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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Commemoration of the International Day forthe elimination of racial discrimination and debate on the Midterm Review of the International Decade for People of African Descent

13 March 2020

Human Rights Council 43rd Session

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 13 March 2020

Madam President,
Distinguished panellists,
Colleagues, Friends,

I am pleased to join you in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination with this important and forward-looking discussion.

Racism violates everything we stand for and everything we do.

And all of us have a responsibility to fight it.

In 2001, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action acknowledged that people of African descent continue to be victimised by the legacies of trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism.

Indeed, throughout the world – and regardless of whether they are descendants of victims of enslavement, or recent migrants – people of African descent endure intolerable discrimination and constitute some of the poorest and most marginalized groups.

Acknowledging this, and calling for recognition, justice and development, the General Assembly established the International Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015 to 2024.

The Decade is a unique platform that emphasises the important contribution made by people of African descent to every society, and promotes concrete measures to stop discrimination and promote their full inclusion.

The midterm review, which the General Assembly will convene this year, will be an opportunity for Member States to assess the Decade's progress; share good practices; and decide on further actions.

I trust that States will soon establish the long-awaited Permanent Forum on people of African descent. Among other aims, the Permanent Forum would be able to spearhead development of a draft UN declaration on promoting full respect of the human rights of people of African descent.


My Office has been engaging with States, civil society and UN agencies.  As the Coordinator of the Decade, I am pleased to say we have registered a number of important initiatives and actions undertaken by different actors.

These include legislative measures; the adoption of national action plans against discrimination; the establishment of national monitoring and complaint mechanisms; capacity building; data collection and research; community engagement and awareness-raising; and educational and outreach activities in promoting the International Decade.

Last year, the African Union officially launched the International Decade for Africa, as well as co-organising, with the Office, a regional meeting on its implementation.

The Organization of American States approved an Americas-wide Plan of Action for the Decade. The Inter-American Network of High Authorities on Policies for Afro-descendant Populations was also established, to help coordinate and promote action by national authorities.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Fundamental Rights of People of African Descent. It calls on States and EU institutions to recognize that people of African descent are subjected to racism, discrimination and xenophobia, and that they are entitled to protection from this unequal treatment, both as individuals and as a group. The resolution also urged States to develop detailed strategies to end discrimination in education, health, housing, policing, the justice system and politics.

These are important advances.

I commend the Durban follow up mechanisms for their leading role in advancing the agenda of the International Decade, in particular the Working group of Experts on people of African Descent for its visits and recommendations, which assist Governments to formulate specific human rights policies for people of African descent.

And of course, as part of our work as coordinator of the Decade, our Office continues to organize the Annual Fellowship Program for people of African descent, which to date has helped to empower more than 80 fellows from 32 countries.

I acknowledge all this progress, but we do need to see much more work to honour the commitments made by States to uphold and advance the equality and dignity of every human being.

We need to deliver change, by advancing the Programme of Activities for this vital Decade.

We need to tackle disproportionate police violence, racial profiling, mass incarceration, and structural racial discrimination in health, employment, education and housing.

I look forward to your ideas about how we can step up achievement of these goals.

Let me finish by reminding everyone that like covid-19, racism and xenophobia are contagious killers. We need to come together and continue working for the common good with conviction and determination.

Thank you.