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A year for people of African descent

30 December 2011

“Millions of people of African descent around the world are still unaware that they have rights they can demand, and that their governments are accountable to them, and to a wide-ranging body of rights-based national and international law. Despite all our work over the last months, this International Year will pass many people of African descent by,” noted UN Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, in a statement to mark the closing by the UN General Assembly of the International Year for People of African Descent.

During a high-level thematic debate, UN Member States, civil society representatives and human rights experts discussed the achievements of the Year.

The UN Human Rights office established the first-ever human rights Fellowship Programme aiming to empower people of African descent. Participants in the fellowship are given an intensive learning opportunity to deepen their understanding of the UN human rights system, instruments and mechanisms, with a focus on issues of particular relevance them.

In 2011, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted its ‘General Recommendation’ focusing on racial discrimination endured by Afro-descendants.

The General Assembly recently adopted a resolution encouraging the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African descent to develop a Programme of Action for a Decade of People of African descent (2013 – 2023) for adoption by the Human Rights Council.

Mirjana Najchevska, the Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, noted however that the activities undertaken by States around the world to commemorate the International Year did not match the importance of the objectives: to fight the “invisibility” of Afro-descendants and acknowledge discrimination as a consequence of the slave trades.

“Proclamation of the Decade is more than giving the next 10 years a name … It is a chance to develop far more intensive measures for eliminating, or at least seriously reducing structural discrimination [against people of African descent],” said Najchevska.

At the meeting, participants urged the development of a UN declaration on the rights of people of African descent and greater efforts to build a memorial for the victims of the slave trades. The representative of civil society organizations also called for the creation of a special section within the UN Human Rights office to specifically focus on the promotion and protection of the human rights of people of African descent.

“Anti-discrimination work is a long-term process. It requires commitment and persistence. People of African descent need encouragement and support.  Member States have the moral and legal obligation to provide sustained political and financial backing to continue our path toward equal and just societies,” Navi Pillay noted.

30 December 2011