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Countries That Contributed to Slavery Must Be Held Accountable: UN Human Rights Chief

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It’s time for the world to confront slavery and colonialism as experienced by their victims. This is the message at the core of a speech that was delivered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet was speaking at a debate held on June 17, in Geneva, Switzerland, after African nations called for an urgent discussion on the slave trade and colonialism.

“Behind today’s racial violence, systemic racism, and discriminatory policing lies the failure to acknowledge and confront the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism,” Bachelet said.

The request for the debate followed recent anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests held in the United States and globally following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a police officer. 

At the debate held by the United Nations Human Rights Council  — a group of 47 countries tasked with promoting and protecting human rights globally — countries were urged to confront the role they played in the slave trade, which resulted in millions of Africans being enslaved.

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Bachelet also said countries need to acknowledge that systemic racism and police brutality are a consequence of slavery and colonialism, and that time has also come understand the full scope of racism.

Speaking about police brutality, Bachelet said this issue also needs to be addressed urgently. 

“This symbol of systemic racism has become emblematic of the excessive use of disproportionate force by law enforcement, against people of African descent, against people of colour, and against indigenous peoples, and racial and ethnic minorities in many countries across the globe,” Bachelet added.

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Bachelet said countries that were involved in the atrocities should “make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination, including through formal apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms”.

She ended her address by saying: “Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. The lives of people of colour matter. All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights: that is what this council, like my office, stands for.”