1The coronavirus pandemic has unmasked the entrenched systemic inequalities that exist within many countries. In the early weeks of the pandemic, it was said that the COVID-19 disease is an equalizer. But this has proven not to be entirely the case. Stories emerging from different countries has revealed that rather than being an equalizer, the pandemic has unmasked the structural socio-economic inequalities that exist in many countries.  In countries like the US, UK, France, to mention a few, the so-called minority ethnic groups (Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, Asians, Latinos, migrant population, and older persons in nursing homes) have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.

The painful experience from the devastating economic and social impacts of the coronavirus, in addition to the brutal murder of Mr. George Floyd, an African-American man by a White police officer in the US city of Minneapolis, sparked off global protests against police brutality and conversations about an age-old demon – racism. People of African descent have suffered centuries of human rights abuses and systemic racism resulting from the long history of transatlantic slave trade, enslavement, and colonialization in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean.

The cry of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe,” found resonance in the streets of Minneapolis,2 New York City, Washington DC, London, … among a people who have been denied justice and unleased anger, sadness and rage. The protests we have witnessed across the globe are the cries of the unheard, “the public processing of pain…, and an intentional and communal act of expressing grievance by the victims.” Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Now is that time. It is no longer just enough to claim not to be a racist, an ethnic bigot, or a homophobe. But we must act and speak out against all forms of bigotry, and become “anti” to everything that promotes the exaltation or supremacy of a group over another. Racism and all forms of discrimination are the sins of humanity. Consequently, the work of truth, reconciliation, and justice awaits all of us.

After a three-month COVID-19 enforced break, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva reconvened its 43rd session on Monday, 15 June, with a rare and urgent debate on racism and police brutality in response to the murder of George Floyd. The debate was sponsored by the African Group.