United Nations officials today urged the international community to make efforts to address the plight of people of African descent, deploring the discrimination and social exclusion that many of them still endure, even as their historical contributions in all fields of human endeavour are ignored.
“The discrimination faced by people of African descent is pernicious,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“Often, they are trapped in poverty in large part because of bigotry, only to see poverty used as a pretext for further exclusion. Often, they lack access to education because of prejudice, only to have inadequate education cited as a reason to deny them jobs. These and other fundamental wrongs have a long and terrible history, including the transatlantic slave trade, the consequences of which are still felt today,” Mr. Ban said.
This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is devoted to highlighting the discrimination faced by people of African descent and reflects the UN General Assembly’s proclamation of 2011 as the International Year for People of African descent.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the persistent exclusion and marginalization that continue to affect people of African descent are rooted in the transatlantic slave trade during which millions of Africans were uprooted from their continent and transported to the Americas and other parts of the world for exploitation as slaves.
“Indeed, the legacy of the slave trade persists in many of today’s practices,” said Ms. Pillay, who last week visited Senegal’s Goree Island, also known as the “door of no return” from where many Africans were chained, put into ships and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas as slaves.
“We see reflections of discrimination against African descendants in racial profiling, overrepresentation in prison populations and poor access to quality education, justice and health services. All these obstacles, created by prejudice, intolerance and inequality, deny millions of people their universal human rights,” said Ms. Pillay.
The Secretary-General urged the world to address the public policies and attitudes that perpetuate racism.
“On this International Day, I call on Member States, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media, civil society and all individuals to engage meaningfully in the promotion of the International Year for People of African descent – and to work together against racism whenever and wherever it occurs,” he said.
Ms. Pillay also called for the recognition of the contributions of people of African descent to human development.
“In the arts and sciences, the law and politics, people of African descent have etched their mark in history, shaped nations and advanced the highest ideals of freedom, progress, resilience, industry, and self-reliance.
“Yet, in too many cases, history books, school curricula, and oral traditions do not accurately reflect the wealth and span of African descendants’ heritage, work and achievements. These wilful or negligent gaps must be filled with the narratives of pain, strife and success that uniquely belonged to people of African descent and that they continue to experience,” she said.
To mark the Day, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Spain’s Barcelona Football Club put out a video message against racism and discrimination delivered by the club’s star players – Lionel Messi, Seydou Keita and Gerard Piqué.
In the clip, the three star players rally viewers to “Put Racism Offside.” UNESCO and the FC Barcelona signed a partnership agreement in 2007 whose central objective is to raise awareness on the role of education and sport in the development and well-being of children and youth, and in the promotion of dialogue, mutual understanding and social cohesion.
The efforts have focused so far on using sports as a means to combat racism and discrimination, with an emphasis on children and youth.
In their message to mark the Day, a group of UN independent human rights experts stressed recognition, justice and development as the key steps towards achieving full equality for people of African descent.
“We need to recognize that, regrettably, racism and racial discrimination against people of African Descent remain embedded in our societies,” said the experts – Githu Muigai, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mirjana Najcevska, the chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Anwar Kemal, the chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; and Gay McDougall, the Independent Expert on minority issues.
“We need to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of people of African descent in the administration of justice, thereby redressing disparities which can be partially explained by the continued existence of structural and institutional racism.
“Invaluable contributions to the economic, social, cultural, civil and political life of society have been made by people of African descent. Their brave efforts to overcome prejudice, racism and injustice have contributed to improving the freedom and equal rights of all peoples,” said the experts.