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Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

2nd session, 3rd- 7th February 2003

Selvarani Paneerselvam, intern, IMADR- UN Office


The Working Group on People of African Descent received its mandate from the Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/68, which was approved by Economic and Social Council resolution 2002/270, to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the Diaspora, and to elaborate proposals for the elimination of this discrimination. The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent met for its first session in November 2002. Three experts have in so far carried out research in this specified area of work and produced the results of their findings in this second session.


Summary of 2nd session

The issues considered by the Working Group during its five-day session included a discussion on the paper presented by

Ambassador P.L.Kasanda (Zambia) on the "Identification and Definition of �People of African Descent� and How Racial Discrimination against them is Manifested in Various Regions". Similar discussions took place involving three other papers presented by experts, which include Dr.Georges Jabbour�s (Syrian Arab Republic) paper on "Some Personal Thoughts on Reparations and People of African Descent", Professor Dr. Irina Zlatescu�s (Romania) paper on "How to Use the UN Human Rights Mechanisms for an Effective Protection of the Rights of People of African Descent", and Mr. Doudou Dine�s (Special Rapporteur on Racism) paper on the 'Promotion et signification des lieux de memoire de l'esclavage' (Promotion and significance of the memorial places of slavery).

The specific issues discussed involved the definition of people of African descent, deliberations of the forms of racial discrimination manifesting in specific regions of the world (right to development, the law enforcement, media and other contemporary forms of racism). Various forms of reparation were discussed alongside the methods of calculation and the parties who may be held accountable to make such reparations.

Subsequently, the representative from the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Mr. Yusuf Bangura spoke on the issue of "Racism and Public Policy". The issues underscored here evolved around the lack of official recognition of the people of African descent by a number of States in their statistics (statistical surveys) and in government policies. Research was highlighted as a crucial element to enhance the level of knowledge surrounding people of African descent.

The representative from the World Bank, Miss Josefina Stubbs also contributed towards the discussions. Next a representative from the Inter-American Development Bank, Miss Claire Nelson also carried out a presentation. It should be pointed out from the outset however that this report does not cover all of the issues deliberated over the five-day session.

(A) Summary & discussion of Working Paper prepared by Ambassador P.L.Kasanda (Zambia) (elected Chair-Rapporteur for 2nd session)

Identification and Definition of "People of African Descent" and How Racial Discrimination against them is Manifested in Various Regions


Ambassador P.L.Kasanda, defines "persons of African Descent� as descendants of the African victims of the Trans-Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea slave trade, including those of the sub-Sahara slave trade". Furthermore he includes "those Africans and their descendants who, after their countries� independence emigrated to or went to work in Europe, Canada and the Middle East where they also experienced racial discrimination suffered by those who live in Western European countries". The largest number of slaves were transported on the trans-Atlantic route who were drawn from the west coast of Africa and were mainly destined for the Western hemisphere and a small number to Europe. A smaller number of slaves came from the interior of the West Africa, East Africa and parts of Southern Africa, who were mainly destined to the Middle East and some islands in the Indian Ocean.

Paragraph 13 of the Durban Declaration and paragraph 119 of the Durban Programme of Action, express acknowledgment of the fact that Africans and people of African descent continue to be victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which manifests itself as a direct consequence of slavery and the slave trade, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

From the very outset it should be noted that the fact that the Chair has carefully divided the various forms of racial discriminatory policies and acts which prevail in different regions, clearly suggests that people of African descent represent a diverse community at different stages of economic development and with different issues, needs and expectations which need to be addressed through the implementation of this working groups mandate.

Manifestations of Racial Discrimination in Latin America and the Caribbean Origin

� Invisibility: method of minimizing or erasing the contribution of black people

The invisibility of people of African descent in the national cultures in Latin American may be attributed to the fact that it is assumed to be founded on European Creole experiences. As a result of this, people of African descent become more marginilized, thus perpetuating social prejudices and discrimination against them. In the media, such persons are absent or are portrayed in unflattering roles. Finally and more importantly, invisibility in the area of population and development planning means an absence of statistical information according to the ethnic groups. Thus people of African descent are denied the opportunity to become target group for donor agencies and this further stifles their development programming.

� Economic Disenfranchisement: long term process, limits choice & retards upward mobility thereby producing and reproducing poverty

This may be viewed as a result of discriminatory policies by governments for example lack of investment for social or economic infrastructure in geographic areas with black or predominantly black communities. Other areas affected include that of the educational sector, decision making positions, the expropriation of ancestral lands for the purposes of national parks or sale to private individuals, discrimination in employment etc. As a result of this people of African descent are locked into stereotyped economic roles.

Furthermore the Ambassador highlighted the fact that knowledge of the African past is restricted to that of slavery and servitude under European descendants, thus continuously excluding people of African descent from participating freely in the economic life.

Under this heading, the representative of the International Association Against Torture NGO draws a link between the right to development and enforced underdevelopment. The right to development should be recognized as one of the most fundamental human rights and in his view Africans in the Diaspora and more particularly in the USA have been deprived of their right to development, although noting that some have done so on an individual basis, that is without any support through government or market policies. Costa Rica and the representative of Space Afro-American NGO agreed that there is an intrinsic link between development and racism. The representative of International Possibilities Unlimited further called upon other UN processes to recognize that racism is an impediment to sustainable development and a causal factor in the endemic poverty faced by the developing world.


Manifestations of Racial Discrimination in Western Countries

The refusal of the Western powers to acknowledge and provide reparations to victims of slave trades is said to constitute a manifestation of such racism and racial discrimination, compared with their attitude vis a vis human tragedies like the Jewish Holocaust. Such historical facts surrounding the story of slave trade is moreover absent in Western school textbooks. The Ambassador goes on to highlight the main contemporary forms of racism which prevail in Western societies. These include employment, housing, public amenities and law enforcement. Generally such discrimination transpires under the provisions of social services in areas in which they predominantly inhabit.

On a discussion of the contemporary forms of racism which prevail in the law enforcement, the representative from the International Association against Torture raised the issue of the mistreatment of Black political prisoners who are prosecuted and sentenced on the basis of their political beliefs. However they are subsequently labeled as "criminals" without any reference to the politics which gave rise to their incarceration.

The representative of International Possibilities Unlimited further spoke of the racial disparity in the application of the death penalty which is even more pronounced with juvenile offenders than it is with adult offenders. She made clear of the fact he intention here is in underscoring the comparatively high number of Afro-Americans who face the death penalty in the US (Currently 67% of all juvenile offenders on death row in the US are persons of color). There may in turn be a link between Afro- Americans relying upon free legal representation as a result of their economic status, and a result of this they are deprived of their right to obtain the type and level of legal protection they wish.


Manifestations of Racial Discrimination on the African Region

Under the period of colonialism and imperialism, such discrimination was inflicted upon the "native" rather than upon the "slave". Natives were valued only in so far as they contributed to the creation of wealth of the metropolitan colonial power. Thus the people of African descent faced poor quality of services in such areas as education, hospitals, residential areas and public amenities.


(B) Summary & Discussion of Working Paper prepared by Dr.Georges Jabbour (Brazil) "Some Personal Thoughts on Reparations and People of African Descent"

Although the principle of reparation does not appear in the final document of the Durban Conference, there is a form of silent consensus based in Durban that proclaimed slavery as a crime against humanity, thus in accordance with the basic tenets of international law each crime entails reparations.

Meaning of Reparation

Reparations may take various forms, it is a "multidimensional word" (moral reparations: apologies, erecting of museums dedicated to those victims of slave trade; or material reparation: monetary funds). Under the circumstances the legal term "reparation" should not be confused with such forms of aid or assistance to alleviate poverty.

Mr.Martins (representative expert from Brazil) urged upon the need for a variety of material forms of reparation, stressing upon the fact that moral reparation alone would not suffice as a means of healing the past wounds. Egypt alongside the representative from the International Association against Torture NGO endorsed this view. The former reiterating the critical acknowledgment at the Durban Conference, of slavery and the slave trade as an appalling tragedy of humanity, nevertheless the end result of which is a mere expression of regret that these practices continue. Thus as such the issue of reparation is a crucial element which needs to be further elaborated upon in the mandate imposed upon this working group.

Three-sided Material Reparations Relationship

Here there are firstly those slave descendants referred to as People of African descendants, who fall under the definition provided by Ambassador Kesanda. Secondly descendants of slave traders and owners, who manifest themselves as families or companies who continuously prosper. However in strict legal terms, Dr. Jabbour holds the opinion that it is inequitable to impose reparations upon this category persons. Finally there is the State who is in a better position to assess the financial capability of those who ought to pay, thus they can be an arbitrator acting from a position of sovereignty.

Here the representative from the International Association against Torture NGO stood in opposition to the view that descendants of slave traders and owners would not under legal terms be justified in imposing reparations. The representative underscored the fact that reparations are justified in that crimes against humanity have been committed and have no statute of limitations, thus such descendants of slave traders (corporations or countries) who derived enormous benefits from the slavery period should be held accountable for their past wrongdoing. He highlighted the fact that its NGO members are currently suing US corporations which have profited from the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery. Thus just as a State may be held accountable for its past wrong doings, so may companies who have reaped the benefits from such acts. Here the representative urged for the further development of a rationale in international law for the thesis that the essence of the concept of crimes against humanity existed well before the use of this term in itself.

Elements in the Calculation of Reparations

A few historical precedence, was evoked here as guiding principles. For example Holocaust victims, the Americans of Japanese descent and other countries which present certain similarities (incarceration, suppression, loss of personal freedom, forced labour, poverty) to the people of African descent situation.

Finally Dr. Jabbour proposed for the floor to take into consideration any valuable material which may be available on this issue in order to cover all further aspects of reparation. Only upon filling these gaps may this issue be dealt with at an international political level.

The Chair noted that in order for this issue to truly receive support in the form of a political will to make such reparations, there is a clear need to tackle this on a legal platform. The representative of the Space Afro-American NGO proposed that a package of reparations be established for such persons of African descent. Interfaith International NGO took this a step further by suggesting that a list be drawn up on each aspect of reparation which may apply to the different regions. This proposal was made with the intention of receiving a preliminary response from the Western Group.

The representative of All for Reparations and Emancipation (AFRE) also voiced concerns with the basic restoration of collective human rights, recognition and reparation for Afro-descendants. Such persons in her view have experienced the loss of their original identity, language and religion and as a result suffer discrimination.

Summary and discussion on the Presentation by the representative of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (Mr. Yusuf Bangura) on "Racism and Public Policy"

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) invited high- level scholars from various regions of the world to prepare papers and lead discussions at a parallel UNRISD conference held from the 3rd to the 5th of September 2001. Participants of this Conference encompassed representatives of governments, international agencies, NGOs, academia and media persons. The conference provided participants with research findings, insights, and policy debates on some of the core issues of racism, xenophobia and intolerance as they affect different groups, countries and regions, and examined the opportunities, problems and challenges of public policies in the area of combating such discriminatory behavior.

Four themes were focused upon in this conference; the social construction of race and citizenship; the social dynamics of racism and inequalities; organized responses to cultural diversity; and the impact of public policies on race relations.

Two points were made on the findings of this conference, firstly the complex ways in which racial cleavages influence the evolution of citizenship, also expressing the opinion that formal equality does not lead to equality of citizenship. Secondly the belief that there should be an incorporation of social justice and equitable governance, which is seen as a fundamental requirement for achieving stability and consolidating values of citizenship.

The speaker raised three areas of research which he felt needed to be focused upon, firstly involving social economics (private data; employment, housing, attainment to education), political areas (representation of people of African descent in civil service, political parties, decision making positions), and security sector (representation of people of African descent in prison, immigrants, judiciary).

In order to carry out such research, the key elements which need to be addressed are for instance

� how the people of African descent compare with that of the host citizens

� in which sector are the people of African Descent making progress and in which areas are they lacking progress,

� and if so the reasons as to this lack in progress needs to be looked at further.

More importantly public policies, which affect the people of African descent, also need to be identified and researched closely. This point is closely linked with that of the issues identified by the Chairperson, Ambassador Kasendra in that people of African descent are continuously being marginilized, thus are denied the opportunity to be targeted by donor agencies or provided their right to development.

The speaker proposed for a paper to be commissioned on two critical areas, that of Racial Profiling conducted by the police and immigration officers. Secondly the manner in which the people of African descendants are being reported by the media and further questioning the effects of public policy here.

Mr. Matinez, fellow Brazilian expert, drew a link between the proposal for hard data being recovered in the area of social economics, which may then be used to diagnose public policies. He explained of the racial census currently being conducted in Brazil to ascertain the composition of such people of African descendants within the federal governments and the positions they hold. This is being done with the intention of preparing an execution of presidential decree in increasing the position of people of African descendants to decision-making positions. Additionally the Brazilian government wishes to apply such a racial census to areas such as the judiciary and the armed forces to improve the standing of people of African descent in this area. Such programs could be replicated in other parts of the world where such horizontal equalities do not prevail, which only make it more difficult to carry out such census on the base of ethnicity and groups.

Further proposals relating to the issue of "Research" of people of African descent

Regarding data collection, the representative of the World Bank informed the working group of the problems it encountered through its studies, in that such census or surveys are not asked in a culturally appropriate manner and may be answered incorrectly. Thus as a result the overall evaluation does not appear accurate. Costa Rica rightly endorsed this view.

On the general issue of research, the representative of International Possibilities Unlimited raised the problem of a lack of training in this area of methodological research. She proposed that smaller institutions or colleges might provide such training to the scholars who need more training. This may be classified as a long-term proposal. The representative of Space Afro-American NGO, spoke of the need to make available, in all other languages the outcome of such research in order for the local communities to have access to them. Furthermore she highlighted the need for an exchange of information of these research elements and their outcomes between various organizations, institutions and governments in order to avoid duplicate researches being carried out and furthermore to enhance the level of knowledge between these entities.

Finally the representative from the African Society of International and Comparative Law urged that more studies be carried out in the Asian regions and further proposed that the WG may consider the elaboration of a Code of Conduct for the media in order to impose the obligation upon them towards refraining from airing negative impressions or stereotyping of PAD.

Summary of other general issues discussed at the 2nd session

The representative from the Space Afro-American NGO highlighted the fact that only four of the Latin American countries have ratified to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism and Racial Discrimination which is an important issue which needs to be addressed. He further voiced his opposition towards the fact that people of African descent are referred to as minorities.

In conclusion the representatives from the Space Afro-American NGO, International Association against Torture NGO, International Possibilities Unlimited, AFRE, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Costa Rica and a host of other countries proposed that this working group should have a permanent status in order to establish the proposals and recommendations, which it is under a duty to provide under the given mandate. The representative of the International Association against Torture NGO voiced his opinion in that the Western Groups intention in boycotting this session is to undermine the permanency of this working group. Furthermore they are absconding for fear of this whole issue of reparation, for if they succumb to moral reparation, the matter will inevitably lead to material reparation and a call for legal justice within their national systems. Thus the Working Group of Experts will take into consideration all of the proposals and recommendations put forth by the representatives and in turn present its final conclusions to the Commission on Human Rights during its yearly meetings between March 16th and April 26th of 2003.

Summary of the Draft Conclusions and Recommendations of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

On the final day, the experts produced the final draft conclusions and recommendations, which were then opened to the floor for their comments. The following are a number of conclusions presented: firstly people of African descent represent a diverse community at different stages of development and with different issues, needs and expectations; these variations should be acknowledged and further studied. People of African descent can be said to be "invisible" because they are largely absent or excluded with respect to domestic data collection, statistical analysis and the depiction in the media. An intrinsic link is drawn between the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) intercultural project "The Slave Route" and that of the Working Group. The representative from Canada urged for the inclusion of a paragraph here to link the Working Group and that of the International Labour Organization for reasons that in most cases people of African descent spend most of their time at work. The Working Group also encourages the Western European and Other Group of States to nominate an expert, so as to raise the level of participation in the Working Group.

In turning to the Recommendations, with regards to the first mandate:-

" The studying of problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the Diaspora. To that end, gathering of all relevant information from Governments, NGOs and other appropriate sources, including through holding public meetings."

The Working Group recommends the sending of a questionnaire to Governments, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, national institutions, academics, and NGOs in order to assemble and synthesize existing information about the situation of people of African descent. The Working Group also will continue its consultations with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) to get a greater understanding of Afro- descendant issues by undertaking specific studies on the economic and social development of people of African descent.

Turning to the second mandate;

"The drafting of measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent"

Studies should be carried out on the domestic public defender/legal aid systems, jury selection, judicial appointments, access to legal and judicial training including on police violence.

On the third mandate;

" The submission of recommendations on the design, implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent"

The Working Group encourages Member States to reform their educational systems to reflect the history and culture of people of African descent and the history of slavery. A study is also to be undertaken on the media, which would focus in part on stereotypes, negative imagery and issues of invisibility.

Under the first subheading of the fourth mandate involving short-, medium- and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent;

"Devoting special attention to their needs, inter alia, through the preparation of specific programmes of action"

This includes national action plans as recommended in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Furthermore Governments are encouraged to compile reliable statistical data on the political, economic and social conditions of people of African descent. Other indicators desegregated and race should also be accounted for in such data collection.

Under the second subheading,

" Designing special projects, in collaboration with people of African descent, to support their initiatives at the community level and to facilitate the exchange of information and technical know-how between these populations and experts in the relevant areas".

The Working Group calls for Governments, National and International developmental and financial institutions to take action in community measures.

The third subheading provides for the development of ;

"� programmes intended for people of African descent that allocate additional investments in health systems, education, housing , electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures and that promote equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative or positive action initiatives, within the human rights framework".

Finally on the "Organization of an participation in future sessions of the Working Group", a voluntary fund should be established in accordance with resolution 2002/68 of the Commission on Human Rights to support the participation of NGOs representing people of African descent. The Working Group also considers that at a later stage the concept of reparations may be disseminated to form a basis for an international political decision.