How easy it would be to be goaded by the visit of Tendayi Achiume, the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on Racism” to Britain. “My mission…will focus on explicit incidents of racism and related intolerance as well as attention to structural forms of discrimination and exclusion that have been exacerbated by Brexit,” she says, as well as “xenophobic discrimination and intolerance aimed at refugees, migrants and even British racial, religious and ethnic minorities”. How tempting it will be for some to tell her to bug off and deal with some real human rights abuses.
But I am not going to be goaded, even if there will be many left-liberal-types who will be panicking that we have managed to turn Brexit into an apparent human rights emergency, as seen through the eyes of the UN. Achiume, who seems to be assistant professor of law at UCLA as well as holding an academic position at the University of Witwatersrand should be warmly welcomed and given access to information she wants: details of specific incidents of racism reported in the wake of the Brexit. She should be sat down and invited to go through every single alleged incident – such as the death of Arkadiusz Jozwik in Harlow in August 2016, which was immediately leapt upon by the Guardian, in a headline which declared: “The killing of a Polish man exposes the reality of post-referendum racism”. She should then be shown the full facts, as revealed in the subsequent trial: that the incident was quickly dismissed as a hate crime by the police.
Achiume should then be handed the file on the incident described, again by the Guardian, of “suspected racist graffiti at Polish cultural centre in London among incidents thought to be fuelled by vote to leave the EU”. As she will quickly discover, the graffiti read ‘Fuck you, OMP’, OMP being a Polish think tank which had advocated Brexit – the graffiti, in other words, appears to have been the work of a Brexit-opposing Pole objecting to members of his own community who took a different view. And so it goes on – the whole lot should be plonked down in front of her and she be told: Don’t worry, we’ve got until Christmas.
Achiume should be given, too, all the documents on cases of deaths in police custody of black suspects – another of the issues she has apparently come to investigate. She should be talked through every case in turn.
She should then be asked a direct question which Britain’s ambassador to the UN should also raise in the chamber: isn’t the reason that she has come to Britain rather than Zimbabwe, Indonesia or any of the 200 other countries she could have visited because human rights issues are taken incredibly seriously here? She has come to Britain, let’s face it, because we have the documentation which gets picked up by people such as her. In particular, we collect exhaustive statistics on ‘hate crimes’, even when they are non-violent and consist of a few casual words at an acquaintance or passer-by. Is there any other country in the world which defines a ‘hate incident’ as anything perceived by the ‘victim’ to be such – encompassing jokes about the Welsh and the erstwhile Home Secretary’s speech to the Conservative conference? I don’t know the answer to that question, but as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Racism, Achiume certainly ought to know.
The more data a country collects, the more investigations it undertakes into its own instruments of state, the more likely it is to catch the eye of UN officials. Meanwhile, the world’s human rights’ black holes go unstudied.
Achiume says she is interested in refugees. Fair enough. Let’s offer her a trip to the refugee centres, and to Calais, and ask her straight: why, if she believes that Britain is such a poor country for the rights of ethnic minorities, are there so many people trying to get to Britain from Africa and the Middle East in order to claim asylum and conspicuously few going in the other direction?