Taking Action on Race at the United Nations

Through her official work for the Human Rights Council, Professor E. Tendayi Achiume reports on global intolerance and takes students to leading summits in New York and Europe.

When the United Nations Human Rights Council named UCLA Law Professor E. Tendayi Achiume the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2017, she became the first woman and first person from southern Africa to serve in the role.

The faculty director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights, Achiume quickly launched into a rigorous schedule that combined teaching duties with global tours on which she investigated instances of human rights abuse or inequality and reported her findings. At the 2018 U.N. General Assembly in New York, Achiume presented reports on how national populism threatens racial equality and on the rise of neo-Nazism on the internet. Today, she is at the forefront of the effort by the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into police violence in the United States.

In a recent essay in Just Security, Achiume noted that the U.S. fails to meet international standards for transparency and accountability in regard to police. "One avenue going forward should be to push back against the sort of exceptionalism that implicitly treats existing domestic law as a high watermark for achieving justice and equality, when this law falls short even of global human rights anti-racism standards that U.S. civil rights leaders helped establish."

The efforts put into practice UCLA Law’s deep commitments to human rights law and to engaging students in complex legal issues. In one semester alone, six students from UCLA Law's International Human Rights Clinic participated in events at the U.N. General Assembly; three students joined her at a conference on human rights and cyberspace in Switzerland; and four students helped prepare Achiume for a U.N. summit in Morocco, where she helped steer 164 nations to adopt the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the first international agreement on global migration governance.

Olivia Florio Roberts ’19, a recent graduate who studied with Achiume, said, “While we have taken numerous international law courses at UCLA Law, covering human rights fairly extensively, observing the inner workings of the U.N. and several side events added a lot of depth and perspective to the more theoretical discussions we have in class. [We were able] to observe a major human rights institution in action.”