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UN experts challenge Belgium to confront its colonial past

GENEVA / BRUSSELS (11 February 2019) — Belgium must recognize the true scope of the violence and injustice of its colonial past in order to tackle the root causes of present-day racism faced by people of African descent, says a group of UN human rights experts* at the end of a visit to the country. 

“The Government of Belgium needs to adopt a comprehensive national action plan against racism,” said Michal Balcerzak, Chair of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. 

“We found clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic in institutions in Belgium. People of African descent face discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including diversion from mainstream education into vocational schooling, ‘downgrading’ in employment opportunities and discrimination in the housing market,” added Mr. Balcerzak, presenting a statement at the end of the visit. 

The experts also urged the authorities to compile and use disaggregated data on the issue as this was essential for ensuring the recognition of people of African descent and overcoming their historical “social invisibility”. 

“We noted the important work of the Inter-Federal Centre for Equal Opportunities (Unia) as an independent public institution that combats discrimination and promotes equal opportunities in the protection of human rights and in documenting racism and inequality at the federal and regional levels,” said Mr. Balcerzak. 

The Working Group was also concerned that the public discourse did not reflect a nuanced understanding of history.  “The Government should review and ensure that textbooks and educational materials accurately reflect historical facts as they relate to past tragedies and atrocities committed during the colonial era,” said Mr. Balcerzak. 

The delegation, which included human rights experts Ahmed Reid and Dominique Day, welcomed the renaming of the former “Square du Bastion” in Brussels as "Patrice Lumumba Square in June 2018 and encouraged further commemoration of notable people of African descent. 

During their visit from 4 to 11 February, the Working Group travelled to Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, Namur and Charleroi to investigate racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance affecting people of African descent in Belgium. The experts also examined developments since their last mission to the country in 2005. 

In addition, they promoted the International Decade for people of African descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024 and aims both to highlight the contribution of people of African descent to societies, and to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation, in order to ensure the human rights of people of African descent are respected, promoted and fulfilled. 

The Working Group will present a report with its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2019. 

ENDS 

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. Michal Balcerzak (Poland), current Chair-Rapporteur; Mr. Ahmed Reid (Jamaica); Ms Dominique Day (United States of America); Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa), and Mr. Ricardo A. Sunga III (The Philippines).

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Belgium

For inquiries and media requests Ms Christina Saunders (+41 79 444 6129 / csaunders@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org. For the media conference, please register by sending an email to: benelux@unric.org / +32 2 788 84 61 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org) 

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts. 

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