Photo: Christiana, Angélica, and Delza at a UNICEF-assisted organization in Brazil, which empowers black youth to confront racism and advocates for equal education and work opportunities. Credit: UNICEF/Alejandro Balaguer. - Photo: 2022

UN Honours the Contributions of the African Diaspora

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) — The murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, on May 25, 2020, in the US city of Minneapolis, galvanized people worldwide to protest racism and racial discrimination and prompted important global discussions on racial justice. 2020 marked a turning point in how these issues are being addressed at international and national levels.

2020 also marked the midterm of the International Decade for People of African Descent in the aftermath of the UN General Assembly adopting resolution 68/237 in December 2013. The resolution proclaimed 2015 to 2024 to be a significant Decade with the theme “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development”.

On June 19, 2020, the Human Rights Council adopted the resolution on the “Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers”.

According to this resolution, the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47th session her agenda for transformative change for racial justice and equality.

Five years into the Decade, the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the urgency to address long-standing structural inequalities and systematic racism in health. The lack of recognition remains one of the major barriers impeding the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by people of African descent.

While some progress has been made at legislative, policy and institutional levels, people of African descent continue to suffer intersectional and compounded forms of racial discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion.

The International Day for People of African Descent was observed on August 31, 2022. It was first commemorated in 2021. Through this Observance, the United Nations aims to promote the extraordinary contributions of the African diaspora worldwide and eliminate all forms of discrimination against people of African descent.

The International Decade aims to celebrate the important contributions of people of African descent worldwide, advance social justice and inclusion policies, eradicate racism and intolerance, promote human rights, and assist in creating better, more prosperous communities, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals spearheaded by the United Nations.

“The Decade is a unique platform that emphasises the important contribution made by people of African descent to every society and promotes concrete measures to stop discrimination and promote their full inclusion,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The UN General Assembly resolution established the following specific objectives for the International Decade:

  • To strengthen national, regional and international action and cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society;
  • To promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies;
  • To adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks in accordance with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and to ensure their full and effective implementation.

In proclaiming the Decade, the international community recognized that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent.

The United Nations strongly condemns the continuing violent practices and excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent and condemns structural racism in criminal justice systems around the world.

The Organization further acknowledges the Transatlantic Slave Trade as one of the darkest chapters in our human history and upholds human dignity and equality for the victims of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism, in particular people of African descent in the African diaspora.

More than four million slaves were shipped to Brazil from the coast of Africa during the 16th century and onward. But the practice of slavery was abolished in 1888 when abolitionists brought the issue to the forefront. Today, descendants in Danda community—a quilombo—fight for their right to land that their ancestors once lived and worked on for generations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas stated on August 31, 2022, that the Day “is an opportunity to remember that many communities in The Bahamas and the Caribbean still face social injustice and exclusion”. The profound systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, contemporary forms of racism, dehumanization, and the legacies of under-development can be traced directly to the enslavement and genocide of African and indigenous peoples and colonialism, the Ministry added.

“We call for amends to be made for centuries of violence and human rights violations, by way of wide-ranging and meaningful initiatives, including the formal acknowledgement, apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations.”

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which The Bahamas is a member, agreed in 2013, to create the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC). It would establish the moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations by the former colonial European countries to the member states and people of CARICOM.

Among the most significant achievements of the CRC is the Ten-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice, which outlines the path to reconciliation, truth, and justice for descendants of slavery and genocide. It has inspired reparatory justice at the global level.

The Bahamas is committed to ending racism and addressing persistent discrimination and socio-economic inequalities that continue to plague people of African Descent.

In March 2014, the Government approved the establishment of The Bahamas Reparations Committee (BRC) to develop a national approach toward achieving reparations. The mission of the BRC is to educate Bahamians about how the Transatlantic Slave Trade delayed the development of The Bahamas and to champion the cause of reparations in honour of our ancestors and future generations.

The Bahamas support the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, which seeks to combat the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and related intolerance, and the newly-established Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, established to improve the safety and quality of life for people of African descent.

“As The Bahamas was part of the global projects of colonialism and slavery, most Bahamians descend from Africans brought to our region as enslaved persons. To this date, colonial-era sovereign inequality persists, and structures and obstacles continue to exist that systematically prevent people of African descent from fully enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” states The Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Indeed, contemporary environmental and cultural scholars point out that it is the people of colour across the Global South who are being most affected by the climate crisis, despite their very low carbon footprints. That historical and present-day injustices have both left black, indigenous and people-of-colour communities disproportionally exposed to far greater environmental health hazards.”

In his recent address to the IX Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles, the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Philip Davis, recognized that, sadly some countries in the Americas hemisphere have become more unequal, and the scourges of racism and discrimination appear to be on the rise. He called for greater collaboration and collective action to tackle global issues that for too long have been “about us, without us”. [IDN-InDepthNews — 01 September 2022]

Photo: Christiana, Angélica, and Delza at a UNICEF-assisted organization in Brazil, which empowers black youth to confront racism and advocates for equal education and work opportunities. Credit: UNICEF/Alejandro Balaguer.

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