The 51st Session of the Human Rights Council
12 September – 7 October 2022
Item 4: Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on People of African Descent
3 October 2022
By Jamel Nampijja / GICJ
On the 3rd of October 2022, Ms Catherine Namakula, the Chairperson of the Working Group (WG) on people of African Descent, presented three reports during the 32nd Meeting of the 51st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council; the annual report (A/HRC/51/54), the WG’s visits to Portugal (A/HRC/51/54/Add.2), and visit to Switzerland (A/HRC/51/54/Add.1).
The annual report focused on the theme "children of African descent" to discuss the global human rights situation of people of African descent. It provided an overview of the working group's 30th session held in New York from the 23rd to the 27th May 2022. The second and third reports provided updates on Portugal and Switzerland country visits. The WG met with the governments, national institutions, civil society organisations, people of African descent, human rights activists, lawyers, and academics.
The reports explored the human rights situation for people of African descent and the challenges they faced, such as racism, discrimination. In addition, it includes inequality faced by children of African descent in all areas of their lives. This entails development, education, health, family-regulation systems, administration of justice, law enforcement and redress for legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and racial segregation.
The 30th session held seven thematic panels with themes including "Safeguarding the health and well-being of children of African descent", "Intergenerational deprivation, and anti-Black racism: asset-building for the economic and financial freedom of children of African descent", "Repairing the world for the future of children of African descent" among others.
During the Interactive Dialogue, delegates and non-government organisations welcomed the working group's report. They shared the WG's concern about continuing incidents of racially motivated violence against people of African descent, including rampant gun violence, not only by police forces but by civilians, including supremacist, racist and neo-fascist groups and individuals. They called for comprehensive policy reform to address systemic racism to ensure that public services are child-friendly, responsive, and non-punitive. States were urged to strengthen national statistical systems for data disaggregation to form better policy responses that tackle racism, discrimination, and inequality.
Representatives and civil society raised questions concerning a range of topics including, what tools are needed to end systematic and institutionalised discrimination, how States can ensure equality in promoting the protection of the human rights of people of African descent and how States can support participatory policy reviews at the national, regional, and international levels to understand the challenges better and inform actions toward racial justice in migration governance alongside migrants' expertise.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ)
During the Interactive Dialogue, Geneva International Centre for Justice and EAFORD delivered a joint statement, on behalf of the two organisations, Ms Emily Bare of GICJ welcomed the report by the Working Group on people of African descent and called for special measures to be incorporated to combat the racial discrimination and inequality children face. Furthermore, the joint statement called for effectively including victims and affected communities in discussions regarding accountability and redress.
Finally, GICJ highlighted the need to identify and address the invisible racial challenges, such as mental slavery and child sexual slavery, as these negative results withhold the legacies of slavery and colonialism.
The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted in 2001 at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban. The Commission on Human Rights was requested to establish a mechanism for the United Nations to address the challenge of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the African Diaspora to provide proposals for eliminating racial discrimination against people of African descent.
In 2002 the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD) was established as a Special Procedure (resolution 2002/68). The WGEPAD comprises five independent experts elected for three years. The WGEPAD are appointed based on equitable geographic representation.
They hold two annual sessions and undertake country visits under the Communications Procedure. The WG reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on activities relating to the mandate.
Under the mandate, the WG has to submit recommendations on implementing and enforcing effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent, design projects in collaboration with people of African descent, support initiatives at the community level, and facilitate the exchange of information between these populations and experts in these areas. In 2008 the WG was authorised to propose measures to ensure complete and adequate access to the justice system (resolution 9/14).
During its twenty-ninth session, held in Geneva from the 15th to the 19th of November 2021, Catherine S. Namakula was elected Chair of the Working Group.
Report of the Chairperson
Ms Namakula stated that the legacy of children of African descent is tainted by racial discrimination stemming from the unresolved legacies of the slave trade, colonialism, post-colonialism, and segregation. However, the human rights and best interests of children of African descent are not proportionately protected.
Stereotyping, including the harmful myth of super-predators, influences decision-making concerning children and youth of African descent in legal systems throughout the diaspora.
Children of African descent face heavier policing, more arrests, racial profiling, unnecessary strip searches, and police brutality. However, criminal justice systems disproportionately represent children of African descent. Systemic racism is often demonstrated in the contrast between positive responses and the experiences of children of African descent and child-centred responses to the delinquency of other children.
She urged the Member States to address police brutality in the lives of children of African descent, including adopting a public health approach to public safety that safeguards against discrimination by the criminal justice system by using existing racial disparities as a guide to target improvements.
Ms Namakula highlighted the importance of States ensuring that children of African descent are protected from all forms of racial discrimination, stigmatisation, psychological and physical violence. She urged States to ensure that schools are free from racist and hostile attitudes perpetuated by teachers and peers, including negative racial stereotypes and imagery in teaching materials that are concrete.
The report acknowledged the vital role of youths in mobilising for change. It emphasised that anti-racism movements and initiatives led by young people of African descent should be encouraged, supported, and protected. It is crucial to develop and implement policies addressing racism and discrimination with full participation and inclusion of children and youth of African descent.
Ms Namakula commended states that have begun revising and developing specific programmes of action and teaching materials that respect and recognise historical contributions by Africans and people of African descent; a move that is both a reparative and protective measure that need to be emulated by other States.
The WG provided several recommendations to States, and national and international organisations, including ensuring that children of African descent are protected from direct or indirect racial discrimination, stigmatisation, psychological and physical violence, and bullying.
Second report; country visit to Portugal
From the 29th of November to the 6th of December 2021, the working group visited Lisbon, Setúbal, and Porto. The WG welcomed the positive steps taken to guarantee the human rights of people of African descent, including the emerging discourse on systemic racism in Portugal and adoption of the national plan to combat racism and discrimination.
Despite the positive measures taken, people of African descent in Portugal continue to experience systemic racism. Several of the working group's previous concerns remain unabated and recommendations remain unimplemented. Moreover, the lack of racially disaggregated data significantly limits the ability of the State to recognise, acknowledge and take action on severe human rights violations in communities of African descent.
The WG urged the government to constitute an independent oversight mechanism to address allegations of police misconduct by creating an independent inquiry into widespread allegations of police brutality to identify the victims and afford them redress. Also, the WG urged the government of Portugal to facilitate the process of reparatory justice for people of African descent.
Third Report; Country visit to Switzerland
From the 17th to the 26th of January 2022, the WG visited the cantons of Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, and Zurich in Switzerland. They welcomed the federal government's excellent practices and ideological commitment to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, including establishing a national human rights institution.
However, despite these positive measures, people of African descent in Switzerland continue to experience significant structural racial discrimination and anti-black racism, which seriously impacts their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. Asylum seekers and refugees of African descent report intersectional racism and xenophobia, including a lack of translation facilities, shifting barriers to opportunity, and harsh racialised treatment by police and prison personnel, sometimes with impunity.
The WG made several recommendations to Switzerland, including providing measures to assess, replicate and scale effective local and international anti-racism initiatives, to strengthen accountability measures, especially the proposednational human rights institutions and Commission. Furthermore, the WG urged Switzerland to include a mandate to adjudicate independent complaints, individual complaints.
The representative of Portugal reiterated the country's firm commitment to maintaining strong cooperation with mandate holders. He stated that fighting discrimination is an ongoing challenge for Portugal and combatting racism against persons of African descent is a top priority. In 2021, the State approved its first national plan for equality and non-discrimination to combat racism and discrimination, the first plan of its kind in the European Union.
He stated that in 2017, Portugal adopted laws against discrimination based on race, such as the law to prevent discriminatory practices by the police force. In addition, accountability measures for law enforcement officers, such as the compulsory use of body cameras and video surveillance, became law and should be implemented by the end of 2022.
He stated that Portugal is in the process of creating an independent observatory on hate speech and racism, as well as noting an emerging representation of people of African descent in leadership and policy-making roles, including women of African descent.
The representative of Switzerland endorsed the position of the WG that racism and racial discrimination, including against people of African descent, are problems that need to be addressed urgently. Institutional racism and structural racism are already recognised as a problem and are the subject of increasing debate among authorities and politicians in Switzerland.
He highlighted Switzerland's three areas of commitment and achievements: All 26 cantons of Switzerland adopted the cantonal integration programmes introduced in 2014 by the federal and cantonal authorities to combat discrimination. Additionally, all cantons have a counselling centre for victims of racial discrimination. The network of centres also provides essential data to determine where racial discrimination problems are most prevalent and where they still need to intensify their efforts.
Furthermore, training focusing on the aspects of dignity and human rights, as well as courses regarding diversity management and anti-discrimination, are an integral part of police training to ensure that each member of law enforcement acquires the skills required. Finally, federal authorities support several civil society initiatives on projects that combat anti-black racism.
Interactive Dialogue on the Working Group’s report
The representative of Côte d'Ivoire, on behalf of the African group, called for concerted efforts to defend and promote the rights of children of African descent as they would of children of other races. He stressed that the intergovernmental working group on the DDPA has been tasked to commence drafting the United Nations Declaration on promoting respect for the human rights of people of African descent which should ensure the core promotion and protection of all human rights of people of African descent. The representative stated that it is instrumental for all States to engage and actively participate in the drafting to mobilise the political will behind it.
The representative of the European Union stated that the European Commission adopted the first comprehensive strategy on child's rights in March 2021. A process that provides concrete actions aimed at strengthening participation, including fighting child poverty, promoting inclusivity, combating violence against children, implementing child-friendly justice systems, and creating the conditions for children to navigate the digital environment safely. Additionally, children of more racial and ethnic backgrounds must have equal access.
The representative stressed that children should be educated about race and racism, equality and respect, diversity and inclusion and be empowered to promote such values among their peers and in their communities. Access to non-segregated, quality education should be guaranteed. She called on Ms Namakula to elaborate on why education is a potential vehicle for change.
The representative of Costa Rica highlighted the vulnerability of children of African descent at schools and study centres; she stated that children continue to face discrimination, censorship of hairstyles, hate speech, bullying, racism, and xenophobia at school, thus, limiting their opportunities for the development and enjoyment of their human rights.
Additionally, the representative called on States to revise textbooks and educational curriculums that focus on white supremacy ideologies to eliminate these racist biases and highlight the achievements and contributions of all cultures and races.
Furthermore, the representative urged States to comply with their obligations of special protection for children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to include the voices of children of African descent in the development of public policy.
The representative of UN Women stressed that it is fundamental to support women of African descent's empowerment and advocate for their significant participation in public life. The representative stressed the importance of the continued follow-up of cases mentioned in the report, including potential threats and retaliation against human rights defenders working to ensure access to justice for families and accountability of the state agents involved.
Furthermore, the representative called for transformative change, including adequate legislation and dedicated funding to fulfil the human rights of women and girls and end impunity. She asked the working group how UN women could contribute to the coordinated efforts to protect the rights of women and girls of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations perpetrated by state agents.
The representative of South Africa stated that children of African descent are too often victims of systemic racism by law enforcement because of racial profiling and by the criminal justice system. Thus, the international community should find concrete solutions to ensure that children of African descent are not put on trial as young adults to receive much harsher sentences than their white counterparts.
Furthermore, she asserted that children of African descent often suffer in silence when confronted by racist bullies at school, mainly because the environment is not conducive for them to report such incidents. She stressed the need for children to be able to study in environments free from prejudice and animosity.
He urged the international community to make concerted efforts to promote and protect the rights of children of African descent, as they would for children of other races. Still, she called on States to ensure the full and effective implementation of the DDPA.
The representative of the United States called for renewed commitments to mainstream approaches that diminish the vulnerabilities faced by children of African descent in health, education, and overall quality of life. She highlighted that the Biden-Harris administration had prioritised efforts to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students, improved health outcomes for black children in families, and transformed public education with historic funding increases.
Furthermore, she stressed that children and families of African descent in the United States are disproportionately and adversely affected by child welfare systems. However, the government is committed to identifying barriers and establishing a policy to prevent unnecessary foster care placements, support families, and keep families together.
The representative of the Holy See stressed that the ongoing practices of racial profiling and discriminated treatment of people of African descent during conflict are concerning. They are already suffering the hardship of war and face discrimination due to the colour of their skin.
He stated that the conflict in Ukraine highlighted racial discrimination against people of African descent who were discriminated against by Border Patrol officials, humanitarian aid organisations and host communities.
He emphasised that refugees should be welcomed, protected, promoted, and integrated into their host communities regardless of their race, sex, country, region, culture or religion and should never be treated as a burden. He highlighted the contribution of migrants and refugees as fundamental to our societies' social and economic growth.
The representative of Luxembourg iterated that the 2030 UNSDGs call for establishing legal systems that leave no one behind. Therefore, it is intolerable for the lives of children of African descent to be ruined by racism rooted in the very foundations of legal systems. She stated that it is unacceptable that children of African descent or any other person of African descent continue to be targeted by acts of racism and discrimination in society and within legal systems.
Additionally, she stated that Luxembourg is working to implement the recommendation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to ensure the justice system is amended to protect minors, making their protection the priority. Furthermore, she inquired about what data is most important to protect the rights of children and adolescents of African descent.
Ms Namakula answered questions raised during the interactive Dialogue. For Switzerland to better equip itself with adequate, reliable information, she urged the Swiss government to utilise the report's findings as an opportunity to bridge the current gap in communication between the State and the people of African descent.
Furthermore, she stated that education is an opportunity and a requirement to negate the attitude of racism. She particularly highlighted the need to dismantle systemic racism by teaching authentic African history that manifests the precolonial greatness of the African continent worldwide. Besides, she condemned European institutions' continued exclusion of African educational qualifications, which excludes African migrants in the skilled labour market.
Ms Namakula highlighted the need for racially disaggregated data, including the income status of households, housing dedication levels, and criminal justice measures subjection to enhance the understanding, programming and track progress made by States if any. Additionally, she endorsed strategic litigation at national and international levels, such as a racial justice indicator that would inform engagements among states.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
GICJ condemns the discrimination and violence against Africans and people of African descent, including the persistent police brutality and institutional and structural racism in some of the world's criminal justice systems.
We are concerned by the glorification of the colonial legacy in Portugal and the persistent denial by Switzerland of its colonial participation via corporate and institutional practices.
Unacknowledged legacies of colonialism and the African slave trade remain a principal source hindering people of African descent from enjoying their human rights. The impact of these legacies in contemporary society is leading to the global deterioration of the human rights of people of African descent. People of African descent, particularly children, must be protected from these legacies.
Therefore, we urge States to create and implement public policies and programs that protect and promote the human rights and general well-being of people of African descent, especially children. Likewise, we call on States to prioritise the provision of equitable access to education and environments free from discriminatory attitudes to combat racism and ensure the child's best interests.
GICJ urges States to take all necessary measures to ensure that Artificial Intelligence technologies do not reinforce legacies of racism and biases towards Africans and people of African descent. AI algorithms such as facial recognition used by the police are misclassifying and misidentifying people of African descent.
Furthermore, we call for sustained multilateral efforts and global solidarity to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Therefore, we urge States to fully implement the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA) as it is fundamental in promoting equality and the fight against racial discrimination and racism.
Working Group, Interactive Dialogue, People of African Descent, African Diaspora, Racism, Discrimination, Fight Racism, End Discrimination, Human Rights, Human rights Council, HRC51, Regular Session, Human Rights, Geneva International Centre for Justice, GICJ, Geneva4Justice