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Statement of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent for the International Day for People of African Descent, 31 August 2021

As we mark this first International Day for People of African Descent, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent join the world in celebrating the contributions of people of African descent. These celebrations are incomplete without acknowledging the legacies of the past and making a deep commitment to dismantle systemic racism in our present. This moment is ripe for political action towards reparatory justice for people of African descent who continue to live the consequences of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism.

On this day we also welcome the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, a standing forum to amplify the voices of people of African Descent globally. This Permanent Forum is an important step in the arsenal of tools to combat racism and racial discrimination. It builds from the goals of the International Decade on People of African Descent and the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

While we have cause to celebrate these achievements, meaningful and transformative change remains elusive in many contexts as racism and racial discrimination drives expectations and norms in ways that contribute to social, economic, and political marginalization and fuels institutional and societal racism. This is further compounded in the current context by COVID-19, climate change, conflict, and social unrest.

People of African descent continue to be at the center of environmental racism and injustice. Disproportionately, these communities are facing environmental degradation and face barriers to core human rights including the right to life, right to health, right to an adequate standard of living, as well as cultural rights. Racial disparities in access to a clean and sustainable environment also intersect with disparities in food insecurity for people of African descent who disproportionately live in food deserts deprived of biodiverse food systems.

In addition to these racial disparities, institutional racism in law enforcement as exhibited by the case of George Floyd and countless others is of critical concern to the Working Group. The Working Group welcomes the landmark report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which seeks to build a transformative agenda for racial justice and equality and the establishment of an international independent expert mechanism to investigate systemic racism and law enforcement and to contribute to accountability and redress for victims and hopes this will further contribute to combating systemic racism.

Clearly much remains to be done. Existing data that examines racial disparities in law enforcement, health, housing, employment, education, the environment and other areas demonstrates heightened inequalities. In the current climate racial disparities are evident in data but often ignored in policymaking. In some countries such data does not exist which renders people of African descent invisible. COVID-19 has not only laid bare and exacerbated existing racial disparities but also compelled a rethink to build back better from the pandemic. Examining the norms that predated the pandemic may present opportunities to build new systems that are fair, just, and resilient.

Using the current momentum to acknowledge the ongoing culture of denial highlights the needs for concrete action-oriented efforts to dismantle systemic racism and wide-ranging commitments to accelerate the pace of action. Centering the voices of people of African descent in governance and decision-making is key to these efforts. On this International Day of People of African Descent, the Working Group urges member states and civil society to recommit to anti-racism and take action in ways that demonstrate public, measurable impact over the next year.