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International Year for People of African Descent 2011

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.