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Negative racial stereotyping violates human rights of people of African descent, say UN experts

30 October 2019

NEW YORK (30 October 2019) – Racial stereotyping and negative characterisations of people of African descent, which were created to justify the enslavement of Africans, continue to harm people and violate their human rights, a group of UN experts has told the General Assembly in New York.

“People’s ability to enjoy key human rights is being dramatically curtailed by racial bias in decision-making that is grounded in false beliefs,” said Ahmed Reid, who chairs the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. “This bias has such a systemic impact that people face similar challenges in different countries.”

The Working Group presented a report setting out the historical context of racial stereotyping, and highlighting States’ obligations to address it through a human rights framework.

The report analyses how people are perceived and misrepresented, and the link with incitement to hatred and hate crimes. It highlights areas of concern such as stereotyping in communication, including advertising, and the detrimental impact of racial stereotypes and stereotyping on human rights, notably in the justice sector and other areas of economic, social and cultural life.

“We have to understand and acknowledge the harm being doing by these racial stereotypes before we can guarantee respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights for people of African descent,” said Reid.

“Negative racial stereotypes and false characterisations must be dismantled by changing the narrative and addressing the racism that continues to exist in the decision-making, policies and practices in our societies.

“Member States should take resolute action to counter any tendency by law enforcement officials, politicians and educators to target, stigmatise, stereotype or profile people of African descent on the basis of race.  They must also strongly reject any incitement to discrimination or violence against people of African descent, including on the internet.”

The experts said schoolchildren faced indirect discrimination through negative stereotypes and imagery in teaching materials. States should ensure that children are taught the histories and cultures of people of African descent and the history of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and make teaching culturally and linguistically relevant for children of African descent.


The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts: Mr. Ahmed Reid (Jamaica), current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms Dominique Day (United States of America), Vice-Chairperson; Mr. Michal Balcerzak (Poland); Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa), and Mr. Ricardo A. Sunga III (The Philippines).

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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