International Decade for People of African Descent
23 November 2017
Thank you, Madam Chair,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honor for me to address you on behalf of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. We are gathered here today because of our collective commitment to the principle of non-discrimination, and our pledge to combat racial discrimination. The challenge is a real one as despite guarantees in international and national law, and despite efforts by the international community, we are confronted with the reality that racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance pervades every corner of the global landscape.
In 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in General Recommendation 35 stated: “The prevalence of racist hate speech in all regions of the world continues to represent a significant contemporary challenge for human rights.” We have been witnessing the steady rise of far-right populous sentiments worldwide, and political parties with their brand of racism and xenophobia. We saw the images and heard the racist chants in Charlotesville, “White Europe and White Europe of brotherly nations” “Pure Poland, White Poland” and “Refugees Get Out” were just some of the racist and xenophobic banners and slogans on display at Poland’s Independence Day march2. This shows that racism and other forms of related intolerance have no country of origin and as such, ridding the world of such scourge will require global solutions.
Throughout the diaspora, people of African descent continue to suffer from many multiple, aggravated or intersecting forms of discrimination. Many have lost the basic human right to their legal identity and as such remained invisible in laws, legislation and policies. They are denied recognition and have been subjected to the ideology of racism that demonized and denigrated all things African. More worryingly, racism and racial discrimination continues to blight the futures of Afro-descendants worldwide. As a Working Group monitoring the human rights situation of people of African descent and undertaking country level fact-finding missions, it is of great concern to see that indicators in the fields of education, employment, health, housing, infant, child and maternal mortality and life expectancy still show disadvantage and vast disparities when compared to the rest of the population.
The recognition of people of African Descent as a distinct group is a key step to increase their visibility and respect for their culture, identity, history and heritage. States are called upon to “promote full and accurate inclusion of the history and contribution of people of African descent in educational curricula.” Additionally, States must ensure “that textbooks and other educational materials reflect historical facts accurately as they relate to past tragedies and atrocities, in particular slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, so as to avoid stereotypes and the distortion or falsification of these historic facts, which may lead to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.
Ladies and gentlemen, people of African descent worldwide will continue to be invisible if their history and contributions to the development of modern civilization are not properly documented and made known to all concerned. The goals of the International Decade will not be achieved when states continue to devalue the history and memory of Africans. In fact, the noticeable trend, it seemed, is that some states are suggesting to Afro-descendants that they should forget the past injustices meted out to the 30 million African men, women, and children, who were trafficked across the Atlantic Ocean. Just recently, it was reported in the Jamaica Gleaner that the British Minister of state with responsibility for the Caribbean, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, Lord Tariq Ahmad stated “I think it’s not important looking back in history…It’s about looking forward”. He further suggested that “it would be better for Jamaica to look ahead and to maximize its potential through robust trade rather than to peer into history.” The minister, it seemed, was echoing the sentiments of the former British Prime Minister David Cameron who, in his speech to Jamaica’s Parliament in 2015, suggested it was time for the Jamaican people to move on, and not to look back at the past. I find it interesting that the comments of both Lord Ahmad former Prime Minister Cameron, leaders of one of the top three countries that benefitted from the enslavement and exploitation of Africans, and in whose current economies there are companies and families today can be directly linked to the profits gained from the transatlantic trade. Contrary to the sentiments posited by both men, the International Decade instead strongly calls for a critical re-examining of the impact of slavery on the future of people of African descent and using the outcome of that analysis to inform policies and programs for sustainable development in the diaspora. This then leads me to invoke the wise council of Marcus Mosiah Garvey that “a people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots”
Their disparagement of historical observations have not been equitably displayed. Compare the recent celebrations of “Remembrance Day” in the UK. Each November, the (UK) honors the heroic efforts, achievements and sacrifices that were made in past wars. Remembrance Sunday is also marked by events such as memorial services, church services and parades. A national commemoration takes place at Whitehall in central London and monuments have been built in their memory. The building of these monuments is recognition of the contributions of those who served in the wars. The UK peered into history in 2007, the bicentenary of the abolition of the trafficking in enslaved Africans, when they highlighted their role in ending the trade, but not their role in forging one of the darkest chapters in human history.
So we must ask: Why should the people of Jamaica and the Caribbean be called upon to forget their forefathers and foremothers, those brave freedom fighters who fought against the injustices of slavery? Why should Why should the people of Jamaica and the Caribbean be called upon to forget their history while those that imposed that history are not being called upon to recall and acknowledge the role they played in forging it, as well as the responsibilities and accountability in addressing the legacies of that history? Recognition is Reparation, Reconciliation and Healing.
Ladies and gentlemen, the disavowal of the past is an active process.
People of African descent will continue to face systemic discrimination and invisibility for as long as there are systems, structures and government mechanisms that devalue the impact that history plays on the future development of people of African descent.
Member States, the United Nations system, and all who are here today bear a tremendous responsibility to ensure that future generations live in a world free of the scourge of racial discrimination and its manifestation in our concerted efforts to attain peace and justice. The commitments made in the Durban Declaration and the Program of Activities for the International Decade will only be words if Member States fail to adopt them and to take positive actions to create equal opportunities for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Their value depends wholly on our courage, will and determination to honor them and give them meaning.
I thank you.
1. CERD/C/GC/35 2013.
2. "White Europe"