Report on Panel Discussion on Decade for People of African Descent 

United Nations Human Rights Council, 46th Session

March 12, 2021

By: Nora Futtner/GICJ

UN Web TV Screen Capture: COVID-19 health measures were apparent during the panel.

The International Decade for People of African Descent (hereafter ‘The International Decade’) was established through General Assembly Resolution 68/237 in the acknowledgement that people of African descent living around the world often experience intersecting and complex forms of discrimination that infringe upon their fundamental human rights. The theme of the International Decade, spanning from 2015-2024 is “People of African Descent: recognition, justice and development,” and the associated programme of activities is to be implemented on national, regional and international levels. At the national level, States are expected to institute programs and policies to combat racism and racial discrimination, with a specific focus on the areas of recognition, justice, development and multiple or aggravated discrimination. Action at the regional and international levels should disseminate the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), collect relevant statistical data, incorporate human rights into development programs and protect the historical memory of people of African descent.

On March 12th, the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council held a panel on the progress toward the International Decade, with a specific focus on the role of youth in realizing the goals. The discussion on the International Decade took the form of a holistic conversation, with panelists sharing their personal experiences and country-specific perspectives. Country representatives and organizations had the opportunity to share their perspectives and approach toward realizing the goals of the International Decade.


Introductory Statements by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Nada al-Nashif, launched the discussion with an overview of the current concerns impeding the full realization of the goals for the International Decade and an expression that we are at a ‘critical moment’ toward their attainment. Two decades after the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program for Action, systemic discrimination against people of African descent continues unrelentingly, in direct violation of the United Nations Charter.

UN Web TV Screen Capture: Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights commences the discussion.

Ms. Al-Nashif called attention to the violence, injustice and abuse faced by Black Lives Matter protesters in the United States during the summer of 2020, who were raising awareness about the killings of Black men and women at the hands of the police. With regards to COVID-19, Ms. Al Nashif underlined that infection, hospitalization and death rates of Black Americans are triple, double and five times those of white Americans and that the life expectancy of Black Americans declined by 2.7 years during the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, people of African descent have been four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than other groups. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified hate-based violent acts, especially against people of Asian and African descent, migrants, members of the Roma community and poor people.

The Deputy High Commissioner emphasized the important role for the contributions of young people in realizing the Durban Declaration and Plan for Action. Youth voices and opinions are important because they have been the most impacted by COVID-19, which has left 1/8 students without access to education or training, with those living in low-income countries being the most affected. In closing, Ms. Al Nashif underlined that this is an opportunity to take action, and “grasp the roots of systemic discrimination” to undo centuries of injustice.


Interventions by the Expert Panelists

Professor Rozena Maart: UN Web TV Screen Capture
Ms. Alicia Quevedos Canales: UN Web TV Screen Capture

Mr. Pradip Pariyar: UN Web TV Screen Capture

Ms. Marie-Sarah Seeberger: UN Web TV Screen Capture

Professor Rozena Maart is the Director of the Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity at the University of Kwa Zula Natal in Durban, South Africa. Professor Maart was 14 years old during the Soweto Uprising, where thousands were killed and injured for rising up against Apartheid educational structures. She emphasized the importance of young voices to create resilience and stated that without important young leaders, there would not have been the organized resistance to Apartheid that occurred.

Ms. Alicia Quevedos Canales is a Specialist on Afro-Peruvian Policies at the Ministry of Culture in Peru. Her statement addressed her personal background that came from living in a country where racism against people of African descent is prominent and is especially visible in public institutions like police stations, hospitals and schools. Ms. Canales emphasized the importance of recognizing forms of racism and discrimination, redistributing power and economic opportunities and representing the voices of people of African descent in positions of political authority.

Mr. Pradip Pariyar, Executive Chairperson of the Samata Foundation and Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum (Nepal) spoke about caste-based discrimination and race-based discrimination as parallels. Mr. Pariyar belongs to a family that comes from the lowest caste, the Dalits, who are deprived of human rights in a myriad of ways, including being unable to enter the houses of people from other castes and prohibited from entering temples. Over 260 million people experience caste-based discrimination, which has become even more apparent during COVID-19. However, Mr. Pariyar believes that by engaging and empowering the youth, change at all levels is possible.

Ms. Marie-Sarah Seeberger, Member of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomatic Corps, reiterated the commitment of the World Jewish Congress to eliminating all forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance because, “when Jews are not safe, other minorities are also not safe.” She emphasized that genocide, ethnic cleansing and discrimination continue to take place today and that minorities must work together to fight against hatred and discrimination. Ms. Seeberger emphasized the many programs of the World Jewish Congress to fight against racism through training, including working with Facebook to fight against racism and discrimination in online platforms. In conclusion, she appealed to the Council to continue to promote programs that act against racial discrimination and to encourage restorative justice in places affected by racism and discrimination.


Country Statements

Speaking on behalf of the group of African States, the representative from Cameroon emphasized the crucial role that young people have in fighting against forms of racism and related intolerance. He said that the Durban Declaration and Program for Action (DDPA) provided a key instrument with which to fight against racism, and that we must ensure that all young people have access to the tools they need to be involved in the conversation about racial justice. Senegal aligned itself with the statement given by Cameroon and touched on the fact that negative stereotypes are spread widely via social media, which must be ameliorated. The representative also asked the panel to share successful practices for combatting racism.

Ghana stated that the DDPA recognizes that people of African descent are still victimized by legacies of slavery and colonialism, and that the international community must keep in mind that most cases of racism, discrimination and extrajudicial killings have their root causes in historically entrenched racism. Ghana also urged the international community to contribute to the creation of global policy and programs to combat the negative impacts of COVID-19 on education.

UN Web TV Screen Capture: Representative of Cameroon speaks on behalf of the African Group.

Mauritius, also associated with the Cameroon statement, explained that the social systems in Mauritius fight against discrimination by ensuring that all vulnerable citizens in the country are supported by programs such as a universal pension and free housing. The Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa stated that this international day is an opportunity for all countries to reaffirm their commitment to human rights. In-line with the actions recommended by the DDPA, he stressed the importance of advancing programs that educate about racism and discrimination, because education provides “personal emancipation.” Mauritania reiterated its call that all countries must offer equal opportunities and access to livelihood, healthcare, and education to young people of African descent.

The statement of the Member States of the Caribbean Community articulated that the international decade has been a very useful asset in the campaign to combat racial discrimination, and people of African descent have often been at the frontlines of this fight. The delegate asked the panel if the international community should plan a repeat of the international decade campaign, especially considering the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Argentina spoke on behalf of Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. The representative reiterated the commitment of these states to combat racism, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance, underlining that children of African descent need to be supported in the realization of their human rights. The statement also addressed the importance of combatting negative stereotypes against people of African descent, which fosters discrimination in the areas of education, healthcare and employment. Efforts on this front must be undertaken in order to comply with the 2030 Agenda and the activity plan for the International Decade.