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UN watchdog tells US to curb police racism

Law enforcement officers watch on during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014
Law enforcement officers watch on during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014

The United States must stem police racism and brutality, a UN watchdog said Friday, as debate rages over the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white officer in Missouri.

"The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern, particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown," said Noureddine Amir, who headed a review of the US by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"This is not an isolated event," Amir told reporters.

"It illustrates a big problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials," he added.

Brown, 18, was killed on August 9 in the suburb of Ferguson in St Louis, sparking nearly two weeks of street protests in which heavily-armed law enforcement officers faced down demonstrators.

Brown was shot at least six times by white policeman Darren Wilson as he walked down a street after leaving a store where police say he stole a box of cigars.

Accounts differ widely, with police alleging Brown tried to grab Wilson's gun and witnesses saying he was shot with his hands up in a sign of surrender.

Law enforcement officers hold up their weapons during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014
Law enforcement officers hold up their weapons during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014

Although street protests have subsided, the debate over racial discrimination and distrust between African Americans and the police rages on.

Critics also charge that the handling of the protests shows US police are increasingly "militarised" in their weapons and tactics.

A grand jury in St Louis is tasked with deciding whether to bring charges against 28-year-old Wilson, who is on paid leave.

"The United States must ensure that every case of excessive use of force is promptly and effectively investigated and the alleged perpetrators prosecuted and the victims or their families are adequately compensated," said Amir.

"It should undertake complete and comprehensive measures to address the root causes and avoid any future recurrence of such tragic incidents," he added.

- Racial profiling -

Amir also cited the separate 2012 killings of unarmed 17-year-olds Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, whose shooters claimed self-defence under controversial "stand your ground" laws.

Their deaths stoked outrage over racial profiling and lax US gun laws.

A demonstrator raises his arms before police officers move in to arrest him on August 19, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri
A demonstrator raises his arms before police officers move in to arrest him on August 19, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri

"The United States government should take effective measures to protect the lives of all individuals and to reduce armed violence," said Amir.

The UN panel of 18 independent experts assessed the US record on August 13 and 14, with presentations from US officials and campaigners.

The hearing was not called over the Brown case -- UN members come up automatically for review every few years.

"These findings shine a light on US shortcomings on racial equality that we’re seeing play out today," Jamil Dakwar, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told AFP.

"The recent killing of Michel Brown is a tragic reminder of the need to address structural discrimination and pervasive injustice, especially within the criminal justice system," he said.

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