Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist has called out the United Nations for telling its staff that participating in protests against racism is contrary to to the impartiality of the international organisation.
“I am hearing that the UN is telling staff that participation in protests “in the current circumstances may not be consistent with the independence and impartiality required of us as international civil servants.” What exactly does the UN stand for then?,” Maina Kiai posed on Twitter on Friday.
Kiai, who formerly served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association from May 1, 2011, to April 30, 2017, said the United Nations was conflating the right to protest and racial equality with political partisanship.
“This is a grotesque and dangerous distortion. If you take the approach to its logical end, any human rights issue could be off limits because it annoys states or their politicians,” he noted.
He now serves as the Director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships programme.
Kiai further added that human rights are supposed to be a pillar of the UN system, and that they should not be considered an out-of-bounds “political” issue for staff.
Protests first erupted in Minneapolis on May 25 after a video footage went viral on social media of a white officer working for Minneapolis Police Department kneeling on the neck of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd, for more than eight minutes, causing his death while in police custody. The protests are no across teh US and in various parts of the world.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has cautioned staff against participating in the protests.
In a memo to staff, Guterres said:
In recent days, demonstrations as a result of the death of George Floyd have occurred in New York City, in other locations in the United States, and in other cities around the world. In these uncertain times, staff members may be wondering whether they can participate in public demonstrations that may be organized in their duty stations… Staff Regulation 1.2 (f) provides as follows: “While staff members’ personal views and convictions, including their political and religious convictions, remain inviolable, staff members shall ensure that those views and convictions do not adversely affect their official duties or the interests of the United Nations. They shall conduct themselves at all times in a manner befitting their status as international civil servants and shall not engage in any activity that is incompatible with the proper discharge of their duties with the United Nations. They shall avoid any action and, in particular, any kind of public pronouncement that may adversely reflect on their status, or on the integrity, independence and impartiality that are required by that status.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, however, said in a statement that voices calling for an end to police violence need to be heard”.
At all times, but especially during a crisis, “a country needs its leaders to condemn racism unequivocally”, Bachelet said.