WITNESS has responded to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ call for submissions to inform her report on systemic racism and violations of the international human rights of Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement.
WITNESS’ submission emphasizes how video has played an essential role in exposing institutional discrimination around the globe, including in healthcare, criminal justice, housing, land rights, and much more. It also discusses how governments need to protect the right to record in order to expose systemic injustice, especially with regards to state security violence. The reply highlights how Black communities have long organized around and utilized the right to record to underscore the inequities they face as they seek change and promote accountability. The right to record refers to the entitlement to use a camera or cell phone to film and/or photograph security forces and to share this material without fear of reprisal during the filming or subsequently.
The videoed police execution of George Floyd, along with the series of state security murders of innocent Black individuals that preceded it, and the endemic demonstrations against police violence and racism that followed, motivated the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold an emergency meeting in June 2020 to discuss, among other issues, systemic racism in policing in the United States. The meeting resulted in the consensus adoption of a Resolution to promote and protect the human rights of Africans and people of African descent. The Resolution makes four requests of the High Commissioner, including the production of a report on state security racism and violations of the international human rights of Africans and people of African descent. To inform this report, the High Commissioner called on non-governmental organizations, and others, to submit information.
WITNESS took this opportunity to address video’s role in exposing racial injustices in policing, as well as across other sectors, and to call for the protection of and support for the right to record. Enhancing and upholding the right to record is vital to allowing communities of color to continue to seek accountability for the state terrorism they face and shift narratives around policing. The right is especially useful in documenting the day-to-day activities of police as they use oppressive tactics within marginalized communities and actions of state security as they respond to peaceful demonstrations. The inspiring community groups optimizing the right to record and its ability to counter police narratives and spark accountability today in the United States include partners of WITNESS like Berkeley Copwatch and El Grito.