Collective action needed to end racial discrimination

Throughout history, Afro-descendants have borne a disproportionate impact of racial discrimination through greater joblessness, inadequate housing and healthcare, poverty and other disadvantages, says a panel of human rights experts.

UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall © OHCHR PhotoSpeaking at a full day discussion about racial discrimination suffered by people of African descent, organised by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the experts underscored that collective action by the UN human rights system was needed to promote Afro-descendants’ rights.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent. Opening the discussion, the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay reiterated the objectives of the Year which are to recognise Afro-descendants’ contribution to the societies in which they live; achieve justice for past and current acts of discrimination; and develop strategies to ensure equality.

“Such action is imperative in the face of persisting aspects of the transatlantic slave trade’s abhorrent legacy which continue to affect the lives of people of African descent”, Pillay said. “In many societies they are often subjected to significantly unequal and unfavourable conditions and experience racism, poverty and exclusion, that is, structural discrimination against them.”

The UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall, noted that people of African descent worldwide represent a diverse community at different stages of development and with different issues, languages, needs and expectations. However, they all endure racial prejudice.

“Racism is perhaps the only common experience among persons of African descent in the Diaspora”, she said. “[They are exposed] to racism and systemic discrimination, regardless of country, socio-economic conditions, gender, age or level of education.”

Citing the outcome document of a recent summit of Black European parliamentarians, she said Black Europeans are increasingly the targets of hate crimes and racial profiling. Furthermore, immigration and anti-terrorism policies advocated by far-right political parties contribute to the thinking that Europe should be a mono-racial society.

Moya Teklu of the African Canadian Legal Clinic said that even though Canada’s integration policies ranked third in the world behind Sweden and Portugal, statistics suggested that Afro-descendants, who make up 11 percent of the migrant population, did not equally benefit from those policies.

Poverty is one of the consequences of the limited access newly arrived Afro-descendants have to the Canadian labour market. Today, 59 percent of poor families in the country’s biggest city, Toronto, are from “racialized” groups. Thirty-nine percent of families living below the poverty line are of African heritage and 22 percent are of Caribbean descent.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination contains provisions which can be used to address the racial discrimination people of African descent continue to suffer.

The views expressed during the discussion will assist the Committee in drafting recommendations on how States can implement these provisions and target them to protect people of African descent living in their jurisdiction.

The Committee’s interpretation of these provisions, also known as its ‘General Recommendations’, will be adopted at the Committee’s next session in August 2011. The document will then be presented to the UN General Assembly at the end of 2011.

4 April 2011