Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Year Dedicated to People of African Descent

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.
Father and child
Members of the Garifuna community near Tela, Honduras. The Garifuna people are of mixed African, Arawak and Carib ancestry and native to the Caribbean Coast in Central America. UN Photo/Chris Sattlberger
This International Year  offers a unique opportunity to  redouble our efforts to fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that affect people of African descent everywhere.
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
People of African descent are acknowledged in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action1 as a specific victim group who continue to suffer racial discrimination as the historic legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Even Afro-descendants who are not directly descended from slaves face the racism and racial discrimination that still persist today, generations after the slave trade ended.

Righting Past Wrongs

" This is the year to recognise the role of people of African descent in global development and to discuss justice for current and past acts of discrimination that have led to the situation today. "
Mirjana Najcevska, Chairperson,
UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
The manifestations of racial discrimination which characterised the slave trade and colonisation are still felt today. Racism can manifest itself in a variety of ways, sometimes subtly, sometimes unconsciously, but often resulting in violations of the rights of people of African descent.

In order to combat such racism and racial discrimination, in 2001 the United Nations created the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent which is tasked with studying the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora and making proposals on the elimination of racial discrimination against Africans and people of African descent in all parts of the world.

The Working Group has found that some of the most important challenges that people of African descent face relate to their representation in, and treatment by, the administration of justice and to their access to quality education, employment, health services and housing, often due to structural discrimination that is embedded within societies.

In some countries, especially where people of African descent are in the minority, they receive harsher sentences than those of the predominant ethnicity and constitute a disproportionately high percentage of the prison inmate population. Racial profiling (The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action defines racial profiling as “the practice of police and other law enforcement officers relying, to any degree, on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin as the basis for subjecting persons to investigatory activities or for determining whether an individual is engaged in criminal activity.”)- which results in the systematic targeting of persons of African descent by law enforcement officers – has perpetuated severe stigmatization and stereotyping of Afro-descendants as having a propensity to criminality.

In many countries Afro-descendants have the least access to quality education at all levels. Evidence demonstrates that when people of African descent have greater access to education they are better placed to participate in political, economic and cultural aspects of society and to defend their own interests.

The Working Group emphasises that the collection of data disaggregated on the basis of ethnicity is an important element in identifying and addressing Afro-descendants’ human rights issues. Government policy intended to address racism and racial discrimination cannot be correctly formulated, much less implemented, if such information is not available. Nor can progress be measured.

AfroBolivians Fight For Complete Recognition... Reparations to Follow

African slavery must not be forgotten

On 23 August we celebrate a vital moment in the abolition of the slave trade – so why has the day received no state support?
  • Haitian Leader
    Toussaint L'Ouverture was one of the leaders of the rebellion that saw Haiti 
    become the first black nation in the Caribbean. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
    Britain woke up on 23 August largely ignorant of the fact that it is a national day of remembrance. Four years ago the government declared it the day to remember those millions of African people who were captured, denigrated, enslaved, tortured and murdered, who rebelled and ultimately survived a period rightly seen as the most heinous crime of humankind against humankind in history. But when was the government going to tell us? And what is it contributing to the day?

    It was 220 years ago on 23 August that Africans on the island that is now Haiti rose up against their captors and began a rebellion led first by Boukman Dutty and then by the strategist Toussaint L'Ouverture who defeated the best armies of the British, French and Spanish and in 1804 declared Haiti the first black nation in the Caribbean. Shockwaves ran through the slaving nations and set in motion the beginning of the end of the trade in African people worldwide.

    On 23 August last year, communities minister Andrew Stunell – who holds as part of his responsibilities race equality and community cohesion – said: "Acceptance and understanding of our past is important in moving towards a future which is free of intolerance and racism."

    He rightly made the link between the world as it is today and past events – this is not about gazing into history as an academic exercise, it is an essential route to understanding how the inequality of African peoples has been embedded into societies worldwide and how it continues today. For instance, it could go a long way to inform us why Haiti is now described as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

    The government promised workshops to "help black and minority ethnic-led organisations to access funding for educational and heritage events (including those on the remembrance of slavery and the slave trade)". But these failed to take place. A year on, no African grassroots organisations have received funding for events this year.

    When one such organisation applied on three occasions for lottery funding to organise events and activities, it was turned down on each occasion. And the Big Lottery Fund, with a £600m purse, has given zero to transatlantic slave trade applications this year or last.

    By contrast, Holocaust Memorial Day remembers the Jewish and other genocides on 27 January and has received direct Department for Communities funding annually since 2001. This year, as last, it was awarded £750,000.

    Is the government implying that one is more important than the other? Is the 400-year genocide, during which Britain became the leading slave-trading nation, no longer relevant? It appears that "acceptance and understanding of our past" is something the government is unwilling to practice itself.

    This month a group of British charities have reported the government to the United Nations saying it is not doing enough for racial equality. They and the government are giving evidence in Geneva today. The UN will report back in September.

    One way for the government to put some might behind the equality issue is to directly fund an education programme on the enslavement of African peoples. National community learning programmes would address the need to inform the public about this important historical event and its lasting legacy that has impacted so many nations for richer or poorer. And what better time to do it than in 2011, the UN's International Year for People of African Descent.

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