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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Northwestern Buffett Perspective on Discrimination and Injustice

As the leader of an institute devoted to international human rights, global peace and justice, I have watched in horror in recent days as American citizens exercising their civil and political rights under both national and international law have been met with threats, journalists have been arrested and targeted and authorities have confronted peaceful protesters obeying local regulations with rubber bullets and tear gas.  I have also been deeply moved by individual acts of kindness, courage and compassion from the true leaders emerging in every corner of our society.  Citizens across our country are protesting acts of racially motivated brutality and murder, which are but the latest events in our long national history of injustice and oppression.

It is important to put this injustice in international perspective.  The United States is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 22 guarantees “the right to freedom of association.”  The U.S. is also bound by the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, which commits our country to “undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms," forbids all forms of state sponsored racial discrimination, and obliges all parties to adopt “immediate and effective measures” to combat racial prejudice and intolerance. 

The actions of our government in recent days arguably violate its obligations to protect human rights under international law. Beyond the damage to our citizens, recent events have profoundly undermined our authority and leadership on the global stage.  We cannot promote human rights abroad when we do not respect human rights at home.  At this moment, it serves us to reflect in humility on the many analogous struggles for social justice and civil and political rights around the world.  We have much to learn from the experiences of others.

We know systemic transformation often begins at a local scale. The Northwestern community has come together with expressions of concern, support, solidarity and advocacy. As citizens, we will continue to support local communities through advocacy for racially just policies, on-the-ground support of protesters and communities and other acts of solidarity in pursuit of justice and peace. As scholars, we will work across disciplines to address the manifold challenges of this moment, to understand their root causes and to find solutions.  As teachers and administrators, we will support our young people through the fear and confusion of these events and help them acquire the tools they need to lead us towards a more peaceful and just world. As human beings, we will work to practice deeper compassion.

At this moment, we can all continue to educate ourselves about racial injustice and universal human rights. Some helpful resources include:

We know that we have much to learn, and much work to do. In the days and weeks to come, we will be thinking through and mapping out our next steps and actions all of us at Northwestern Buffett can take to contribute to combating discrimination and injustice in all of its forms. We are committed to doing this work to bring about change in a spirit of collaboration with colleagues across Northwestern and around the world and we invite your partnership.

Annelise Riles
Executive Director, Northwestern Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs
Associate Provost for Global Affairs, Northwestern University