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International Day for People of African Descent

International Day for People of African Descent - 31 August 2022

UN’s Independent Human Rights Experts Statement:

UN experts urge more action to ensure dignity, equity and justice for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent:

GENEVA (30 August 2022) – In a statement to mark the International Day for People of African Descent, UN experts said States must do more to combat the multiple forms of discrimination and violation of rights facing people of African descent.

“Today we celebrate the achievements and resilience of people of African descent, in the face of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, racialised brutality perpetrated by law enforcement officials, and the climate crisis, among other challenges.

The International Day for People of African Descent is also an opportunity to assess the lived experiences of people of African descent around the world, promote and protect their rights, and call attention to the challenges and barriers many continue to face in the realisation of their rights. Such assessments highlight the continued precariousness and racialised experiences of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent.

As UN experts we have highlighted the situations of Haitian migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, people of African descent seeking refuge from Ukraine, and the under reported plight of migrant workers of African descent in the Middle East and Gulf states, many of whom are victims of trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation.

Most recently, we called for accountability in the Melilla tragedy, when at least 23 Africans attempting to cross the Spain-Moroccan border in Melilla lost their lives. The tragic images of Africans killed on the edge of the European Union, stood in sharp contrast to the support rightly provided to Ukrainians and laid bare the deep racial biases that sit at the heart of many contemporary border control policies and practices. It was a tragic reminder that States have to scrutinise their laws and practices and focus on safeguards and obligations on the use of force and non-refoulement, as part of holistic efforts to address racial discrimination, and uphold their duty to treat migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with dignity.

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent not only risk disproportionate victimisation from conflict but face grave violations such as detention in inhumane conditions, human trafficking, exploitation, and forced transfers as they seek to make further perilous journeys to other countries in search of better opportunities. The added dimension of gender-based violations, sexual exploitation, and abuse at the hands of traffickers is a lived reality for many women and girls of African descent.

International migration is constant and many push factors for the migration and displacement of those of African descent, including climate change and conflict, have deep historical roots within colonial practices and their devastating legacies. International human rights law provides a robust framework for the protection of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. It is therefore incumbent on states to not only safeguard the lives of persons of African descent on the move, but to ensure that their human rights and dignity are also preserved with special protection measures for those – like women and children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and those battling health conditions – who are most at risk.

We remain especially concerned by accounts of racial profiling, excessive use of force, and other violations of international human rights law by law enforcement officials, many of which remain largely underreported, because of fear of reprisals, negative experiences in previous interaction with law enforcement, lack of sensitivity or training of law enforcement officials, the belief that the complaint will be superfluous, and lack of appropriate data collection.

Whilst we commend the UN Member States that have taken some protective measures, more must be done.

We call upon States to take into account the multiple, interconnected and compounding forms of discrimination, which are faced by people of African descent in their interactions with law enforcement authorities, resulting from nationality, migration status, gender, colour, age, religion, disability, socioeconomic and other status. States should translate their commitments under international human rights law into accountability and redress, and tangible improvements in the lived situation of people of African descent. States should also exercise due care and diligence in the treatment of people of African descent on the move, and guarantee their access to safety, development and justice.”

African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) adds to the above Statement as follows:in endorsing this statement inserts this caveat: by referring specifically to the fact that intersecting in these above mentioned outcomes are the particular issues facing LGBTQI+ people of African descent, and those who are LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees, with severe added considerations and vulnerabilities. What is so difficult in proclaiming these conclusions is that often those charged with human rights related protections themselves are biased against LGBTQI+ people and subject to representing countries whose governments persecute LGBTQI+ people. Operating in the best interests of ALL is often compromised when making these pronouncements on behalf of those countries. Over 30 countries in Africa criminalize LGBTQI+ people. We at AHRC URGE those who protect human rights not to turn their back on or exclude LGBTI people under the popular mythological notion that homosexuality is un-African, but rather that they embrace all sexuality and gender identities under the truthful and historic notion that demonizing sexuality and gender identity in Africa is a Colonial import. (Melanie Nathan, ED African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC))

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It is composed of five independent experts: Ms. Catherine S. Namakula (Uganda) current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Barbara Reynolds (Guyana); Ms. Dominique Day (United States of America); Mr. Sushil Raj (India) and Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko (Hungary).

Justice Yvonne Mokgoro (South Africa, chairperson); Dr. Tracie Keesee (United States of America) and Professor Juan Méndez (Argentina) were appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council in December 2021 to serve as independent experts. The international independent expert mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement was established in July 2021 by the Human Rights Council to make recommendations, inter alia, on the concrete steps needed to ensure access to justice, accountability and redress for excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent.

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