Photo: United Nations
The UN on Tuesday celebrated the enormous contributions the African diaspora has made in every field of human endeavour, marking the first-ever International Day for People of African Descent.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a greater commitment to advance the promise of equality, justice and dignity for all, in his inaugural message.
“It is a long overdue recognition of the profound injustices and systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, and continue to confront today,” the Secretary-General said.
“And it is an urgent call to action for everyone, everywhere, to commit to rooting out the evil of racism.”
More than 200 million people in the Americas alone identify as being of African descent. Millions more are located worldwide outside the African continent.
Whether as descendants of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, or as more recent migrants, they are among some of the poorest and most marginalized groups, the UN said.
Last December, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the International Day.
The objective was “to promote greater recognition and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.”
Now is the moment
The resolution also recalled two related UN initiatives: the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, and the declaration of the International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs through 2024.
“Twenty years after the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and more than halfway into the International Decade for People of African Descent, we are experiencing unprecedented momentum towards ending the global scourge of racism,” said the Secretary-General. “We must not squander this opportunity.”
Costa Rica spearheaded efforts to create the International Day. The Central American country changed its political constitution in 2015, defining itself as a multiethnic and multicultural nation.
Jan André Solano is a university student and activist from Limón, a city on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, who admires the late civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He recently participated in a UN initiative that collects the stories of various people of African descent in his homeland, who also share their accomplishments, challenges, hopes and life lessons.
Still dreaming of change
Despite his achievements, Jan said he does not understand why some people cross the street when they see him, or why he is subjected to other indignities, including being closely watched in supermarkets or being singled out for police searches while in public.
Latin America is home to nearly 134 million people of African heritage and a recent report by the UN economic commission for the region, ECLAC, reveals how they suffer poverty, lack of access to basic services and inequality.
For example, in Brazil, the overall poverty rate is 11.5 per cent, but among people of African descent, it is 25.5 per cent. The story is repeated in other countries such as Ecuador and Colombia.
Like Dr. King, Jan said he also has a dream: “That exclusion, inequality, racism and discrimination be banished forever from the world, and that I may have the same opportunities to develop, lead a prosperous life and thus dedicate myself to serving, and helping, all other people regardless of the colour of their skin.”
Acknowledge legacy, redress wrongs
The Secretary-General pointed to the UN’s work to dismantle racism.
Another initiative by the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, focuses on expanding opportunities for young people of African descent, while the UN human rights office, OHCHR, has launched the Agenda Towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality in efforts to tackle systemic racism, ensure accountability, and deliver reparatory justice.
Earlier this month, the UN General Assembly established the UN Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, a 10-member advisory body that will work closely with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“Acknowledging the entrenched legacy of enslavement, redressing the wrongs of history, and shattering the evil lie of supremacy, demands persistence and action every day, at every level, in every society,” the UN chief said.
“Together, let us commit to do our part and advance the promise of equality, justice and dignity for all.”