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People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development

In Geneva this week, experts will address the current challenges and opportunities for ‘positive action’ to advance protection of Afro-descendants’ rights.

Experts on African descent in session © OHCHR PhotoThe Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, currently in session, will also highlight Afro-descendants’ contribution to global development, as well as the lack of knowledge about their history, culture and traditions.

Speaking at the session’s opening, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay highlighted the decision by the UN General Assembly to proclaim 2011 the International Year for people of African Descent. The Year aims to promote the rights of Afro-descendants and also acknowledge their contributions to the societies in which they live.

Pillay noted that the Working Group on People of African Descent was created following the 2001 World Conference against Racism because the situation of people of African descent demanded a special focus and concerted efforts to achieve Afro-descendants’ full enjoyment of their human rights.

“The International Year is a natural extension of this special concern. It does not, as some would suggest, create a hierarchy of victims”, the High Commissioner said. “Rather, it affords us the opportunity to wage a concerted campaign in order to open the world’s eyes to the reality of the challenges facing people of African descent. And once seen clearly, this reality can never be forgotten.”

Pillay added that raising awareness of the serious issues people of African descent continue to face was one of the most important objectives of the International Year.

“This awareness must be so complete that no one can credibly say “I didn’t know” or “I don’t believe it”. It must be so compelling that no one can turn away, saying “I don’t care”. It must acknowledge and celebrate the rich history and culture of people of African descent and the significant contributions that Afro-descendents have made to progress”, she said.

The Chairperson of the Working Group, Mirjana Najcevska said the session’s discussions would seek to clarify the situation of people of African descent and arrive at recommendations for actions that will address challenges. These recommendations will then be submitted to the Human Rights Council for consideration and action.

At its last session, the Working Group adopted the slogan “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development” to mark the International Year. The UN Human Rights office, as well as civil society organizations and forums are also using the slogan to frame their activities for the International Year.

“Let’s make this year a catalyst for real change”, Najcevska said. “Let’s make this year a ‘before and after’ moment in the ongoing fight against discrimination directed at people of African descent.”

30 March 2011