United Nations panel investigates U.S. political prisoners

By Efia Nwangaza

This article, published in Black Agenda Report via Popular Resistance, reports on a United Nations panel of experts in the U.S. that is investigating the condition of political prisoners held in the United States.

Black Agenda Report

Greenville, South Carolina — An April 26th U.N. Delegation session, bearing the 2010 human rights campaign theme “Putting COINTELPRO/Civil Rights Era Political Prisoners, Prisoners of War, and Exiles on the Global Agenda,” and held in Atlanta, featuring PP/POWs/Exiles in person, their relatives, and former co-defendants, has generated a buzz that will hopefully become a storm of sustained substantive activity for their release and relief. It seems to have had the humanizing effect our interned comrades, their relatives, and we longtime advocates could only conjure up in our dreams.

Since 2010, with the visionary support of the U.S. Human Rights Network’s founding director Ajamu Baraka, and his successor Kali Akuno, I’ve been boarding planes to Geneva, Switzerland, to talk to U.N. Human Rights Council members, Commission staffers, treaty body reviewer mechanism experts, and others. I would ask them to affirm the existence or call for the release or better treatment of all U.S. human rights defenders from the 1960s and 1970s being held in prisons across the United States or exiled around the world.

I coined the phrase “COINTELPRO/Civil Rights Era Political Prisoners, Prisoners of War, and Exiles” to capture the breadth and nature of the political activists the U.S. has locked down or out. While the ubiquitous Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier support committees elevated their cases, Dr. Mutulu Shakur’s Truth and Reconciliation Proposal, Ruchell Magee’s Clemency Petition, or the privation of all others was never far behind.  Our PP/POWs/Exiles are an integral part of our reparations demand and the 2001 U.N. Durban Declaration and Program of Actions secures it to them and us.

Independent panel

This time, between April 24 to May 5, 2023, an independent panel of experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council has come here to investigate the spectrum of U.S. law enforcement human rights abuses – from the school/beat cop to the courts, prisons, detention centers, and legislatures – assessing their alignment with international human rights standards. They will also make recommendations as to the concrete steps needed to ensure our access to justice, accountability and redress for human rights violations by law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent in the United States.

The International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement  (EMLER) will have visited Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York, where they will talk to government and non-governmental actors, and more PP/POW/Exile proponents. The U.S. government’s current assault on  the Uhuru Movement was featured in Chicago on Sunday’s visit. The New York stop will include Panther 21 survivors and other directly impacted survivors.

At the end of their visit they will go to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials. Afterwards, they will hold a press conference announcing their preliminary findings. A final report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council at its 54th session in September-October 2023. It’s up to us to give the recommendations meaning with public education and application.

We have laid the groundwork and must be ready for the Mechanism to make more than the official references, case sightings, and inquiries my previous efforts have garnered while naming, blaming, and shaming the United States for, like all governments, lying about holding imprisoned human rights defenders. Such findings, in diplomatic parlance, would be consistent with the U.N. goal, inspired by George Floyd’s murder, “to further transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement for Africans and people of African descent in the United States of America.”

The International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement was established in July 2021 by the Human Rights Council. Justice Yvonne Mokgoro (chairperson, South Africa); Dr. Tracie Keesee (USA) and noted anti-torture advocate Professor Juan Méndez (Argentina) were appointed in December 2021 by the President of the Human Rights Council to make recommendations, inter alia, on the concrete steps needed to ensure access to justice, accountability, redress for excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent.

Now is the time to demand the negotiation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Process that ends this phase of our struggle and brings our remaining warriors home with the recognition and resources to which they and the previously abused and incarcerated are all entitled. For further information contact Efia Nwangaza at [email protected], follow Black Alliance for Peace, Cooperation Jackson, and the U.N. Anti-Racism Coalition websites. When WE fight WE Win! Forward Ever, Backwards Never!!!

Efia Nwangaza is a South Carolina-based attorney. She is Director of the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination and Founder and Coordinator of WMXP-LP Radio. She is also a member of the Black Belt Human Rights Coalition and Black Alliance for Peace, a veteran of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and a proud daughter of Garveyites.

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