– As prepared –

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

22 July 2021


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to welcome you here today.

Twenty years ago the Durban Declaration outlined the obstacles: a distinct lack of political will, weak legislation, a lack of implementation strategies and concrete action by States, as well as the prevalence of racist attitudes and negative stereotyping. 

Unless we tackle all these issues comprehensively, our efforts will not yield the desired results of recognition, justice and development for people of African descent. 

Allow me to remind you that it was our shared humanity that brought us together, three-quarters of a century ago, when the United Nations was created. It is our shared humanity that will enable us to combat one of the great injustices of modern society: racial discrimination. 

The International Decade for People of African Descent, which was proclaimed six years ago, has become an important movement – reinforcing global efforts to combat and prevent racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, faced by people of African descent.

This issue is more important than ever before. As we contend with a global health pandemic, we cannot forget that people of African descent around the world, have less access to health care, and are vulnerable to higher rates of coronavirus infection and related mortality. In some contexts, people of African descent are twice as likely to die as a result of COVID-19, than their peers. I will repeat that: twice as likely. 

For those that recover from the effects of the virus, the cost of healthcare and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic threatens to push people of African Descent into poverty, with already limited employment prospects, and discrimination about housing.

This structural racism is compounded with restrictions on civil and political rights, ill treatment by public authorities and disproportionate violence by law enforcement officers, and higher incarceration rates around the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has lifted the veil, exposing the deepening marginalization of racial and ethnic minorities, including people of African descent. We need to make space at all levels. This is the only way that we will be able to listen to people of African descent, learn from their experiences, and make change.

We need to make space for people of African descent in decision and policy making processes, to ensure that their needs are considered, and translated into resourced and actionable policies and programmes; their rights upheld. 

There is no time to waste. We must take urgent action now, if we are to improve the prospects for the next generation: children of African descent, who are already less likely to have access to quality education than their peers.

As the Secretary-General outlined in his latest report, “in many parts of the world, children and young people of African descent, do not fully enjoy their human rights”. 

I am glad to share that several processes underway here at the United Nations reflect the growing political will of Member States, and spirit of civil society organisations, to come together and address the scourge of racism and racial discrimination faced by people of African descent, as well as other racial and ethnic minorities. 

Right now, we are close to concluding the modalities, format, and substantive and procedural aspects of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. I am grateful to the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, Ambassador Carazo, and the Permanent Representative of Chad, Ambassador Baroud for co-facilitating this process. I look forward to the adoption of this resolution in the coming days. 

The Permanent Forum, with its broad mandate is expected to contribute to elaborating upon the United Nations declaration on the promotion and full respect of human rights of people of African descent. These critical outcomes will have a lasting impact – imprinting real change upon society, long after the Decade has concluded.

Furthermore, the upcoming one-day high-level meeting to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which takes place on 22nd September, will feature discussions at the highest political level on the theme of “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”. 

I commend the co-facilitators Ambassador Joyini, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations and Ambassador Lopes, Permanent Representative of Portugal for managing the negotiations of the political declaration. This will be a key tool for Member States to re-double efforts to address racism and racial discrimination, the legacy of the past, and their contemporary forms and manifestations. 

I also commend the Human Rights Council for adopting a resolution to establish an independent expert mechanism on systemic racism in law enforcement, by consensus. This will undoubtedly drive transformative change for racial justice and equality, as proposed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her landmark report.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Across the UN system, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a comprehensive framework which can also serve as a point of reference to accelerate the implementation of the Decade. I encourage all entities to accelerate efforts in this regard. 

Together, we can create lasting change.

I thank you for your participation here today, and throughout this International Decade for People of African Descent.