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Statement by Mr. Sabelo Gumedze, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent at the Regional Meeting for Europe, Central Asia and North America

International Decade for People of African Descent

23 November 2017

High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to address you as Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

I am very delighted that this regional meeting for Europe, Central Asia and North America is taking place with the presence of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity. As a promoter and protector of all human rights, the High Commissioner’s contribution to this regional meeting is most welcome and appreciated.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Three years ago, the General Assembly in its resolution 68/237, proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent, with the theme “People of African Descent: recognition, justice and development.” As the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, we welcomed this resolution and looked forward to meaningful contribution to addressing issues faced by people of African descent.

Indeed, the proclamation of the Decade provided a timely and unique opportunity for us to focus our attention to the contribution made by people of African descent in many parts of the world. Furthermore, the Decade opened another window of opportunity for us to propose concrete measures to promote equality and to combat racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance.   

Allow me to underscore the objective of this regional meeting as part of the implementation of the Decade’s Programme of Activities. The main purpose of this regional meeting is to provide an opportunity to reflect on ways and means that governments from Europe, Central Asia, North America in partnership with equality bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society, development agencies and regional organizations, may pursue to integrate the provisions of the Programmes of activities in their policies, programmes and strategies tailored for people of African descent.

Thus far, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has noted with comfort the celebration of the launch of the International Decade by various states within some regions. We encourage States who have not celebrated the launch of the International Decade to do so as part of educating their populations and bringing awareness on the importance of the International Decade.

Celebrating the launch of the International Decade is just as good. The actual work, however, lies in the development of national programmes of action and activities for the full implementation of the Decade. In our assessment as the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, more efforts are still required. The International Decade is more than just an acknowledgement of the respect for the right to equality and non-discrimination. States must ensure that People of African descent fully enjoy their economic, social, cultural and civil and political rights. Further more, States must ensure the full and equal participation of people of African descent in all aspects of society.  

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Implementation of the Programme of Activities for the Implementation of the International Decade cannot be achieved by States alone. The Working Group of Experts on People of African descent values the contribution made by equality bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society, development agencies and regional organizations in promoting human rights in general. Bearing in mind that People of African descent make up some of the most marginalised groups, are a specific victim group, and therefore deserve special attention with the assistance of the above mentioned role players.   

As deliberation take place in this regional meeting, I wish to remind you that it all started in Durban in 2001. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) cannot be divorced from the Programme of Activities for the Implementation of the international Decade for People of African Descent. The DDPA provides the context to what this meeting is all about.

The International Decade presents a viable instrument to address common issues facing people of African descent such as the following:

  • structural and institutional racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance; inequality, marginalization and stigmatization;
  • low levels of participation and underrepresentation in political and institutional decision making processes;
  • lack of adequate representation in the administration of justice;
  • barriers to and inequality in the enjoyment of key human rights such as access to quality education, health services, housing, which results in the intergenerational transmission of poverty;
  • disproportionate presence in prison populations;
  • racial profiling; limited social recognition and valuing of people of African descent’s ethnic and cultural diversity and contribution to society; and
  • intolerance against religions of African origin.

It is the Working Group’s firm belief that during this meeting, these issues will be discussed and best practices in addressing some of these challenges faced by people of African descent will be shared. For instance, some States have taken the initiative to apologize and have paid reparations, where appropriate, for grave and massive violations committed against people of African descent. The discussion on reparations, cannot be overemphasised.  

Once again, the Working Group welcomes the focus of the International Decade for People of African Descent on recognition, justice and development. These themes are critical to the successful implementation of the International Decade. Action is needed to address the extreme violence, racial bias and hate speech which people of African descent continue to face in these regions. We must urgently address the root causes of racial discrimination in an honest debate about history and its connection to modern day racism.

This meeting presents an important moment and we can make a difference.

Your Excellences, Distinguished Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I would like to reiterate that the Working Group is committed to support all efforts geared towards the implementation of the International Decade.

Thank you for your attention.