A group of international human and civil rights lawyers has joined forces to launch a UN appeal on behalf of Black people in Ukraine who are currently facing race-based discrimination as they try to leave the Russian invasion.
The attorneys were praised for their actions by a former United States Navy judge advocate general’s corps captain, one of the nation’s highest-ranking uniformed legal brains.
According to a press release posted on Twitter by Ben Crump’s office, a group of lawyers will send an appeal to Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, requesting that the organizations respond to reports of African refugees in Ukraine being prevented from leaving the war-torn country and moving toward a path to Poland by border guards and other officials.
The lawyers said that Polish officials “are threatening to shoot Black refugees and dividing refugee lines to enter Poland based on race” in a press statement.
Crump and Jasmine Rand, the attorney who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, are leading the charge.
“People of African ancestry and Black people in Ukraine are suffering, basically, one war waged by Russians and another war waged against them by racism,” Rand said, according to Bloomberg.
“These are war crimes that are being committed on top of being in an active war zone. This is essentially the continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement. We must ensure that Black lives matter in both times of war and peace,” she stated, citing this as an example of institutional racism.
Crump stated that the alliance will “act as a collective to hold any government perpetrating war crimes against individuals on the basis of racial discrimination accountable before international tribunals,” rather than simply sending a letter.
On Sunday, Feb. 27, days after the crisis began, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement condemning acts of prejudice. “While efforts to initiate discussions between Russia and Ukraine are underway, the safety and human rights of approximately 4,000 Nigerian citizens and many others from friendly African nations now stranded in Ukraine are uppermost on our thoughts,” he said.
He says that many Nigerians in the country are students and that his administration has seen “video evidence” and heard “first-hand testimonies” of “Ukrainian police and security officials refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains bound for the Ukraine-Poland border.”
Dammy Raji, one of the Nigerian medical students in Ukraine mentioned by Buhari, said she first planned to wait out the crisis but ultimately decided it was time to flee. In Lviv, she and other African-American students were denied admission to two trains.
“We took the train because we heard it was easier at the border,” she told NBC. As Blacks, however, it was extremely difficult to board the train. They placed a high value on their people, particularly women and children… Ukrainians who want their people to be the first to go.”
“We recognize the pain and terror that all persons who find themselves in this dreadful situation are experiencing… as a result, it is critical that everyone is handled with decency and without prejudice.” Under the UN Convention, all people fleeing a war situation have the same right to safe passage, regardless of the color of their passport or skin.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stated that Africans are discriminated against at the border. Likewise, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have done so.
“There have been worrisome indications of prejudice against African and Asian nationals while fleeing,” Bachelet said, “and the Office will be closely monitoring this situation.” However, prior to the announcement of the appeal, has not replied firmly.
Robert A. Sanders, a law and national security professor at the University of New Haven and a retired US Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps captain, said the appeal is “absolutely reasonable.”
Bachelet’s office also “made statements to Russia concerning its human rights operations throughout its invasion on Ukraine,” according to him. As a result, it is very fair for that same organization to investigate what Ukraine is doing, which, while regrettable, is not surprising given that we live in a world where structures and structural elements have been built up over ages that exclude Black and brown people.”