22 September 2021
On the twentieth anniversary of the DDPA, it is well past time to make the promise of the DDPA into a reality. The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent welcomes the UN General Assembly’s political declaration seeking to mobilizing political will at the national, regional and international levels for the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and its follow-up processes. The Working Group also seeks cooperation from Member States, civil society, and intergovernmental organizations in the full and immediate implementation of the Durban Programme of Action, action that is long overdue.
DDPA+20 should be a true call to action. A complex understanding of systemic racism, its broad reach in society, and its mechanisms to promote political will and engagement were the basis for the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action twenty years ago. Yet, today, we can measure racial disparities and the ongoing impact of systemic racism in nearly every facet of modern life, all over the world.
Thus, it is particularly troubling that Member States that would show leadership in fighting systemic racism are absent today, declining to navigate the geopolitical space with the nuance and commitment reserved for true priorities. Given what the Working Group has observed since its inception as a DDPA follow-up mechanism, it is difficult to imagine a political consideration more urgent than dismantling systemic racism, which has persisted over time and continues to structure access and obstacles to human rights, safety, and security for people of African descent globally.
Current events confirm the relevance the DDPA twenty years later. Globally, States ignored early indications that people of African descent would be particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, despite our guidance and DDPA’s discussion of the contributions of race to health disadvantage.1 Twenty years ago, at Paragraph 31, the DDPA expressed “deep concern whenever indicators in the fields of…health… show a situation of disadvantage, particularly where the contributing factors include racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Recent research indicates reparations alone would have decreased the impact of COVID-19 by 31–68% in parts of the US.2 This offers one specific context to consider the reparatory justice called for in the DDPA at Paragraphs 101 and 102, and to reflect upon the unfortunate elimination of important language calling for reparatory justice from this week’s political declaration adopted by consensus at the high-level meetings on DDPA+20 in the UN General Assembly today, A/76/L.2.
In another example of the ongoing relevance of the DDPA, Paragraph 30(e) of the DDPA urges States: “to ensure that the police and immigration authorities treat migrants in a dignified and non-discriminatory manner, in accordance with international standards.” Yet, this week, we have observed men on horseback near the Southern border of the U.S. using whips against Haitian asylum-seekers– people fleeing political instability and the recent devastating earthquake, as well as their own understanding – honed after the last earthquake – that international assistance may be inadequate at best and affirmatively toxic at worst.3
Denying the right to seek asylum and forced repatriation violate the principle of non-refoulement, central tenets of international human rights.4 But, as the DDPA indicates, considering race is necessary to an accurate understanding of the current context. As some courts have acknowledged, including in the recent case of
US v. Carillo-Lopez, No. 3:20-cr-00026-MMD-WGC2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155741, 2021 WL 3667330, immigration laws and enforcement framework were built on a racially discriminatory framework, i.e., an acknowledged intent to discriminate on the basis of race. In an enforcement framework grounded in racial animus, seemingly neutral actions may perpetuate a failure of equal protection under the law. Moreover, the “blood memories” of people of African descent, as Alvin Ailey might say, are triggered by media images that mirror precisely the patter rollers, white slave patrols employed to surveil and control enslaved Black people, and the lynch mobs which continued this atrocity even afterward. In these images and these actions, the persistence of racial animus is inherent and evident in this similar exercise of discretion.
Twenty years ago, the DDPA offered the language and the framework to ensure commitments to racial equality and racial equity could be realized. However, the goals of the DDPA require political will. This includes examining what entrenched and systemic patterns continue to perpetuate inequality and discrimination. Today, it is time to step forward, into the potential and the promise of racial equality the DDPA proffered. On this twentieth anniversary of the DDPA, the Working Group urges all States to act urgently with the tools provided by the DDPA, including existing analyses from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Racism, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and civil society, to begin dismantling systemic racism.
1. In Europe and the Americas, of African descent reported increases in racial profiling, police violence, and abuses of authority in police encounters during the pandemic. Yet twenty years ago, the DDPA (Paragraphs 71- 72) urged all member States to design, implement, and enforce measures against racial profiling and to address police misconduct, recognizing the dramatic violations to the human rights against people of African descent licensed by silence and complicity.
2. Eugene T. Richardson, Momin M. Malik, William A. Darity, A. Kirsten Mullen, Michelle E. Morse, Maya Malik, Aletha Maybank, Mary T. Bassett, Paul E. Farmer, Lee Worden, James Holland Jones, (2021)
Reparations for Black American descendants of persons enslaved in the U.S. and their potential impact on SARS-CoV-2 transmission,
Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 276, p. 113741. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953621000733)
3. Brett Wilkins,
Border Patrol Accused of 'Unfathomable Cruelty' for Cracking Whips on Haitians, Common Dreams (Sept. 20, 2021) (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/09/20/border-patrol-accused-unfathomable-cruelty-cracking-whips-haitians)
Comment by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on conditions and expulsions at US border (Sept. 21, 2021) (https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2021/9/614a27324/news-comment-un-high-commissioner-refugees-filippo-grandi-conditions-expulsions.html)