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Midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

22 July 2021

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Excellencies,
Leaders of Afrodescendent communities,

I am delighted to join you today, at this crucial moment for racial justice and equality, and at the mid-point of the International Decade for People of African Descent which I am honoured to coordinate.

Seven years ago, this Assembly powerfully recommitted itself to racial justice and equality by proclaiming the International Decade for people of African descent.

In line with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action -- the landmark comprehensive framework adopted by the international community to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which will soon mark its 20th anniversary – the Decade was a clear statement that specific, concrete and affirmative measures must be taken to promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights of people of African descent.

In the past five years, there have been a number of concrete measures to implement the programme of activities of the International Decade, and combat the discrimination faced by people of African descent.

Several countries now have some form of governmental mechanism dedicated to Afrodescendent issues or racial equality. 

Some States have recognized the rights of people of African descent in their national constitutions. States have adopted domestic legislation that punishes racial discrimination, or laws that recognize the collective rights of people of African descent, including over their ancestral lands.

A number of States have adopted national action plans against racism, or specific policies that affirm the rights of people of African descent.

In some cases, ethno-racial self-identification questions are now included in the national census. The implementation of affirmative action policies to increase access to education is another example of the good practices currently underway to combat generational inequalities. 

At the regional level, the Organization of American States, the African Union, the European Parliament and European Commission have endorsed the Decade, instituted regional plans of action, or recognized the specific form of racism faced by people of African descent.

Through technical cooperation, my Office continues to assist Member States in drafting national racial equality laws and policies. Our Fellowship Programme contributes to the empowerment of young people of African descent, and we continue to support research efforts to understand the magnitude of racism and develop specific tools to tackle it.

We are also improving our coordination with other UN entities on these issues. Tomorrow morning a cultural event honouring the richness of Afrodescendant culture, which we organized jointly with UNFPA and the Global Communication Department will be featured on UNTV and YouTube, and you are of course cordially invited.

Moreover, in many States, difficult discussions on the legacy of enslavement, the Transatlantic trade in enslaved people and colonialism are beginning to take place. There have been a number of local, national or regional initiatives towards truth-seeking and some forms of reparations, including memorialization, acknowledgements, apologies and litigation.

However, I regret that no State has yet adopted comprehensive measures that sufficiently acknowledge, address or mitigate the crimes of the past and their living legacy in discrimination, exploitation and suffering.

 Indeed, there is still a great deal of work to do on all these issues. We cannot dismantle centuries of racism in one decade.

People of African descent continue to suffer greater poverty. They endure unacceptable violence, including at the hands of the police. They rely on often inadequate basic infrastructure services; disproportionately lack adequate access to quality education, health and social protection services and are less likely than others to find decent work.

These and other wide-ranging obstacles to fundamental rights are further heightened by intersectionality, with women of African descent, in particular, forced to endure multiple forms of discrimination.

The resilience they nontheless demonstrate is remarkable – leading them to survive and overcome enslavement and repeated attempts to render them invisible.

My Office is strongly engaged in the struggle to eradicate and address the many forms of discrimination endured by people of African descent.

Earlier this month I presented a four point agenda on transformative change towards racial justice and equality to the Human Rights Council. It makes urgent recommendations to dismantle systemic racism, and to ensure the accountability of law enforcement officials and in criminal justice system. It adds concrete measures to make sure that the concerns of people of African descent and all those who stand up against racism are heard and acted upon, that legacies are confronted, including through accountability and redress.

The work of recovering from the pandemic gives all policy-makers an opportunity to implement structural and transformative changes towards a more inclusive, sustainable world, free of racism and racial discrimination.

I look forward to your insights and guidance.

Thank you.