UN Launches International Decade for People of African Descent
January 1, 2015 marked the beginning of the International Decade for People of African Descent, a United Nations-initiated framework for strengthening national, regional, and international cooperation in pursuit of the full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and equal participation in all aspects of society by people of African descent. [UN: Plan of Action] The UN General Assembly dedicated the next decade to people of African descent due to the stark reality that millions “continue to be victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including their contemporary manifestations, some of which take violent forms.” UN General Assembly, Resolution 68/237, Proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, UN Doc. A/RES/68/237, 23 December 2013, Preamble.
On the occasion of the launch of the International Decade, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri stated:
The road to a world free from racism, prejudice and stigma is rocky. Combating racial discrimination is a long-term effort. 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 make the Decade effective an[d] to continue our path toward equal and just societies.
Approximately 200 million individuals living in the Americas identify as being of African descent and millions more live in other parts of the world. See UN, International Decade for People of African Descent. Individuals of African descent, whether they are descendants of victims of the transatlantic slave trade or more recent migrants, are among the “poorest and most marginalized groups. UN, International Decade for People of African Descent, Background. In addition to having “limited access to quality education, health services, housing and social security,” discrimination often prevents people of African descent from accessing justice and causes them to be subject to higher rates of police violence and racial profiling. Id. Moreover, the intersection of discrimination on other grounds, such as age, sex, religion, language, disability, social origin, and more, frequently compounds the discrimination suffered by people of African descent.
Plan of Action for the International Decade
The UN General Assembly assigned the International Decade for People of African Descent the theme, “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.” See Resolution 68/237, at Preamble. The main goals of the International Decade are to:
Promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
Promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies;
Adopt and strengthen national, regional, and international legal frameworks according to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to ensure their full and effective implementation.
UN, International Decade for People of African Descent, Plan of Action.
Buildup to the International Decade
UN Member States convened in 2001 to hold the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, with the goal of creating “a new world vision for the fight against racism in the twenty-first century.” See World Conference against Racism, Basic Information. A significant outcome of WCAR was the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DPPA), which represented an acknowledgement that people of African descent “were victims of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism, and continue to be victims of their consequences.” UN, International Decade for People of African Descent, Background.
In addition to recognizing the continuing need to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and racial intolerance, participants in the conference developed a “practical and workable” program of action, which included calls for States to:
- address the sources, causes, forms, and contemporary manifestations of racism and other forms of racial intolerance by taking steps to eradicate poverty and enter into dialogues with other States;
- protect the human rights of victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance, in part by investing in health-care systems, public health, and education and increasing public policies and actions that favor women and young men of African descent;
- undertake measures to prevent, educate, and protect racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance by adopting and implementing appropriate measures and policies at the national, regional, and international levels;
- provide effective remedies, recourse, redress, and other measures at the national, regional, and international levels, in part by making legal assistance available to victims, prohibiting racial discrimination and providing for effective judicial and other remedies in States’ national legislative frameworks, and ensuring that victims can access effective and adequate remedies, reparation, and compensation; and
- adopt strategies to achieve full and effective equality by adhering to UN and other international mechanisms aimed at combating racism and related forms of racial intolerance.
See Durban Plan of Action, Parts I-V.
Ten years later, as the international community celebrated the International Year for People of African Descent, the UN General Assembly commemorated the adoption of the DDPA by adopting, by consensus, a political declaration calling on the UN, UN Member States, international and regional organizations, and other stakeholders to “intensify their efforts in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” UN General Assembly, Elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, UN Doc. A/66/L.2, 22 September 2011, para. 11.
Then, in December 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/237, proclaiming the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent on January 1, 2015.
Last month, the General Assembly adopted a program of activities for the implementation of the International Decade. See UN General Assembly, Resolution 69/16, Programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, UN Doc. A/RES/69/19, 18 November 2014. The document enumerates steps that States should take at the national level to combat racism, particularly in the areas of recognition, justice, development, and multiple or aggravated discrimination. For a brief list of steps States should take to ensure recognition, justice, development, and the end of multiple and aggravated discrimination, see the UN’s International Decade website.
The program of activities also calls upon the international community and international and regional organizations to raise awareness, help States fully and effectively implement their commitments under the DDPA, and preserve the historical memory of people of African descent. See Resolution 69/16, Annex para. 28.
The UN General Assembly set for itself the tasks of establishing a forum to serve as a consultation mechanism, convening a final assessment of the Decade, and establishing a permanent memorial at the UN headquarters to honor the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Id. at para. 29.
For upcoming events related to the International Decade for People of African Descent, visit the Activities page of the International Decade website. More information on the activities of UN bodies and officials dedicated to fighting racial discrimination can be found on the websites of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For additional information on the UN human rights bodies, visit the IJRC Online Resource Hub.