U.N. Panel Is Scathing in Its Criticism of a British Report on Race

GENEVA — United Nations human rights experts on Monday issued a devastating critique of a report on race published last month by the British government, accusing its authors of repackaging racist tropes, distorting history and normalizing white supremacy.

The British race report was “a tone-deaf attempt at rejecting the lived realities of people of African descent and other ethnic minorities” in Britain, the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said.

“In 2021, it is stunning to read a report on race and ethnicity that repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent,” the U.N. panel said in a statement.

The British report, which was commissioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in response to the outpouring of protest that followed the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, concluded that Britain did not suffer from institutional racism and instead offered “a model for other white-majority countries.”

The British Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which wrote the report — and whose members are mostly members of minority groups — said the U.N. panel had “grossly misrepresented” its findings.

The panel, it said, appears to have reacted more to negative press coverage than the substance of its work. And a spokesman for the commission said the criticisms “risk fostering division on the subject of race, rather than constructive discussion on the issues.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Johnson’s office said it was considering how to follow up on the British commission’s recommendations, which it said had the potential to promote equality.

But the U.N. panel’s harsh verdict, which comes as Americans await the outcome of a trial in the Floyd killing, is an embarrassing blow for Mr. Johnson’s approach to race from the United Nations human rights machinery as it prepares for a high-profile debate on racism in the Human Rights Council in June.

Britain’s commission said in its report, released in March, that racism remained “a real force” in British society easily amplified by social media, but that discrimination in Britain, was more a result of socio-economic inequities than ethnicity or skin color.

“We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities,” the commission’s chairman, Tony Sewell, said in a foreword to the report.

Among other major findings, the commission said that South Asian and Black African students consistently outperformed white students in compulsory education, arguing the school system had promoted social mobility and helped to transform British society over the last 50 years.

The report’s defenders said it delivered new facts that helped puncture outdated myths and narratives about racial discrimination. But it also drew widespread criticism from groups working on racial issues, from academics and from Britain’s opposition Labour Party. They said it set back discussions on racism and instead stoked division.

The five-member United Nations panel, led by an American attorney and rights activist, Dominique Day, and including human rights experts from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, said the report drew on dubious evidence to rationalize white supremacy and ignored the findings of other United Nations panels and human rights experts.

It agreed that racial disparities may not always stem from racism or racial discrimination, but asserted that “there is also compelling evidence that the roots of these disparities lie in institutional racism and structural discrimination as they clearly do not reflect the preferences or priorities of the communities facing structural disadvantage.”

The panel aimed a scathing rebuttal at the British commission’s attempt to draw positive lessons from slavery, or “the Caribbean experience,” which the commission report said was not exclusively about profit and loss “but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodeled African/Britain.”

This “mythical” representation of slavery, the panel said, was an attempt to sanitize history, and a deliberate misrepresentation.

Panel members urged the British government to categorically reject the commission findings, warning that its historical distortions and falsehoods “may license further racism, the promotion of negative racial stereotypes, and racial discrimination.”

Yasmine Ahmed, Human Rights Watch’s director in Britain, said the intervention by the U.N. panel made clear “just how much of a whitewash” the commission report was.

She said that institutional racism had been well established in the British policing, immigration and justice systems, and until the government acknowledges that, the country “cannot move forward.”

Isabella Kwaicontributed reporting.

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