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People of African descent: “Making the invisible visible in Portugal” – UN expert group

LISBON (20 May 2011) – The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent urged the Government of Portugal to collect detailed and reliable information on the situation of people of African descent in the country. In their view, the absence of such data has tended to hamper the recognition of discrimination against this population group and what form it may take.

“It is all about making the invisible visible,” said the Group’s current head, Mirjana Najcevska, at the end of a five-day fact-finding mission to Portugal, where they assessed the challenges faced by people of African descent because of racial discrimination and current programs and other activities to confront these problems.

The expert panel noted the State’s reluctance to collect data disaggregated by race to prevent abuse of such information. However, they strongly recommended that the Government of Portugal collect such data with the necessary safeguards against misuse, including early anonymization and restricted access, as contemplated in article 35.3 of the Portuguese Constitution.

The Working Group stressed that an effective set of policies to address discrimination against racial minorities must be based upon an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the situation in which such groups live. “Such understanding can only be fully achieved by reference to wide-ranging and reliable data broke down by race/ethnicity,” Ms. Najcevska said.

“Some stereotypes and attitudes towards the Afro-descendent community may stem from unrecognized racial discrimination,” she underscored, “so we encourage Portugal to engage in a reflection upon how the country’s colonial history and slave trade may inform attitudes today regarding people of African descent.”

The independent expert also noted that “the existence of a large number of Afro-descendent communities in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods points towards the probable existence of structural discrimination, which should be analysed and addressed, among other things, with positive measures.”

The Working Group welcomed the initiatives implemented by the Government to facilitate the integration of migrants, which also benefit people of African descent, including the work of the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue, the National Centre for Immigrant Support, the Immigration Observatory, the National Agency for Qualification and many others.

The experts also congratulated the Portuguese Government for its focus on integration of migrants through interculturality, whereby different cultures are enriched one by the other. However, they cautioned that this policy should not result in the assimilation of cultures by the dominant one.

“It is imperative to design programmes that are tailored to the specific conditions of vulnerable groups within society and underlined the notion that discrimination exists both where equals are treated differently and “unequals” are treated the same,” Ms. Najcevska said.

Finally, the Working Group encouraged the Government of Portugal to actively participate in the International Year for People of African Descent (2011) with activities to mark it.

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was created as a result of the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Its mandate is to assess and make recommendations concerning the situation of people of African descent. The Working Group is composed of four independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Mireille FANON-MENDES-FRANCE (France), Ms. Maya SAHLI (Algeria), Ms. Monorama BISWAS (Bangladesh), Ms. Verene SHEPHERD (Jamaica) and the current Acting Chair, Ms. Mirjana NAJCEVSKA (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

Learn about the mandate and work of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/racism/groups/african/4african.htm

The International Year for People of African Descent: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/IntlYearPeopleAfricanDescent.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Portugal: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/PTIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Sandrine Mbea (Mob.: +41 79 509 0559 / mail smbea@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org