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In Response to SCLC Report, the United Nations Investigates Alleged Human Rights Violations by the Philadelphia Police Department

UN Experts Urge the United States Government to Adopt Police Reforms

Photo of protestor with sign ("Stop Killing Us - We Matter"). Photo is overlaid by U.S. flag graphic.

March 10, 2021

On March 9, the United Nations (UN) made public its investigation into alleged human rights violations perpetrated by the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) in the summer of 2020 during Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

In a letter sent to US officials, 12 UN human rights experts requested more information about the alleged violations raised in a complaint compiled and submitted by professors Rachel López and Lauren Katz Smith, along with law students from the Thomas R. Kline School of Law’s Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic (SCLC) and the ACLU of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA). The UN experts sent the letter on January 7, 2021 but only made the letter public after 60 days, per UN policy, according to López.

“We are encouraged that the UN has decided to investigate the police violence that occurred on June 1 and May 31 against BLM protesters and hope that it will be a wake-up call for Philadelphia,” said López.

The publication of the UN’s letter follows a statement, issued on February 26 by 23 human rights experts from the UN’s Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, which specifically addressed the police violence in Philadelphia documented in the SCLC’s complaint. The statement also called on the US government to adopt national reforms to end police violence and to vigorously address systemic racism and racial discrimination, echoing many of the recommendations given in the SCLC complaint.

The February 26 statement is the first time that the UN has adopted BLM’s demands and is one of the few times when so many UN human rights experts have come together to address a human rights issue in the US, according to López. “The UN statement recognized the police violence that occurred on June 1 and May 31 against Black Lives Matter protesters for what it was: a violation of human rights,” said López.

As the UN awaits the City of Philadelphia’s response to its letter, the UN’s call for national police reform may provide some immediate solace to witnesses and survivors of PPD’s actions this past summer, some of whom testified about their experiences before the UN on February 18. Katz Smith, who interviewed victims of the May 31 52nd Street incident, said of the UN’s statement, “This incredible outcome reflects the commitment of the victims of the unacceptable police violence who were brave enough to share their stories.”