‘Are you an African?’ – By Ato Bob – The African Bulletin, June 2012’
The United Nations General Assembly meets every September at the UN Headquarters in New York City, USA and gathers representatives of 193 member states. States are admitted to membership in the UN by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The main organs of the UN are: The General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat. All were established in 1945 when the UN was founded. Its principles are based on three key documents: The UN Charter, The Universal declaration of Human Rights and The Statute of the International Court of Justice.
What is this ‘International Decade for People of African Descent’?
On 23rd December 2013, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent (resolution 68/237) citing the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.
How did this decade come about and what does it mean?
This proclamation by the UN did of course not just come out of the blue, but followed from the 2001 third World Conference against Racism, which took place in Durban South Africa. This resulted in the ‘Durban Declaration’ which stated that the people from Africa had been victimized by slavery and continued to suffer. Therefore all states were called states to adopt specific steps to help combat racism and xenophobia and to protect its victims. Ten years later the UN declared 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent.
The seeds of the International Decade for People of African Descent were sewn in 2001 with the third World Conference against Racism, which led to the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The Durban Declaration, in addition to declaring that the people of Africa had been victimized by slavery and continued to suffer as a result, called for During the International Year for People of African Descent, ten years later, the UN called for these efforts to intensify. Two years later, in December 2013, the UN resolved that 1 January 2015 would launch the International Decade for People of African Descent.
The then UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said on the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent:
‘The road to a world free from racism, prejudice and stigma is rocky. Combating racial discrimination is a long-term effort. It requires commitment and persistence. People of African descent need encouragement and support. Member States have the moral and legal obligation to provide sustained political and financial backing to make the Decade effective and to continue our path toward equal and just societies.’
The main objectives of the International Decade are as follows:
- Promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African Descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies;
- Adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks according to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to ensure their full and effective implementation.
Are there other International or United Nations Decades or Years?
There is no shortage of International Years or Decades, which some of them running concurrently. Some selected examples of these are:
- 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development
- 2011 International Year for People of African Descent & International Year of Yout
- 2010 International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures International Year of the Seafarer
Then there are the UN Decades of which some examples are:
- 2015-2024 International Decade for People of African Descen
- 2011-2020 Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism
- 2001-2010 Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism
- 1990-2000 International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism
- 1983-1993 Second Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination
- 1973-1983 Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination
I am sure you do not fail to notice, that there are or have been up to three decades dealing with the ‘Eradication of Colonialism’ and two concerning ‘Racial Discrimination’.
What is happening programmed or planned about or in this current decade?
The implementation of the approved programme of activities takes place on national, regional and international levels.
This means that states or countries have to take concrete and practical steps to adopt effective national and international legal frameworks, policies and programmes to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance which people of African descent are undergoing.
Countries should take into account particularly the situation of women, girls and young males.
At the regional and International levels, the international community and international and regional organizations are called, among other things, to raise awareness, disseminate the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, assist states in the full and effective implementation of their commitments under the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, collect statistical data, incorporate human rights into development programmes and honour and preserve historical memory of people of African descent.
What is happening in the Netherlands concerning this International Decade?
In the Netherlands the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) is responsible for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent. The following activities have already been put into action:
- The decade was launched on 25 October 2016. See Facebook photos: https://www.facebook.com/pg/africandescentNL/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1879043348992818
- The National Platform for History of Slavery and the Institute of Cultural Heritage & Knowledge have created an inventory of a social map of organizations, networks and individuals that aim to improve the position of people of African descent. www.organisatiesafrikaanseafkomst.nl
- A budget of € 500,000 has been made available for educative projects in the fields of Awareness and Empowerment of people of African Descent.
- A tender was launched resulting in a shortlist of eleven project proposals.
- SZW co-financed a story competition on equality of people of different complexion, particularly of African Descent.
- During the month of October 2016 a Black Achievement Month was organized in many Dutch cities featuring various media.
The International decade for People of African Descent has taken off with a bang which should be sustained with a longer term view.
SZW (The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment) states to have a broad interpretation of ‘African descent’ but remarks that most organizations are focussed on Africa South of the Sahara and continues to mention that this would then be mainly those from Surinam and the Caribbean and perhaps some refugees like those from Somalia and Eritrea.
This unfortunately totally neglects the numerically smaller but sizable African population in The Netherlands from a host of countries like, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Cape Verd etc.
*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org