5 February 2021

INQUEST is calling for international action on structural racism and the lack of accountability for deaths following police custody or contact in the UK and around the world. Providing detailed evidence to the United Nations, we hope to bring further focus to the experiences of the families we work with and highlight the disproportionate number of deaths of Black and minoritised people.

Last year after the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests around the world, an important international process was opened up to examine the global phenomenon of systemic racism against people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, and the failures in accountability for their deaths.

The Human Rights Council, made up of countries from around the world, issued a resolution “strongly condemn[ing] the continuing racially discriminatory and violent practices perpetrated by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent, in particular which led to the death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in Minnesota… and the deaths of other people of African descent, and also condemns the structural racism in the criminal justice system”.

Initial proposals to set up an international commission of inquiry were watered down in negotiations by some Human Rights Council members, and instead the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been tasked with preparing a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies. This report will inform the UN Human Rights Council, at their upcoming forty-seventh session in June 2021.

INQUEST has long asserted that it is important that these deaths are understood in their context of deeply rooted structural racism. We hope this international process will help to address the global picture.

 It is welcome that the UN Human Rights Council has encouraged scrutiny of the role racism plays in law enforcement and deaths in custody. It is high time that governments around the world were held to account internationally for their failures to tackle structural racism and ensure accountability for these deaths. We hope this UN report will provide a reminder that accountability is not a hollow concept: it must challenge deeply rooted systems of racism and prejudice, bring justice to bereaved families and ensure further deaths are prevented.

- Louise Finer, Head of Policy at INQUEST


INQUEST has raised time and time again our concerns about the lack of accountability for deaths following contact with police, and the failure to address the role race and racism has played in many cases. In some respects, the UK has one of the most developed frameworks for oversight of places of custody and detention and investigation of deaths. Yet as we set out in our evidence, accountability is too often lacking, with failures, ill-treatment and abuse repeating time and time again, and those responsible rarely held to account.

This was explored in the recent Panorama documentary, I Can’t Breathe: Black and Dead in Custody

We are grateful to the families who have contributed to our recent policy work, and whose voices and experiences are reflected in our evidence. INQUEST’s evidence to the UN also draws from our involvement, alongside bereaved families, in many national reports and reviews that directly or indirectly address issues of racism in law enforcement and detention.

INQUEST is hopeful that our contribution will bring more international scrutiny on the systematic racism and discrimination faced by Black and minoritised people in the UK in the criminal justice system, and bring more pressure on governments internationally to take action.


Last week INQUEST gave evidence to the Police Conduct and Complaints Inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee, alongside Michael Oswald speaking for the Police Action Lawyers Group and INQUEST Lawyers Group.

The focus was highlighting the continued barriers to accessing justice in the investigation and complaints process for families bereaved by deaths in police custody and contact.

Key issues discussed included: a police culture of delay denial & obfuscation, delays and shortcomings across the system, a continued lack of accountability & change, including on racism.

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