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"The International Year for People of African Descent,"

by Richard Clarke January/February 2011 issue of Poverty & Race

During its 64th session held in 2009, the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 64/169, proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2011 The International Year for People of African Descent. The stated purpose of the International Year was to strengthen national actions, and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to 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.

The General Assembly encouraged Member States, the United Nations specialized agencies, within their respective mandates and existing resources, and civil society to make preparations for and identify possible initiatives that could contribute to the success of the Year. It also requested the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly, at its 65th session, a report containing a draft program of activities for the International Year, taking into account the views and recommendations of Member States, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and other relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programs, as appropriate.

For over 50 years, the General Assembly has used International Years to draw attention to, and rally support around, issues of particular importance. Similar examples include the International Year for the World's Indigenous People (1993), the International Year of Mobilization against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2001), and the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition (2004). The Years offer an opportunity for Member States, civil society and all other stakeholders to reflect upon what they can do to address the challenges related to the subject matter of the Year. The International Year for People of African Descent was officially launched on 10 December last year, Human Rights Day, by the Secretary-General.

The General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to establish a voluntary fund for the activities of the International Year and encouraged Member States and all relevant donors to contribute to this fund. It also requested the Secretary-General to close the International Year with the convening of a High Level Thematic Debate on the achievements of the goals and objectives of the Year.

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is the main UN entity charged with tackling the situation of this population group. It holds annual sessions to discuss the different challenges faced by Afro-descendents and makes recommendations on measures that should be taken to effectively address these challenges. It also carries out country visits to examine the situation of Afro-descendent populations in situ and makes recommendations to the host government on actions that should be taken to address any problems identified. Naturally, the Working Group will play an active role in the context of the International Year for People of African Descent and contributed suggestions to the Secretary-General’s draft Programme of Activities that was presented to the General Assembly at its 65th session in November 2010.

Among other initiatives, the Working Group will be focussing its thematic discussions during its 2011 session (28 March to 2 April) on the contextualization of the International Year, including an overview of the present situation faced by people of African descent; the perspective of the Working Group on positive discrimination; the contribution made by people of African descent to global development; and the lack of knowledge of the culture, history and traditions of people of African descent, by themselves and others. Presentations by the members of the Working Group and invited expert panelists will help promote an understanding of the importance, and necessity, of the International Year for People of African Descent.

The International Year is an opportunity to give due recognition to the enormous contribution that people of African descent have made to the societies in which they live and redouble efforts to fight against racism and racial discrimination directed at them. It is hoped that Member States, civil society and all other stakeholders will become actively involved in the year and ensure it is a success.

Richard Clarke is Human Rights Officer with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. RClarke@ohchr.org
 
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