Civil Rights Lawyers Ben Crump and Jasmine Rand Lead an International Coalition of Attorneys to Call on UN to Condemn Discrimination Against Africans In Ukraine

A group of international human and civil rights lawyers has joined together to file an appeal to the United Nations on behalf of Black people living in Ukraine, currently experiencing race-based discrimination as they attempt to flee the Russian invasion.

A retired United States Navy judge advocate general’s corps captain, one of the highest-ranking uniformed legal minds in this nation’s military, commended the attorneys for their action.

A Nigerian student, who just got evacuated from Ukraine amidst the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, reacts after landing at the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport Abuja, Nigeria on March 4, 2022. – (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP) (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

According to a press release posted by Ben Crump’s office on Twitter, a coalition of lawyers would be sending an appeal to Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at United Nations, and to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, asking the organization to respond to reports of Africans refugees in Ukraine who have been prohibited from exiting the war-torn country and moving toward a pathway to Poland by border guards and other officials.

Russian invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, almost seven years after initially instigating conflict with the European nation. Beginning in the spring of 2014, Russia seized the southern peninsula of Crimea and began backing separatists groups in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict has made refugees out of native Ukrainians and many living in the area.

In the release put out by the lawyers, they alleged that Polish authorities “are threatening to shoot Black refugees and segregating the refugee lines to enter Poland based on race.”

Leading the group are Crump and Jasmine Rand, the attorney who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Rand stated, according to Bloomberg, “People of African descent and Black people in Ukraine are facing, really, one war waged by Russians and another war waged against them by racism.”

“These are war crimes that are being committed on top of being in an active war zone. This is really a continuation of what has become the Black Lives Matter movement. We have to ensure that Black lives matter in times of war and in times of peace,” she continued after noting that this is a key example of institutional racism.

Crump said the coalition will do more than send a letter, but “will work as a collective to hold any nation committing war crimes against persons on the basis of racial discrimination accountable before international tribunals.” 

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari released a statement on Sunday, Feb. 27, days after the conflict started, reporting acts of discrimination. He wrote, “While efforts to begin talks between Russia and Ukraine are underway, paramount on our minds is the safety and human rights of some four thousand Nigerian citizens and many others from friendly African nations today stranded in Ukraine.”

He insists that many of the Nigerians in the country are there as students and that his administration has seen “video evidence” and heard “first-hand reports” about “Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains heading towards the Ukraine-Poland border.”

Dammy Raji, one of the Nigerian medical students in Ukraine that Buhari wrote about, said at first, she wanted to wait out the conflict but eventually decided it was time to evacuate. She and other students of African descent were denied access to two trains in Lviv. 

She told NBC, “We took the train because we heard that it was easier at the border. But it was really hard to get onto the train as Blacks. They prioritized their people, especially women and children. … The Ukrainians that want their people to go first.”

“We understand the pain and fear that is confronting all people who find themselves in this terrifying place … for that reason, it is paramount that everyone is treated with dignity and without favor. All who flee a conflict situation have the same right to safe passage under UN Convention and the color of their passport or their skin should make no difference.”

The Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba has acknowledged the border discrimination against Africans. Likewise, so has Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, and the United High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bachelet.

Bachelet stated, “There have been disturbing indications of discrimination against African and Asian nationals while fleeing, and the Office will be watching this situation attentively.” But before the appeal was announced has not forcefully responded. 

Retired U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps captain and a legal and national security professor at the University of New Haven, Robert A. Sanders, said the appeal is “totally appropriate.”

He further noted that Bachelet’s office “issued statements to Russia about its human rights activities during its attack on Ukraine. And so, it is completely appropriate for that same body to examine what Ukraine is doing, which, while sad, is not surprising because we live in a world that has structures and systemic pieces built up over centuries that make Black and brown people less than.”

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