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Address by Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the opening of the 18th session of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent


11 April 2016 

Excellencies, Colleagues and friends,

I am delighted to join this 18th Session of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. The theme of your discussions this week “the inter linkages between the three pillars of the International Decade for people of African descent- Recognition, Justice and Development”- is significant because they must be addressed together to achieve real progress in protecting the rights of people of African descent. The themes and the programme of activities for the implementation of the Decade provide a comprehensive programme to combat and address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, afrophobia and related intolerance faced by people of African descent the world over. We look forward to your conclusions and recommendations as valuable input for our anti-racism work.

The extent of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent today cannot be adequately addressed without confronting the roots of the problem. The legacies of the past and the narrative that people of African descent are inferior, the centuries of suffering epitomized by the Transatlantic slave trade, enslavement, and colonialism. There is also little acknowledgement of the rich history and culture of people of African descent and Africans before enslavement and colonialism, and their overall contribution to humanity. These are the issues at the crux of the discussion on recognition for people of African descent.

We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination last year and we are commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action this year.   Such important milestones provide an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, and also to assess where we stand in this obvious yet difficult challenge to eliminate racial discrimination. When we speak about the second pillar of the Decade- Justice, we have to be cognizant of the gap that exists in many States, between laws put in place to combat racial discrimination on one hand, and the reality of structural discrimination that denies justice, equal rights and dignity for people of African descent on the other. Racial disparity in the administration of justice, racial bias by law enforcement, the disproportionate incarceration of people of African descent in prisons, lack of representation and political participation are just some indicative examples of this structural discrimination that stands in the way of realization of justice for people of African descent.

I echo the sentiments of the Working Group, which, together with the Special Rapporteur on Racism and the CERD Committee, unitedly expressed- on the occasion of the International Day Against Racial Discrimination- that very little progress has been made in tackling racism, afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and instead we see an alarming increase of hate and xenophobic speech echoing across the globe.

Development is another area where people of African descent are persistently discriminated against, including as a result of multiple, aggravated or intersecting forms of discrimination, further exacerbating racial prejudice on other grounds, such as sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, property, birth, disability or other status. Be it on access to health care, education, employment or housing it is often the same situation- people of African descent are more often than not at the lowest levels of, or “invisible” in, official development statistics. From a global standpoint, the key question is whether the international community- which has just embarked on an ambitious path to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the next 14 years - will be able to integrate in all its development work human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality.  Failing to do so will continue to keep historically marginalized and discriminated groups including people of African descent away from the gains of such an endeavour.

There is an inextricable link between the three themes of the International Decade and I am sure you will delve deeper into the linkages throughout the week. In my view, only through the recognition of the past, true justice is possible; likewise, real development can only be enjoyed by people of African descent when justice is upheld. At the core of this inter-relationship is therefore the notion of equal justice, which should clearly be the force with which we combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, afrophobia and related intolerance.

Excellencies, Members of the Working Group,

The International Decade for people of African descent must bring us all together to combat racial discrimination, which is increasingly posing a threat to social cohesion across the world. We are looking forward to hearing from member States about initiatives taken at the national level to prioritise protection of the human rights of people of African descent as a particular group. At the international level, we are also hopeful that Member States will be soon take steps towards the establishment of the Forum for people of African descent. On behalf of the High Commissioner, who is the coordinator of the International Decade, allow me to convey his firm commitment to advancing the rights of people of African descent. The High Commissioner actively participated in the first Regional conference for people of African descent organized in Brazil. I encourage all stakeholders to continue efforts to effectively implement the General Assembly resolution and Programme of Activities of the International Decade. I commend the work of this Working Group in remaining steadfast to the purpose of the International Decade, from the inception stage till now, and I am sure your conclusions and recommendations will provide strong impetus to Member States, civil society and all other stakeholders to implement the important objectives of the International Decade

I wish you success in your deliberations and look forward to the report of your session.

Thank you.