Experts in human rights at the United Nations have said they "categorically condemn" analysis given in a key report on race commissioned by the UK government, which denied there was institutional racism in Britain.
The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, a group of researchers and human rights lawyers within the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in a statement said: “Stunningly, the report claims that, while there might be overt acts of racism in the UK, there is no institutional racism,” yet, “the report offers no evidence for this claim."
Published on March 31, the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities had a controversial reception from experts and campaigners. It was originally commissioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the wake of Black Lives Matters protests that swept the nation, and the world, last summer after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in the US.
The commission’s report praised the UK as a “model for other white-majority countries”, while Tony Sewell, the commission’s chairman, wrote that we “no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.”
But campaigners from Black Lives Matter UK and the Runnymede Trust, a leading race inequality think tank, criticised the commission at the time for “white-washing” the issues around structural racism in Britain.
Much of the criticism centred around a claim in the report that “geography, family influence, and socioeconomic background, culture, and religion” had more of an influence on someone’s life opportunities than race.
Now the researchers within the OHCHR have put forward their own statement condemning the report and taking issue with its evidence base and analysis.
The working group asserts that qualitative and quantitative research on the reality of structural racism is ignored by the race commission and says that the report “attempts to delegitimise data grounded in lived experience.”
The group concludes: “The reality is that people of African descent continue to experience poor economic, social, and health outcomes at vastly disproportionate rates in the UK.”
Their statement goes on to cite other reports into race in the UK, such as the Lammy Review in 2017, and says that representatives investigating contemporary racism from the UN found evidence of racial discrimation on visits to the UK in 2018.
The researchers also criticise the report’s references to the history of slavery and the UK’s role in the slave trade, and slate the commission’s “mythical representation of enslavement" as "an attempt to sanitise the history of the trade in enslaved Africans”. They further found that the commission had failed to “acknowledge how the legacies of enslavement continue to shape wealth disparities, social stratification, and the experiences of people of African descent in Britain.”
Following this, they recommend that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities be disbanded or reformed to “prioritise an authentic and rigorous examination of race.”
The exact wording about the slave trade in the original report comes in the introduction, where Sewell writes: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”
Downing Street has strongly rejected the criticism, arguing that the UN report “misrepresents the findings” of the Race Commission, according to a statement to MSN.
“We remain proud of the UK’s long history as a human rights champion and we encourage everyone to read the original report in full,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.
The criticism comes amid further evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated inequalities in Britain.
A Guardian analysis of official labour statistics last week found that Black Britons aged between 16 and 24 faced a 40% unemployment rate at the end of 2020 — much higher than the 12.4% unemployment rate among white workers of the same age group.
Meanwhile, Black and South Asian Britons also face a much higher risk of death from COVID-19. A report from Public Health England in June 2020 found that Black and ethnic minority people faced a risk of dying from the disease between 10% and 50% higher than the risk faced by white Britons.