Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern with the Deficiencies in the Investigation of Cases Relating to Killing of Afro-descendants by the Police in the United States

August 23, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern with respect to the recent events that consolidate a reiterated pattern of impunity in the killings of Afro-descendants by police in the United States. Likewise, the Commission condemns the recent killings of African American men and women as a consequence of the excessive use of lethal force by some police agents. The IACHR calls on the Federal and state governments to advance toward a prompt, exhaustive, independent and impartial investigation into these recent events, that guarantees access to justice to the victims. The Inter-American Commission also reiterates that the ineffectiveness of the State response gives rise to high levels of impunity, which in turn result in the chronic repetition of such acts, leaving victims and their families defenseless.

According to publicly available information, on July 27, 2016 the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Baltimore announced that charges were dropped in the case of the two police officers who were awaiting trial for the death under police custody of Freddie Gray, a young African American man. Also, three other officers involved in the same events were absolved by Circuit Judge Barry Williams between May and July of this year. Additionally, none of the officers was separated from their position. This comes after it was established that there was no responsibility for the officers in several cases of killing of African American men, such as Michael Brown (Ferguson), Tamir Rice (Cleveland) and Eric Garner (Staten Island) where the charges were dismissed before reaching trial. The Commission observes with concern that, in most cases, the decisions on investigation and prosecution seem to conflict with the evidence regarding the respective incidents. It is the view of the Commission that in cases that involve the excessive use of force, the absence of efficient and effective interventions by the administration of justice generate feelings of frustration and defenselessness in wide sectors of the population, which seriously affects coexistence in a democratic society.

The IACHR calls on the State to adopt measures so that rules regarding use of force by the police are in line with International standards. Specifically, to adjust federal and state legal frameworks so that they comply with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, which must guide the appropriate use of lethal force by police agents.  Failure to comply with these standards leads to the ineffectiveness of the mechanisms of investigation, prosecution and eventual punishment for discriminatory and excessive use of force.

The Commission notes with deep concern that the deficiencies in the investigation, along with the lack of institutional responsibility, may become a pattern that would lead to the repetition of acts such as those that took place during July 2016 and resulted in the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Cassile in the states of Louisiana and Minnesota. According to public information, on July 5 2016 two police officers fired several shots at Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, while he was immobilized on the ground. A police officer fired four times at Philando Cassile, who had been stopped for a search while he was in his car with his partner.

The Commission welcomes the intervention of the Justice Department in the investigation of these deaths. However, the IACHR calls on the State to continue an exhaustive, impartial, independent, effective and prompt investigation; and to ensure legal responsibility for those responsible, as well as investigate possible links to other cases. The Commission urges the federal government to adopt legislative, policy and institutional measures in a coordinated manner, in order to eradicate racial discrimination and to train the members of the justice systems, armed institutions and security organs, in human rights protection principles and norms, as well as the limits that must be placed in all circumstances on the use of weapons by law enforcement officials.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 120/16