Israel is widespread in the criminal justice system, both in the
> courts and in law enforcement methods. During demonstrations and
> riots in northern Israel last year, Israeli security forces used
> firearms and killed 13 Palestinian citizens. It took weeks of
> protests for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the killings
> to be set up. A border policewoman was later quoted as saying,"we
> handle Jewish riots differently. When such a demonstration takes
> place, it is obvious from the start that we do not bring our guns
> In the Israeli Occupied Territories, different laws apply
> to Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents. Palestinians are
> governed by more than 3,000 military orders, allowing for trials
> by military courts which are often unfair. Since 1967 thousands
> of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories have also been
> demolished ostensibly because they were built without a permit,
> but Israeli officials have discriminated against Palestinians
> when granting permissions and enforcing planning prohibitions.
> Through neglect, discrimination and repression, ethnic
> Uighurs, Tibetans and members of other ethnic minorities in China
> have seen their cultural, social, economic and religious rights
> eroded and their political rights curbed. The government has
> responded to ethnic unrest and opposition with harsh repression,
> including arbitrary arrests, summary trials and in some cases
> executions. Torture is endemic throughout China, but male Uighur
> political prisoners have reportedly been subjected to forms of
> sexual torture not reported elsewhere in China.
> Around the world, asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants
> are facing xenophobic environments, sometimes directly encouraged
> by the authorities or political parties and almost always
> reflected in the administration of justice.
> In Europe, politicians in several countries have helped
> to stir up xenophobia through racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric,
> or indirectly through policies that seek to restrict immigration
> and asylum application. In countries such as Austria, Belgium and
> Switzerland, foreign nationals have died during deportation as a
> result of the use of dangerous methods of restraint by police
> such as gagging. Ethnic minorities have also been
> disproportionately victim of police brutality in countries such
> as France.
> In Japan, migrant workers who have overstayed their visas
> or asylum-seekers held in detention centres have been beaten and
> In Saudi Arabia, a secret and arbitrary criminal justice
> system confronts everyone who comes into contact with the law,
> but foreign workers from developing countries have much less
> chance of escaping gross abuses than Saudi Arabian nationals. Of
> 889 executions recorded by Amnesty International between 1990 and
> 2000, over half of the victims were migrant workers.
> Some 5,000 Iraqis remain held in a desert camp in
> northern Saudi Arabia since the end of the Gulf War with Iraq in
> 1991. From the outset, the Saudi Arabian authorities referred to
> them as "guests", refusing to consider them as refugees. Most of
> the original 33,000 men, women and children have been resettled
> by the United Nations.
> Today in South Africa, asylum-seekers and refugees from
> other African countries are sometimes the targets of
> racially-motivated or xenophobic violence from members of the
> public and law enforcement officials.
> Amnesty International's recommendations
> The Amnesty International report calls on governments to adopt
> national strategies and plans of action to combat all forms of
> racism and to include specific measures relating to the
> administration of justice, including:
> - Becoming party to the International Convention on the
> Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination without making
> limiting reservations;
> - Ensuring that members of state agencies reflect the diversity
> of their societies, receive effective training and are
> disciplined or prosecuted whenever they commit racist abuses;
> - Providing protection against racist attacks by preventing and
> responding to all forms of racist attacks, and bringing those
> responsible to justice;
> - Ensuring that asylum-seekers and detainees are informed of
> their rights and receive effective legal and language assistance;
> - Ensuring that the conduct of trials and the imposition of
> sentences do not discriminate on grounds relating to racism.
> Countries where the death penalty is still imposed should
> investigate any disproportionate impact of such penalty on racial
> groups and declare a moratorium on executions pending such
> - Initiating or supporting campaigns to mobilize public opinion
> against racism.
> Amnesty International's concerns regarding the WCAR
> The last session of the Preparatory Committee of the WCAR will
> take place in Geneva between 30 July and 10 August (the WCAR
> itself is due to take place in Durban between 31 August and 7
> September, with an NGO Forum scheduled between 28 and 31 August).
> The preparations for the WCAR are currently marred
> primarily by disputes over the issue of reparations for slavery
> and colonialism and issues relating to Israel, Zionism and the
> use of the term "Holocaust". Because of such disputes countries
> may decide to downgrade the level of their participation in the
> WCAR or not attend, and there is a fear that the conference may
> fail to reach agreement on a common platform. If at all that
> happens the world will have missed a unique opportunity to make a
> difference in the fight against racism, letting down the victims
> of discrimination in a spectacular way.
> Amnesty International believes that all individuals who
> have been victims of gross human rights violations must obtain
> reparation and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
> States cannot avoid responsibility for such violations because
> they were committed by past governments. Amnesty International
> also believes that recognizing historical wrongs is essential,
> both as acknowledgement of past injustice and in order to avoid
> repetition in the future. However, where individual victims and
> perpetrators cannot be identified, the most effective and
> enduring form of reparation is to eliminate contemporary
> manifestations of discrimination, including those that may be a
> legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.
> Amnesty International hopes that an agreement can be
> reached by the WCAR on inter-state initiatives aimed at dealing
> with the legacy of the past, including proposals relating to
> development aid, cancelling debts and reviewing terms of trade.
> If not, Amnesty International would urge states to agree a
> mechanism for addressing these issues outside the framework of
> the Conference, so as to ensure that the WCAR gives proper
> attention to developing forward-looking plans for eradicating
> contemporary forms of racism.
> Amnesty International holds states to be accountable for
> human rights violations under international human rights
> standards, and does not attempt to define or take position on
> systems of government or ideologies such as Zionism. In this
> respect, Amnesty International believes that it would be more
> productive if the WCAR were to address any discriminatory state
> practice ? such as discrimination in Israel and the Occupied
> Territories against Palestinians ? by recalling the international
> obligations of states rather than addressing any particular
> There is also a dispute over the use of the term
> "Holocaust". Amnesty International notes that each genocide has
> had specific aspects and survivors refer to their experience with
> terms that are particularly meaningful to them and that may then
> enter into general usage. "Holocaust", for instance, is widely
> understood to mean the racist genocide of the Jews during World
> War II. The controversy over this issue is insensitive to the
> feelings of survivors. All genocides are equally reprehensible.
> The WCAR must ensure that the crime of genocide is not
> trivialized and that all victims are recognized.
> Amnesty International appeals to all governments to focus
> constructively on the challenge of building a world free from all
> forms of racial discrimination, and ensure that the WCAR
> contributes effectively to this goal.
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