Skip to main content

Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

A Decade of Recognition for the Contributions, Achievements, and Challenges of People of African Descent Worldwide

Decade for People of African Descent

21 March 2018

Panel discussion, New York, 21 March 2018
Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein 

Distinguishes Panellists, what an honour it is for me to be with you all


I am delighted to be here on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – which in 2018 is given even greater weight, as we mark the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Across the world, despite the abolition of slavery – and notwithstanding many victories over legalised segregation and new measures for inclusion and social justice – people of African descent continue to face racism, and racial discrimination, in a very broad range of circumstances. This racism is fuelled by messages of fear and violence that are propagated for political gain. And it impoverishes, humiliates, oppresses and excludes millions of women, men and children.

Racism harms, and only harms not just the lives of those who endure it, but also society as a whole. It deepens mistrust, casting suspicion on all sides and tearing apart the social fabric. And forcing back large numbers of people from realising their potential, it hampers the economic development to be enjoyed by everyone. The task of fully realizing the human rights of people of African descent is thus an urgent one, for all of humanity.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its mantra of "no-one left behind", is potentially a massive step forward which can bring real benefit to millions of people of African descent. Together with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the various international human rights treaties – particularly the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – the Programme of Activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent provides a solid framework for action.

The Decade is about recognition: grasping the extent and depth of racism and racial discrimination faced by people of African descent; and giving much more visibility to their history, rich culture and many achievements.

Ultimately, the Decade is about justice. Law enforcement authorities around the world disproportionately use force against people of African descent, particularly young men; and racial profiling and other forms of discrimination are endemic. Equal access to justice, and equal protection of the law at all stages of law enforcement, are essential to ending racism.

The Decade is also about economic development. People of African descent have been major contributors to the prosperity of their societies, but they have been denied their fair share of the dividends. Women and men of African descent must be active partners in determining development priorities and setting up development initiatives.

I look forward to our conversation.