International Decade for Peoples of African Descent (January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2024).

African Descents © OHCHR/Photo Christine WambaaThe World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban in 2001, adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. This document records a commitment by States to work together to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It is a comprehensive and action-oriented road map, offering a functional common approach to realize the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action specify that a victim-oriented approach is an important tool to eliminate racial discrimination. Specific reference is made to Africans and people of African descent, Asians and persons of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, minorities, the Roma and others.

Paragraph 7 of the Durban Programme of Action specifically "requests the Commission on Human Rights to consider establishing a working group or other mechanism of the United Nations to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the African Diaspora and make proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent".

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was first established by UN Commission of Human Rights resolution 2002/68 of 25 April 2002, in accordance with the request contained in paragraph 7 of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001.

The Working Group’s task is “to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the African Diaspora and make proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent". Its mandate has been reconfirmed and expanded by the UN Human Rights Council, the successor of the Commission of Human Rights.

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Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France (France)

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Verene Shepherd (Jamaica)

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Monorama Biswas (Bangladesh)

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Mirjana Najčevska (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)

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Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa)

UN expert group calls for the recognition of people of African descent

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent presented its latest report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The main focus of their report, recognition through education, cultural rights and data collection for the promotion of racial equality, were also suggested focus areas for the International Decade for People of African Descent the experts have supported.

“People of African descent must be recognized in national constitutions, legislation, in public life, the media, through education and awareness-raising measures,” said Mirjana Najchevska, member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. “Recognition should start with education.”

Najchevska noted that millions of people of African descent were prevented from extracting themselves from historical exclusion and discrimination because of their disproportionately unequal access to quality education.

“Children of African descent often suffer silently when confronted by racist bullies at schools. Students should learn in an environment free from racist and hostile attitudes of teachers and peers. They should be protected from these acts, and perpetrators should be punished,” Najchevska said.

The report of the Working Group indicated that areas where people of African descent reside often offered poor education facilities and lacked proper infrastructure conducive to teaching and learning.

“States should go beyond building schools and put more emphasis on the ultimate goal of education: guaranteeing equal opportunities, equal achievement outcomes and social mobility,” Najchevska said.

The group of experts also highlighted that data collection was a key factor in overcoming the historical “social invisibility” faced by people of African descent; investigating cases of racial discrimination; and formulating and monitoring racial-equality policies at national, regional and local levels.

Najchevska emphasized that data collection to promote racial equality did not contradict the right to privacy as long as the data was based on self-identification, in accordance with human rights and fundamental freedoms and protected from misuse.

The report also recalled that multicultural education and dialogue could favour the elimination of sociocultural ideas inherited from the periods of slavery and colonialism endured by people of African descent.

The expert also raised the very serious problem of racial profiling, which is inextricably linked to high rates of police violence, arrests, imprisonment and discrimination against people of African descent in the justice system.

“For some, mainly young men of African descent, racial profiling can have lethal consequences,” Najchevska said.

A Decade for people of African descent will certainly contribute to overcoming these problems. A Decade would surely help in joining efforts by States, civil society and the international community in this long path towards true equality.

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Mandate of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Its mandate, spelled out in resolution 2002/68 o.p. 8 and further expanded in resolution 2003/30, o.p. 24-25 is to.

  • study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the Diaspora and to this end gather all relevant information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources, including through holding public meetings with them;
  • propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent,
  • submit recommendations on the design, implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent;
  • elaborate short, medium and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent, bearing in mind the need for close collaboration with international and development institutions and the specialized agencies of the United Nations system to promote the human rights of people of African descent, inter alia through:
    • (i) Improving the human rights situation of people of African descent by devoting special attention to their needs, inter alia through the preparation of specific programmes of action;
    • (ii) Designing special projects, in collaboration with people of African descent, to support their initiatives at the community level and to facilitate the exchange of information and technical know-how between these populations and experts in these areas;
    • (iii) Developing programmes intended for people of African descent allocating additional investments to health systems, education, housing, electricity, drinking water and environmental
  • control measures and promoting equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative or positive action initiatives, within the human rights framework;
  • make proposals on the elimination of racial discrimination against Africans and people of African descent in all parts of the world;
  • address all the issues concerning the well-being of Africans and people of African descent contained in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action;

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In 2008, the Working Group's mandate was extended for a further three years by Human Rights Council resolution 9/14 which also entrusted it:

(a) To study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora and, to that end, gather all relevant information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources, including through the holding of public meetings with them;

(b) To propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent;

(c) To submit recommendations on the design, implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent;

(d) To make proposals on the elimination of racial discrimination against Africans and people of African descent in all parts of the world;

(e) To address all the issues concerning the well-being of Africans and people of African descent contained in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action;

(f) To elaborate short-, medium- and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent, bearing in mind the need for close collaboration with international and development institutions and the specialized agencies of the United Nations system to promote the human rights of people of African descent through, inter alia, the following activities:

(i) Improving the human rights situation of people of African descent by devoting special attention to their needs through, inter alia, the preparation of specific programmes of action;
(ii) Designing special projects, in collaboration with people of African descent, to support their initiatives at the community level and to facilitate the exchange of information and technical know-how between these populations and experts in these areas;
(iii) Liaising with financial and developmental institutional and operational programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations, with a view to contribute to the development programmes intended for people of African descent by allocating additional investments to health systems, education, housing, electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures and promoting equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative or positive measures and strategies within the human rights framework;

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In the discharge of the functions entrusted to it:

(a) The Working Group holds a 5-day session every year. At its first session, the Working Group decided to organize its work on a thematic basis. In this regard, the Group has thus far examined the themes of administration of justice, the media, access to education, racism and employment, racism and health, and racism and housing vis-à-vis people of African descent

(b) The Working Group conducts country visits upon the invitation of the Government, in order to facilitate in-depth understanding of the situation of people of African descent in various regions of the world.

(c) The Working Group submits a report of the annual session to the Human Rights Council, presenting its findings, conclusions and recommendations.

On 18 December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent . The Year aimed at strengthening national action and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent. This includes their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture.

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Around 200 million people who identify themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent. In proclaiming this International Year, the international community is recognising that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected.

The main objective of the Year is to raise awareness of the challenges facing people of African descent. It is hoped that the Year will foster discussions that will generate proposals for solutions to tackle these challenges.

To the dismay of many sceptics, this proclamation did not fall on deaf ears. Several activities were organized throughout the year to celebrate African cultures, and to highlight the importance of their history and the urgency of their plights today.

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Of these events, two in particular are worth mentioning. In August, the Afro XXI Ibero-American encounter of Afro-descendants was held in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Among the issues debated by the participants were those of citizenship and rights of Afro-descendant peoples in Ibero-America. Later in the year, in December, the First World Summit of Afro-Descendants took place in La Ceiba, Honduras. Although touching on similar topics, this time the participants went a step further and agreed to demand from the UN the creation of a development fund to fight poverty and protect the rights of people of African descent.

Now, as a result of the debates held at these summits, the UN General Assembly has recommended to the working group that has dedicated much of its time over the past years to find effective ways of fighting racism and xenophobia, to work on the development of a plan of action, with a view to proclaiming the decade starting in 2015, as the Decade for People of African Descent.

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