Please join us for the final event in an inaugural series convened by the Center for Racial Justice - a conversation with two leading human rights advocates, Gay McDougall and Jamil Dakwar. March, 2022.
0:00:28.3 John Ciorciari: Good afternoon everyone, I'm John Ciorciari, I'm a faculty member here at the Ford School, and very pleased to welcome you on this St. Patrick's day afternoon to our session on transnational advocacy and the global BLM movement. This is the fifth and final event in a series we're hosting this term on race and international relations, part of a broader initiative at the Ford School on the racial foundations of public policy. An initiative led by our Center for Racial Justice and its director Celeste Watkins-Hayes. I wanna start by thanking Dominique Adam-Santos and Professor Susan Page, my colleagues here at the Ford School for their leadership in putting together this series. I also wanna thank our co-sponsors, the International Policy Center, the Weiser Diplomacy Center, and the African Studies Center here at UM. In previous sessions, we've talked about America's role in the colonial project, as well as the role race has played in the International Relations discipline and profession, and last week, a discussion on how race factors into international governance interventions with a special focus on Haiti. Today we're going to talk about transnational advocacy efforts for anti-racism, and we're pleased to welcome two noted experts Gay McDougall and Jamil Dakwar. Gay McDougall is a distinguished scholar in residence at the Leitner Center on International Law and Justice at Fordham University's law school.
0:01:52.7 JC: She's worked on the fault lines of race, gender and economic exploitation in the United States and around the world. Among her many accolades, she's received a MacArthur Genius award for her work in pursuit of global human rights, and in 2015, the South African government awarded her a national medal of honor for non-citizens for her extraordinary contributions to ending apartheid. She currently serves as a member of the UN committee on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and she was the first UN independent expert on minority issues. For 14 years, she was Executive Director of Global rights, working with human rights advocates around the world to develop justice strategies, and before that, she played a major role in securing the release of thousands of political prisoners in South Africa and Namibia. Also serving on the Electoral Commission that in 1994 ran the first democratic elections in South Africa which brought apartheid to an end and installed Nelson Mandela as president. She has her BA in Social Science from Bennington College before going on to a JD from Yale law school and an LLM in public international law from the London School of Economics and Political Science. And she has no fewer than nine honorary Doctor of Law degrees, so we welcome her to the Ford School.
0:03:12.5 JC: We're also pleased to welcome Jamil Dakwar, who's the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union human rights program, where he leads a team of lawyers and advocates who use human rights framework to complement the ACLU's legal and legislative advocacy. The human rights program conducts public education and engages in litigation and advocacy before international human rights bodies, as well as US courts. Before joining the ACLU in 2004, Jamil worked at Human Rights Watch, where he conducted research and advocacy on issues around torture and detention in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt, and Morocco. He also served as a senior attorney with Adalah, a leading human rights group in Israel. And since 2011, he's been a member of the Board of Directors with the International Justice Research Center. He's a graduate of Tel Aviv University and NYU Law Schools.
0:04:10.4 JC: Delighted to welcome you both to the Ford School, and I will start off with some questions after which I'll turn to the audience. Audience members, you can enter your queries in the chat function on YouTube, and so without further ado, I'd love to start off our conversation, and if I may, I'd like to start by asking for a little bit of biographical... Autobiographical, I should say, background. You've both been very active and visible in the effort to globalize the BLM movement and to forge transnational advocacy coalitions to drive change on anti-racism. For Gay, you grew up in segregated Georgia here in the United States, but moved on to a career of many firsts in the United Nations system. How did you come to adopt a focus on the international aspects of anti-racism, and in what ways did your personal experience growing up here in the US shape that journey?
0:05:06.4 Gay McDougall: Well, John, I would have to start by saying that the black community here in the US has long had the notion that our liberation would have to be a product of international intervention. And that goes back to the appeals that were made against slavery to international community entities at that time. So we've always had an internationalist view, I was involved with many others in the 1960s and '70s in support activities, organizations for African decolonization at that time, with a view that strengthening liberation in Africa would in turn, create international institutions that would see as their interest to help decolonize, if you will, the United States, but I would say that I really got deeply involved when I started working on the liberation movements of Southern Africa, and in that context, the UN, I was representative of a NGO at the UN, and we worked to put together in our advocacy there to twin the issues of political prisoners in this country and the situation of political prisoners in South Africa and Namibia. So that led me to go to London with London School of Economics, get a degree in International Human Rights Law, and to work in the research division of African National Congress. That's the short version of how I got involved, but yeah, there you have it.
0:07:49.3 JC: Thanks. Thank you. And Jamil, of course, you crossed the pond metaphorically in the opposite direction, starting your career looking at issues of Arab minority rights in Israel, and then more recently coming to the US where your work is both international and US domestic foci. How did you choose to connect your interest in international human rights with civil liberties issues here in the United States? I think that you're muted. There we go.
0:08:21.7 Jamil Dakwar: Thank you very much first for the opportunity and for being with my friend and colleague and mentor really, who I learned so much in the time that I've been working in the field of human rights in the last 17 or 18 years in the United States. I started my career, as you said, working for a premier legal organization that was the first Palestinian Arab-run organization founded inside Israel to protect the rights of Palestinians who reside and live as citizens inside Israel. I was born and grew up in Haifa as a Palestinian, but yet as a second-class citizens at best, if you wish. My reality, my being someone who had been grown up in a family that had also lived the Nakba, lived the wars and had paid a price, from my family being in a position where land confiscation was part of the experience in the Galilee, or my grandfather being killed in an act of terror during the time when the Palestinians started to revolt against the British mandate and were subject to terrorist attacks by Zionist groups, all of that shaped my understanding that I needed to engage in work that will be independent, that will be able to make a difference in the lives of my people.
0:10:00.0 JD: So I went to school, as you said, at Tel Aviv University, but I actually didn't pick up international human rights there because it was barely taught at the universities at the time. Although I did have a very good international law professor, Professor Leonard, but I really picked it up as I been active in the student movement as I graduated and started as one of the founding lawyers of Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel. And our view was that human rights is a vehicle, is a tool for liberation, or for ways to acquire equality and justice, it's one of the tools at least that we saw that many other revolutions, other movements, and certainly we were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, by leaders in the United States that have framed their struggle not just as a civil rights struggle, but as a human rights struggle.
0:10:58.7 JD: And I remember we had, yes, a picture of Martin Luther King, but we also had the picture of Malcolm X, and we have been inspired by the way that he had called, among other black leaders in the United States, to take the struggle for liberation for black people in United States to the world of public opinion to the United Nations where it's not any more an issue of domestic affairs, as it's been seen for many years as something that is not talked about or not being scrutinized. And so we learned from that experience, and I had been privileged to be participating in international advocacy since my career started in the mid-'90s, and one of the major one that I would highlight, where also Gay McDougall played a major role, maybe we can talk about it a little more, was the World Conference Against Racism in 2001, a week or a few days before 9/11 attacks happened. And that actually was a huge experience for many communities that have been subject to oppression, subject to colonization, subject to subjugation by powerful countries and regimes and powerful entities, and that's where I saw a lot of the similarities and the struggles joining at least in the way that they were pursued.
0:12:17.7 JD: Black people in the United States who came, activists, advocates, lawyers came to the world conference calling for reparations, which was not something as common known as is now. And they have been pushed to the side, and the Bush Administration at the time, as you probably know boycotted the conference claiming that it's also standing with Israel on that side, but it was really an issue of reparations that I really had a chance to learn from the advocates who were there, as well as from other communities, the dalit in India, the indigenous peoples who were there, still pushing for the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which was still under fierce negotiation. So a lot that happened in the way of attending and participating actively in this international fora where you create the sense of solidarity and to pursue your justice, not just where you are, but more globally.
0:13:13.8 JC: Excellent, and this is exactly the topic I wanted to focus my next series of questions on, is one particular example of this effort, transnationally to forge a coalition to drive positive change in part through international institutions. And that is the international response that you two participated in leading, after the series of relatively recent episodes of police brutality here in the United States. And in particular, I'd like to start by asking you some questions about an effort that you helped to lead. And that was a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council signed by 660 human rights organizations, as well as the relatives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Michael Brown. Maybe if I stay with you for a moment, Jamil, and ask, how did the idea come about to draft that letter and why did you and your colleagues choose to direct it to the Human Rights Council?
0:14:09.3 JD: Yeah, thank you, John, for that first question. By that time, it was clear to many of us, it was not just the organization who were involved in this particular initiative, but for really a whole host of organizations. I would say even a movement that had been for years demanding accountability, as Gay mentioned earlier, the struggle for liberation for black people in the United States has not started yesterday, it started decades, if not centuries, with the movement for abolition, but in the last 20 years in particular, there was an effort to try to hold the Nazis accountable for human rights and bringing so-called human rights home. While historically, US championed human rights, was part of creating the United Nations system, and negotiated some of the treaties we have seen, and the United States have been very clear. And that was their ideological position, not only for conservative parties or administrations, but also some Democratic administration. We're very clear to draw the line where the United States would not be subject to the same scrutiny that it is demanding of other countries.
0:15:22.1 JD: It was clear that the US in participation in international forums and in the United Nations human rights bodies was more to create the ability for itself to champion human rights overseas, rather than genuinely and seriously do take actions at home to correct historic injustices. And so that was really the understanding of what was going on in the country. So we've been trying for nearly 20 years, and almost every avenue that you can think of, to pursue human rights accountability for violations of human rights in the United States, particularly in the context of anti-black racism. And yet every time, all of the different efforts... And while we made some progress and we have engaged some administrations, were more open to others, we've never felt that there was really a shift, a transformative shift in understanding that there need to be a different approach to dealing with anti-black racism and systemic racism. And I think the movement for black lives that sparked years before George Floyd's murder, but really took the streets and created the momentum for demanding this transformative change, we have looked for ways to echo this demand at the international level, and we saw that there was a real human rights crisis in the United States.
0:16:53.2 JD: As protests were being cracked down on, protesters had been arrested, detained by the hundreds, people were injured, including journalists, by the way, an unprecedented number of journalists have been attacked, many of them were attacked because they were black or brown journalists. So there was a sense that we needed to use every tool that we have and we would reach to the highest level of accountability that we have within the UN human rights system, that is a commission of inquiry that would look into investigating the lack of accountability for police violence, in particular, putting it in the context of systemic racism. So I had as always reached out to my friend and my mentor, as I said, Gay McDougall, we always sought her advice on these kind of things before we worked the ACLU and the US human rights network, my colleague Selena Hankins at the time, she was the acting director, and we thought that that would be something that we should try to bring to the attention of the Human Rights Council and call for a special session. Just like any major human rights crisis in the world, that oftentimes is responded by having the Human Rights Council convene and take action and at least document what is going on in a particular country.
0:18:12.2 JD: So that was the real impetus for it, and it was also the impetus of bringing the voices of the family, so it was not just a civil society initiative, it was bringing the experiences, the voices and the demands of families of victims of police violence for justice to the United Nations. Some of whom already have taken those calls in previous efforts, as I mentioned earlier, like the parents of Michael Brown, like the parents of Trevon Martin and others, and we have worked with them at the United Nations, but this one was different, so we called for a special session and we have had the chance, for the first time in a matter of 48 hours, got over 660 signatures from NGO's, [0:19:02.5] ____ organization from all over the world. And we have not seen anything like this in terms of the solidarity, in terms of the support, in terms of the need to act to do something different. Even traditional international human rights organizations that would never have called for a commission of inquiry, first have been very hesitant to join us, but later on saw that we're not talking about just the current events, we're really talking about decades and centuries of impunity, particularly in the context of policing and law enforcement violence. So that was really a major shift.
0:19:39.6 JD: And we had been lucky to work with international organizations based in Geneva, like the International Service for Human Rights. And seeing also very much of a welcome response from the African Union or from members of the African group within the United Nations, where I think we had seen their response being, "We agree with you, we want to aim for that level of scrutiny and accountability, and we would want to see that." And then of course we can talk more about the outcome of it but I just wanted to explain the beginning of that process.
0:20:16.9 JC: It's a remarkable effort, 660 groups or more, in such a rapid succession to sign onto this important initiative. And Gay, as Jamil mentioned, you wanted to go to the top of the human rights architecture, to the Human Rights Council. As he mentioned, one proposal was to have a commission of inquiry, but I wonder if you could share with the audience a little more broadly what powers the Human Rights Council has in this domain, what are the ways in which the council could hold the United States or other powerful actors accountable, and what would a commission of inquiry entail in the UN human rights system?
0:20:56.4 GM: Well, the Human Rights Council is to offer the political backing for human rights determinations by the experts, which would be the treaty bodies and special rapporteurs, and commissions of inquiry. Commissions of inquiry are really established but they're very unusual, and they are established to look into specific, but deep-rooted human rights violations in specific countries, and it elevates the issue to its highest level. And commissions of inquiry have a certain amount of resources, that for instance, a special rapporteur, who might also have a similar mandate, and in our view might come out even more quickly with the right positions, but would not have the level of resources to dig deep, and to go into specific cases and to talk to people in the country or go to surrounding countries and take testimonies from witnesses and that sorta thing. So we wanted a resource-rich way of fact-finding and a determination at the highest level of the human rights hierarchy within the UN institution that made a finding of the illegal treatment of people of African descent through the excessive use of force of police.
0:23:16.6 GM: And I think that while some may focus on what we didn't get, I think the important thing is what we did get, we got... Okay, we didn't get a commission of inquiry, we got an order, if you will, from the Human Rights Council to the high commissioner to do such an in-depth study over a year's period. And at the end of that period, we got to influence her and her staff over that year period. She took testimony, she talked with the families of those who had been murdered by police, not only in the US but also in Brazil, in Colombia, in Europe, in France and UK, particularly, and other places. She actually did a job that we were astounded at because she went into specific cases. Over 100 cases were looked at and examined, most of them of course on the records that were available, but there were also interviews, etcetera.
0:24:42.4 GM: What we get outta that, first of all, outta that process a year later, was, on the one hand, we got a resolution establishing a new mechanism, institutional mechanism, made up of three human rights experts first that would look closely, do fact-finding around the issues of racist policing, of excessive use of force by police and other law enforcement agencies, against people of African descent, and making that connection between the historical injustices of the transatlantic slave trade and the colonialism and the remaining manifestations through the excessive use of force of policing and the acceptance of that by government and broader societies. So that's on the one hand, but we also got a companion outcome from the High Commissioner's Report, which was...
0:26:02.6 GM: First of all, she issued the report, which was over 100 pages, an incredible record in and of itself, but she also put together a four-point transformative agenda for change, that she is urging governments to stop denying that there is racism and start dismantling the structures of racism in their countries to end impunity of police and others, and build trust with black communities, to listen to the voices of people of African descent, and to follow their lead in terms of what solutions there should be established in the countries, and to confront past legacies and deliver repertory justice, which is the soft term that is used now in the context, in the situations where people just don't wanna say the real word, which is reparations.
0:27:19.8 GM: And so the high commissioner is setting up a structure in her office to urge governments to do the right thing as to the four-point agenda and to monitor them, and hopefully to have output reports that every year say what governments are in fact doing and not doing. And on the other hand, we've got this mechanism that will go around countries and actually inspect, consider, and report. But I think that we also got something else that's more important than all of that. I think we got the clear signal that civil society has the power to push even the UN to establish new mechanisms of change. And I think that that is not something that that sense of the power of civil society through an organized, albeit very quickly put-together coalition, but that on the basis of a broad movement for black change, movement by blacks for change and for dignity and respect. So I think that in many ways, it was a winner for what we're going in there expecting.
0:29:14.6 GM: And we will see how these new mechanisms, institutional structures work out over the near term. And we will continue to play a pressure role with respect to them, but I don't think that we should walk away from this thinking on the details we lost. This was a real win, I think. So that's it. Yeah.
0:29:46.6 JC: And another thing that, of course, came out of it is a debate, in fact a formal debate not long after you sent the letter, the Human Rights Council had a special debate on issues around systemic racism. Jamil, if I can come back to you, take our audience through that debate. Which governments or groups of governments were particularly helpful and proactive? Where were the main sources of pushback or impediments to progress in this area?
0:30:18.9 JD: Yeah, so it's a very interesting and I would say historic, urgent debate. When we say urgent debate, it is another word in the UN jargon at the Human Rights Council as a special session or a meeting, discussing specific topic. Usually, when there is an ongoing Human Rights Council session, the procedure is not to call for a special session during that session, but rather call for urgent debate. So while we asked for a special session, the equivalent of that was urgent debate because there was an ongoing Human Rights Council session in June. The Human Rights Council meet three times a year, in June, in September, and in March. And it was meeting in June, or about to be starting their session. So they turned it into an urgent debate. And as I mentioned earlier, the African group within the United Nations, they took our petition and letter and they have acted on it by calling for this urgent debate because it's not something that we can schedule, we can't. We can demand, we can ask for it, but it needs to have the signatures of, I think, two-thirds of the Human Rights Council to have that special debate or urgent debate, special session. And so the African Union managed to muster that support and had the urgent debate.
0:31:45.4 JD: And they also had drafted a resolution where the first draft called for the establishment of commission of inquiry to examine police violence, and particularly in the United States, but it's only after a huge response and attacks from the Trump administration, which at the time was in power, and even though the United States was not a member of the Human Rights Council, they felt that they needed to end or to stop this process and turn it into a global debate rather than a specific debate focused on the United States. And the reason is obvious, that none of the United States government itself, but also other countries that are allied with the United States, did not want to create this momentum of examining anti-black racism within the United Nations circle. It's for years been marginalized, even though there were some structures that were created as a follow-up to the World Conference against Racism in 2001. It's been really struggling, not funded, not funding, not get taken seriously, etcetera, etcetera.
0:33:08.3 JD: So there was not just a call for accountability vis-a-vis United States, but it was really a call for the world as a whole to wake up and to take up the struggle, the fight against racism, particularly against people of African descent, and center it, and to prioritize it within the United Nations human rights agenda. And so that was something that the Trump administration was vehemently opposed to. They have lobbied aggressively against the resolution. They threatened and made all kinds of... Used all kinds of ways of really intimidating diplomats in Geneva to water down the resolution and not to maintain the focus on the United States. And so as Gay mentioned, while the outcome was not a resolution that created a commission of inquiry focused on the United States, we had got the High Commissioner Report, mandated report and... But I think the bottom line is that we have been able for the first time not only to put the United States under a defensive mode and under a scrutiny that have not seen in decades. US is one of the only, or the first five members of the Security Council that would be defending itself against a call for a commission of inquiry.
0:34:31.5 JD: And it was also a precedent to have the brother of George Floyd appear at the Human Rights Council urgent debate with a video testimony. It was covid restrictions, no one was able to travel to Geneva, and despite that, we were able to secure that his testimony will be the first to be broadcasted during the plenary of the Human Rights Council. And that became, by the way, a precedent. Now, almost all the urgent debates on other countries, other situations, they bring a directly-impacted individual or family member to be part of the opening of the session, not keeping it to the end, when NGO's participate and make statements.
0:35:14.8 JD: But I wanna go back to the win that Gay... And I totally agree with her remarks. The win is that we also were able to center the directly-impacted communities in that process. The participation of families in this process, the resolution itself. The two resolutions in fact, the first and the second. It was the first time that the United States is mentioned in a resolution creating an Expert Mechanism. The United States itself, even under the Biden administration, had tried to take out any reference to the United States in the general preamble of the resolution. And we had to push hard and say, "Well, it all started in the United States. It was George Floyd murder and the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked... This is why we are here at the United Nations, calling, demanding accountability." And what's interesting was that there was alliances across former colonial powers coming to, again, the second time, during the summer of 2020-'21, to again water down the resolution, for example, succeeded to delete the reference to the word "reparations" and instead use the word "remedies" for police violence, and also in the context of colonialism and transatlantic slave trade.
0:36:38.7 JD: There was a much more progressive language in it, in terms of the powers of the mechanism. There were attempts to say, "No, we don't need another mechanism, let the high commissioner do its job and continue to follow up on her very important report." I would say landmark report. We said, "No, that's not enough." The high commissioner mandate is one thing, we needed a very specific mandate, and we called it a hybrid mandate. While it is not a special procedures, it's not special rapporteur, it's not a commission of inquiry, but it has the elements of both in terms of powers and authority. And I think what we see here, if you look at the resolution itself, it also mentions directly-impacted communities, particularly centering the experiences of people of African descent in the work of the Expert Mechanism. That is something that also created a new model for how these mechanisms could work.
0:37:33.6 JD: And now, again, this is something that's gonna happen on the international UN level, the hope is that it will be working in tandem with regional and national-level organizations and structures that are demanding accountability and working to dismantle systemic racism. It is not... We don't think that this is working in separation from or without any connection. And the fact is, right now the coalition that we created, of over 50 organizations from different countries, different continents, is working very hard to make sure that the work of this mechanism is directly connected to the work of grassroots organization, community-based organizations, NGO's and civil society groups that have been working on issues of policing systemic racism, and that it will echo some of the demand, it will do things that in other spaces, particularly in domestic area, they may not be possible to push for change.
0:38:35.0 JD: Now, it will be different from country-to-country because of the political situation, because of the obstacles, because of the political power of the country. We are fortunate that the Biden administration had been open to welcoming the work and the structure, the creation of the Expert Mechanism, they are going to invite the Expert Mechanism to participate, but in other countries, like in Brazil, they anticipate to have opposition to it.
0:39:02.9 JD: So there's a lot of work to be done in order to maximize the impact of this work, of this mechanism, and to continue to push for the accountability at all levels, but this is the first time that we have a particular focus on people of African descent, looking at systemic racism and the root causes of systemic racism, not just in the policing context, which people think,"Oh, we're just going to be... " That is where I think many countries feel that it is something that they did not want to welcome. It's not another mechanism that they can deal with or visit. Clearly it is shaked. And we heard, for example, some reactions in the United Nations, that they said that this whole movement, this whole work that's been pushed by civil society really created a kind of an earthquake within the United Nations system as far as mainstreaming anti-black racism. So this is where we are hoping to go next.
0:40:04.4 JC: Great, and I think it's a remarkable example of the power of transnational advocacy. Just in about 14 or 15 months, from the spring of 2020 until the summer of 2021, you have this letter, the urgent debate, the first UN Human Rights Council resolution, which then puts in place the mechanism for the High Commissioner of Human Rights to have this landmark report, which then elicits a second UN Human Rights Council resolution and the creation of the independent Expert Mechanism.
0:40:38.0 JC: Jamil, as you said, the next chapter is, of course, how to make this mechanism effective. And Gay, if I could turn to you and ask, in addition to what Jamil has introduced, the importance of state cooperation, such as the Biden administration's willingness to meet, and alongside the cooperation with local civil society organizations, what does this new mechanism need most to be effective in the United States and in other major states? I think your phone... I'm sorry, your microphone is muted. There you go.
0:41:14.1 GM: I think, number one, they need access to all of the countries that they determine will be their focus. They need to be able to enter the countries, to talk to a wide array of civil society and of national and local government officials, most police forces are city or regional, they need to talk to policemen and women, they need to understand the dynamics in those countries at that level. One of the silent tricks that governments use to avoid scrutiny is that when human rights monitors ask to come into the country in order to have that on-the-ground fact-finding experience, they either say no or they don't respond at all for years and years and years, so that's effectively no. So that's the first thing, they need to have access to the country. They'll work in any event because there are reports, technology creates a situation where you don't actually maybe have to have entry, but it will be far more nuanced and detailed if they're able to gain entry.
0:42:52.3 GM: Secondly, they need resources. And the UN budgetary process is quite complex and it often creates another choke point for governments that don't wanna say that they object to this mechanism in public, but when it gets to the budget committee, they start to strangle it. And they need a continuing sense of, what would I say? Of legitimacy from a civil society and from governments so that their facts, their reports are bases, they have the needed legitimacy to be bases for political action. They don't... The unfortunate thing about the human rights mechanisms is that... And I have to say "we" 'cause I'm now on a treaty body, we do fact-finding, we make determinations, we make recommendations, but it's the governments, and that's why we went to the council, Human Rights, it's the governments that make the kind of diplomatic decisions and backgrounds enforced that other governments are trying to avoid.
0:44:32.1 GM: So we do need for the Human Rights Council to back up the recommendations that come from the mechanism. So I think that... And we need to have civil society organized on the ground to be able to support them. And the Civil Society Coalition sprung into action, into being really, and into action when we started this process, is now continuing to make sure that there is an infrastructure of civil society organizations in all of the countries of concern that will support the mechanism when they get to those countries and will do the important work of taking the recommendations from the mechanisms and waving them in the faces of governments, national and local until there is in fact implementation.
0:45:51.7 JC: Great. If I may, I wanna ask one more question of mine before we turn to the audience who's already supplied us with a good number of questions. And if I can start with you Jamil, and then get Gay's thoughts on the same, it has to do with how one moves from a focus on police violence to a broader array of anti-racist measures. Now, I suppose one question is how to choose between a focus on a particular set of issues where you've already established a lot of momentum and how you think about relating that to a broader set of issues where the coalition might look somewhat different.
0:46:31.9 JD: Yeah, thank you, John, for this really great question. And that is really what we were concerned about from the outset, is not to narrow down the mandate of the resolution or the Expert Mechanism or the way that we demand accountability. It's not accountability for only individual cases, even though these are really important. We want every single family and individuals who have been harmed by the police to have their ability to have some sort of a remedy and a measure of justice that would be satisfying them, but really looking at the systemic issues that we're putting policing, racist policing and anti-black racism as a broader issue.
0:47:19.5 JD: And I think we have pushed for ways that this resolution would both have the narrow focus of the mechanism, but have the context broad enough to allow this mechanism, but also for us, as civil society, activists and families, to be able to engage with this while thinking about the broader problem of racism and anti-black racism in particular, and see those things connected. In the United States, there's a clear connection between slave patrol, for example, in some Southern states and police institutions that were created. There was a clear connection between, we know, the way that police, the racist policing practices and the history of controlling and oppressing black people or brown people, indigenous peoples in the country, and particularly here, the focus of indigenous and on people of African descent. So there's a much wider, broader conversation to be had. And much, much, much more than just reporting on a situation, it is more of engaging the movement for transformative change.
0:48:37.1 JD: And that is, I think, what why we thought that the High Commissioner Report was a landmark report, and really was able to identify the areas where the movement for black lives, the movement for transformative change, even the push for seeking an alternative to policing, looking at the root causes and looking at reckoning with the history of anti-black racism and slavery, in particular, colonialism. And doing so with an eye on correcting the situation and correcting the historic wrongs and bringing it to the point where present-day discrimination is also remedied with the context of seeing the whole picture and the whole history.
0:49:26.5 JD: So that was a key issue. And I think, while this particular mechanism will be having the focus on how they term their mechanism, they call it "racial justice" in the context of law enforcement. I think it's far broader than that, I would go not only to civil political rights, by the way, it would have to touch on social, economic, and cultural rights, the deprivation of, and the way that we see deprivation of basic rights in the United States that has been entrenched over decades and years. And it's been changed over the past decades by changing some laws and policies, but we've never really... Again, taking only United States as an example, I don't think we've had a moment of real acknowledgement of a truth-telling, of taking into account and recognizing the harm that has been caused to particularly black people in the United States. And how do we use the human rights framework as a one-way, as one tool to repair that harm.
0:50:38.9 JD: And I think there is also an intersection between that work and the work of the movement for reparations, which in the United States has been active for decades, and only recently has been more recognized. And I think this is where we think internationally, the international experience and comparative examples will benefit the movement for reparations in the United States. And we hope that this mechanism, as well as the high commissioner and other human rights mechanisms, one, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that Gay is a member, is going to take that role in complementing the work that they do and in the way that they can push for change at the national level. This is where these things really are going to matter at the end of the day.
0:51:28.2 GM: Yeah, if I could just say, I totally agree with that. And within the UN, unfortunately, we are forced to push step by step by step in terms of broadening the normative, the accepted normative basis and institutional basis, but civil society in real life, if you will, is way beyond that. There's no question that most of the organizations that I am associated with and work with on a week-to-week basis, that are all transnational in their membership and point of view, are not just focused on police violence at all, although there is a very strong abolitionist discourse.
0:52:26.7 GM: But just as much on issues of the disparate impact of climate change, on black communities around the world, of reparations for slavery. I've spent far more of my time over the last year, two years in coalitions that are focused on reparations for slavery and colonialism. There are discussions about economic barriers for black communities, LGBT rights, particularly those in the black community, migration issues, because migration has actually created stronger transnational coalitions on people of African descent than we had the possibility of before, and a whole range of issues relating to black feminist futures.
0:53:41.6 GM: So the broad discourse is way ahead of what's happening strictly within the UN institutional boundaries, and certainly abolition in the context of policing is a critical concern, but there are many more that are being worked at, because I think that we all see that the racism that is manifest through policing is like a symptom, it's an output of a larger system of violations, of abuses, and historical circumstances that... Frankly, I hate using the term "historical injustices" because there's nothing historical about it. It may be historical in origin, but these are abuses that occur every day in all of these sectors, economic, as well as policing and the whole range of issues that create the oppressive societies that black people live under.
0:55:10.8 GM: So policing comes in question when we [0:55:18.2] ____ frankly, but the system itself is the whole ball of wax of oppression of people of African descent that comes out of slavery and colonialism but exists quite vibrantly in today's societies across the globe.
0:55:40.5 JC: Yes, and our first question from the audience gets, I think, right to this point, about where are we now? And this questioner asks, "What would you say are the main strengths and weaknesses of the national and transnational BLM movements as they stand? What do you think are some of the main points of overlap and divergence, if any, between the US movement and BLM movements in other countries?" Would either of you like to start on that question?
0:56:12.4 GM: Strengths and weaknesses? Well, first of all, understanding that Black Lives Matter is not an entity, it's an idea, there are some entities that relate to it, I'm most involved in law for black Lives, there is the movement for black lives, there's others that... And it is the possibility of having the big tent approach that is important to the viability and long-standing relevance of movements like Black Lives Matter. So I don't know about deficiencies. I think that one has to understand that many people see Black Lives Matter as being only apparent when young people hit the streets in protest. And that's when, yes, that's when they're most apparent and most vibrant, and unfortunately, that is when we get the greatest push forward out of it, but it's there always, and as I say, it is an idea, it's a powerful idea that is pushing many entities forward.
0:57:53.1 JD: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think that the Black Lives Matter Movement is something that has inspired, while it started in the United States, inspired movements around the world. You have a Black Lives Matter, a BLM in UK, as far as Sweden, in many... In almost every continent where people of African descent or diaspora are at, and that is a powerful, powerful message or powerful achievement for the three women who had created, founded Black Lives Matter, but at the same time, I think that's also the strength of it. It's not a centralized organization or a movement, it is built on the idea of liberation, it's the idea of freedom and the idea of dignity and the idea of empowering of black people. I see it as an ally, obviously, I'm not a black person, but I come from... As a Palestinian, I've been part of political movements that have called for empowerment of Palestinian people, Palestinian struggle for liberation, for justice.
0:59:14.5 JD: And there, I see that the movement for black lives has also called for global solidarity, not only between black people where they live or where they are or where they reside, but also between different oppressed people. And that I think, is connecting it to the history of movements, in the United States, in particular, have made those connection of solidarities, many of them which were classified by the United States Government as a security threat because of the way that they challenge power, because of the way that they challenge white supremacy organizations or white supremacy culture, and have called for empowerment of black people and liberation of black people in a way that people were not able to see. So I think the strength of the Black Lives Matter Movement is the way that it went mainstream, so to speak, had been really phenomenal in the sense of, at the same time, there is a risk of co-opting the movement. And then we see all of a sudden, businesses all of a sudden...
1:00:19.3 JC: Black Lives Matter signs.
1:00:22.7 JD: Black Lives Matter, all of a sudden, there's a lot of that, of using that as a way to whitewash and get away with real accountability, real change. So I think what we need to do is to really listen to those who are really the people who are in those organizations and movement that have been true to the ideals and have created those kind of platforms and policy platforms and other ways to connect, not only for national level policies, and state and local, national, federal level, or even global actions. And I think this was really a very powerful moment and continues to be an inspiring thing not just for the young generation of black people, but also for non-black people who are allies, who even see themselves as in a position to support the movement, to see that these principles, if it succeeds, it will benefit all of us because liberation of black people has always been seen as a liberation for other people who have been similarly situated, or at least have been struggling for justice and equality.
1:01:30.2 JD: And that goes to the point that the intersectional form of the Black Lives Matter that Gay elaborated on, which is also part of its strength, of bringing issues of disability rights, bringing issues of migration of the anti-black racism in the context of migration that was not really talked about, what was not seen and visible. The issue of transgender issues in the black community, but across, and seeing it as not something that we can turn a blind eye to, we can only focus on those poster-child situations, but rather really see all of us, all the communities that are struggling, and particularly focusing on the black community as one that has multifaceted and different, a rainbow really of ways of connecting its people and its communities.
1:02:28.7 GM: Yeah, I think also, if I could make a couple other points quickly. I'm a child of the Civil Rights Movement, and the difference is civil rights was also an idea, you didn't have to join SCLC, you didn't have to join SNCC, you didn't have to have a caring relationship to any of those institutions to be able to join the march from Selma to Montgomery, for example, but realistically, in most of the struggles, the demonstrations, the lines, the marches, etcetera, were essentially all black. Now, Black Lives Matter, the country, if you will, has gotten to the point where Black Lives Matter Movement in general, the demonstrations are quite multifaceted, black, white, young, old, their mom's against whatever, all there, and so I think we're now at a point where the country more broadly is realizing that this matter of systemic racism or structural rights, this has to get behind us. Institutions all over this city, this state, this nation are looking at either their connections with slavery or how they can be better anti-racist or how they can participate in some fashion in the reparations movement. And none of them are perfect, in my view, but none of them have been there before. So it means that we are all moving forward, not in terms of the government, I would say, [chuckle] but a broader, much broader array of ordinary people in this society, are ready to offload this systemic racism thing, and that's a wonderful thing.
1:05:16.3 JC: My colleague, Celeste Watkins-Hayes, who directs our Center for Racial Justice asked a question about language that I think is very relevant to the conversation we're having now about the diverse groups of people coming together on these themes. She asks, "I wonder if you can talk about the use of the term anti-blackness or anti-black racism, what were the debates around its use and how would you trace its use in the global conversation?" She adds, "Or do you find that the term anti-racism is more widely used?" She's just curious about the use of language and the intentionality behind it in framing this discussion.
1:05:53.1 GM: I would say that anti-black racism is very intentional wording. As our movement has gone through many stages over the years, at many of those stages, where we are, and we think that we are getting to the nub of the issue, but others come in and rephrase the meaning so that it avoids the nub of the issue. Or when we start counting hits, which unfortunately many institutions feel that they are so behind that they have to say that they have a certain percentage of people of color. That's another term, [chuckle] which avoids the issue of those who are descendants of the two crimes against humanity that are still infecting society. And this is not to say that we are not in coalition with other sectors of the society, but that can't derail the march toward dealing with the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism.
1:07:25.7 GM: So when organizations, institutions say, for instance, "We have 30% of people of color," the question has to be, "How many black people do you have?" And the answer generally is, "Very, very few." So in order to be more precise, and unfortunately we have to because others are constantly trying to reframe or rephrase the discussion so that their responsibility is not under scrutiny. So yes, the wording is very important, very intentional and not meant to create exclusions or marginalize any group or movement, but it is to get to the nub of the problem that has infected US society and others that have been major crimes like engaged in colonialism and transatlantic slave trade. That's got to be dealt with. There are other things that have to be dealt with as well, and the stronger all of us can be, the more these issues can be dealt with across the board.
1:09:01.4 JC: Thank you. Jamil, would you like to add anything to that?
1:09:05.6 JD: No, I think, Gay gave fantastic, as always, fantastic answers. So let's take the other questions.
1:09:11.4 JC: Thank you. The next question is about President Biden's State of the Union Address. And the questioner asks, "President Biden made an impassioned call in the State of the Union to fund the police, explicitly pushing back against the Defund the Police movement that's been championed by many BLM activists. How are we to make sense of this in terms of the tools available to us? How do we address the entrenchment of political discourses, policies, and leaders that seem so fundamentally opposed to eradicating anti-black violence?"
1:09:47.6 JD: I'm happy to start. I'm not surprised that the president said we have to fund the police. Look, he was addressing Congress, we know that the whole of Congress, and this is one of the institutions that have a long history of maintaining the status quo at best, and this is also an attempt, I think, at the part of the president to save some of his agenda. So it's a very much political tool in trying to get a piecemeal agenda through his police reform. The fact that there was a police reform bill, so to speak, called the George Floyd Accountability Act, that went nowhere. Months over months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats led to nowhere. So the Congress failed to take the very minimal action to honor the... Or not to honor, to respond to the movement that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd, and they failed. So he knew what he was talking to. And we also know that president, with all due respect, he has spent all his career in Congress as a senator and even as a vice president, with the idea of maintaining the police institutions as they are reforming them, not really going beyond that.
1:11:20.5 JD: And I think that it is an example of the short-sighted or the failure of many politicians to understand that these old-fashioned prescriptions or solutions, where all the attempts to reform the police has really essentially failed. Many people come to those conclusions in different backgrounds, different perspective, different organizations, and they are calling for this shift. There's also a problem that the White House has never been the one to lead the change, it was forced to make changes. The precedence over histories of the United States was not something that they would do it just because they had the good intentions or willing. They had really been put by movements to act to make a change, and most of that was as a result of a struggle, a very fierce struggle by activists on the ground, by grassroots activists, by movements that called for that change.
1:12:28.1 JD: Most of the time, the change was not transformative change that is being called for, but we still think that there is a strong movement that is not accepting the defunding the police, but actually calling for alternatives to policing, divesting from police institutions and investing in life-affirming alternatives that are seeing and reframing and reimagining what policing in a democratic society is and what's the role if any police has. They mention the abolition movement for police, there's been abolition movement for the prison system, there's also all kinds of ideas and solutions that are happening that I think are going to happen really from the ground up, rather than from the White House, from president who is going to give a State of the Union Address, and then that change will come.
1:13:29.4 JD: And therefore, I'm not surprised, I think that we've got a lot of work to do, and we stand in support of many organizations, particularly in the Black Lives Matter movement that rejected this idea of by funding more police officers trainings and all these things that have been tested, and we knew that they maybe have changed and reduced some of the harm, but not really provided the long-term solutions for the problem of both police violence or the culture of impunity or the way that police is being used as an institution, as a first-resort institution of a lot of social problems that we have, and particularly where communities have been subject to marginalization, systemic racism, and defunding. So what we call for is funding communities rather than funding policing.
1:14:27.3 GM: And if I may, I think this is a moment to reflect on the importance of intersectionality and the way our communities are being bombasted by multiple different forces. I think that we have the momentum in terms of support around defunding the police in terms of population, but then covid hits, and it hits black communities far harder than others, and black communities have been underserved in terms of vaccines and other kinds of medical assistance, and so what's the outcome of that? You have a lot of frustration, you have growing mental issues in communities where there's a very low level of services for mentally ill, you've got people living on the streets, and that leads to increased crime and frustration, and so we have to... And I hope the result of that is that it strengthens the pro gun, pro refund-the-police lobbies.
1:16:10.6 GM: It had a great impact on the mayoral election in New York, as well as on national politics, so it is very hard to take a single-issue approach to the problems in the black community in this country because it's so multifaceted and multilayered, these problems, and it's like almost playing whack-a-mole if you try to address them on individual basis, and that's what happened to our overall momentum on the approach of defund police in my view.
1:17:01.5 JC: Thank you, and we've got time for about one more question, and I'd like to draw from a few different audience questions to end with this. A lot of our audience members are students who wanna participate in the cause for positive change, they're interested in anti-black racism and in transnational advocacy. What are a few suggestions that each of you has on the kinds of skills and attributes that they should try to be cultivating while they're in university programs, and what are a few concrete ways that you could recommend them getting involved? Maybe we could start with you, Jamil.
1:17:42.5 JD: Thank you for this question. Quickly, I would say, look, there are so many ways that you can get involved. First of all, look for the organizations that speak to your values, and you can be part of them, support them, and then show up for places where communities, particularly black communities, for example, whether near you, that are asking for that support, show up and show your support, there's a lot of ways that transnational activism today is much easier because of the social media, and the new technologies allow for people to be able to participate even if they are really in different location geographically. So that's something that we have been using very powerfully, and I ask people to follow and support organizations on social media that have been pushing for these kinds of work and we have... Where we're working on a website, the coalition that was mentioned earlier, that is supporting the work that is coming from 50 different organizations and representing many, many communities, particularly led by people of African descent in different countries.
1:19:12.3 JD: And the Coalition is building a website, which I hope that we can share with you so you can see where there'll be campaigns in different countries, including in the United States, that will be pushing for these kinda changes. But also just look at your nearby Black Lives Matter organizations and see what they are offering, sometimes you can donate and you can participate in social media actions, you can show up in protest, if there are something being organized, you can do your own... Work on your own self and your community, if your community needs to do the hard work of anti-black racism or ending of trying to educate against anti-black racism or any kind of racism for that matter, there's a lot of resources online that we did not have just five, 10 years ago, to be honest, so there's many, many ways. And obviously at the university level, a lot of student organizations that are always being at the forefront, at the center of social change. And I encourage students in particular to get involved, even if you're in graduate school, you can still contribute, you can still do your part while you're attending school.
1:20:37.0 JC: Thank you. Gay, maybe the last word for you.
1:20:40.7 GM: Thanks, I agree that you just have to show up and... Stand up and show up, as Wendell said. And there are plenty of ways, and Jamil has talked about that, but if I think about my own skills, they were developed in collective-action situations, that's how I learned whatever skills it is that I have to offer, law school helped a little bit, but not as much as working in collectives. And so I think that you have to get a lot of experience working in coalitions, you have to get to know the global community, either living in a different country, working in a different country, studying in a different country, but it's not just about studying the international relations, which is generally about government to government, what has been important in my life and work is getting to know other civil societies and getting to know their interests and desires and dreams.
1:22:18.1 GM: And I would say the other last point I would make that I have always found to be important is that always remember whose interests you are in the room to contribute to. Always know who you're there to serve, and I think that is critical to your own sense of integrity as you build a professional and personal integrity, and how people begin to see your legitimacy as well.
1:22:58.7 JC: Thank you very much for that, it's a very good note on which to end this really informative session. Jamil Dakwar, Gay McDougall, thank you so much for the time that you spent with our community, we admire and support your work, and we hope to have the chance to engage with you here on campus sometime in the future. For you in the audience, thank you for joining us. You have a wonderful evening. Enjoy your St. Patrick's Day, and we look forward to seeing you at more Ford School events soon, thank you.
1:23:27.8 JD: Thank you.