GENEVA (5 January 2017) – A United Nations team of human rights experts has backed a United States school district which removed an “offensive” textbook on slavery from classrooms.
The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said the example set by Norwalk School District in Connecticut should be followed across the US and other countries.
“The Connecticut Adventure” was being studied by pupils aged nine and ten until district officials removed it on the grounds that its depiction of slavery was inaccurate, simplistic and offensive. The book says slaves in Connecticut were often treated like family members, and were “taught to be Christian” and sometimes how to read and write.
“The chapter discussing the history of slavery in Connecticut is a distortion of the true nature of enslavement,” said human rights expert Ricardo Sunga, who currently heads the expert panel set up by the Human Rights Council to study racial discrimination worldwide.
“Enslaved people in Connecticut, like those in the American South before the civil war, were trafficked against their will, had their fundamental right to life, liberty and property taken away from them, faced similar levels of exploitation, and were subjected to the most dehumanizing treatment imaginable,” Mr. Sunga said.
Students of history needed to know that enslaved people were never categorized as “family”, he added.
The Working Group is urging other Departments of Education and school districts in the US and other countries to review textbooks and other educational materials, to see whether they depict slavery accurately, and where appropriate to remove them from classrooms.
“These deeply offensive texts should be replaced with accurate depictions of history which convey the message of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings,” Mr. Sunga stressed.
“Educators and publishers have a responsibility to ensure that textbooks and other educational materials accurately reflect historical facts on tragedies and atrocities, in particular slavery, the transatlantic trade in African people, and colonialism,” he added.
“This will avoid stereotypes and the distortion or falsification of these historical facts, which may lead to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance,” the human rights expert concluded.
The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts: Mr. Ricardo A. Sunga III (the Philippines), current Chair-Rapporteur; Mr. Michal Balcerzak (Poland); Ms. Mireille Fanon Mendes-France (France), Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa) and Mr. Ahmed Reid (Jamaica).
The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
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