Concludes General Debate on the Follow-up to and Implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
25 September 2018
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. It also concluded its general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
Michal Balcerzak, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, spoke of the recurring incidents of xenophobic mob attacks against racial minorities, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, as well as the racist language openly used by representatives of political parties. People of African descent were particularly vulnerable to structural discrimination and various forms of inequities with respect to the enjoyment of human rights. States should develop zero-tolerance policies towards white supremacy, and recognize people of African descent and the cultural, economic, political and scientific contributions that they had made. He spoke about the Working Group’s visits to Guyana and Spain.
Guyana and Spain spoke as concerned countries.
In the interactive dialogue, speakers echoed the view of the report that people of African descent were particularly vulnerable to structural discrimination and various forms of inequality. They noted that the unabated occurrence of racial profiling of people of African descent and the impunity of the law enforcement officers involved was of ever increasing concern. States must hold accountable those who violated the rights of people of African descent. People of African descent bore the burden of the lingering effects of past atrocities from the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. Speakers also voiced concern that some States did not collect relevant data to determine the prevalence of racism, racial discrimination and hate speech against people of African descent, which was an obstacle to fighting extremist ideologies, extremist discourses and hate.
Speaking were Brazil on behalf of a group of countries, Togo on behalf of the African Group, European Union, Brazil, UN Women, Djibouti, China, Bolivia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Iraq, Angola, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Azerbaijan, Madagascar, Lesotho, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (in a joint statement with International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination EAFORD), Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development and African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The first part of the general debate took place on Monday, 24 September, and a summary can be found here.
During the general debate, speakers voiced concern about the discrimination faced by women. Even with certain legislative measures in place, the legislative and judicial branches had done little to protect women. There were also fears that not enough effort was being made to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. Many speakers noted the rolling back of human rights protections in certain countries, where war and conflict had exposed vulnerable people to violations. Speakers further voiced concern about attacks against human rights defenders and structures in place to protect them, and about the recruitment of child soldiers. The right to self-determination was also a subject of discussion with conflict hindering that right in many regions of the world.
Taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Humanist and Ethical Union, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés (OIPMA), iuventum e.V., International Committee for the Respect and the Application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Sikh Human Rights Group, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Liberation, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi, Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association MBOSCUDA, International Buddhist Relief Organisation , Guinea Medical Mutual Association , Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme, Indian Council of South America (CISA), Solidarity Switzerland-Guinea, Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale, International Association for Democracy in Africa, Iraqi Development Organization, Alsalam Foundation, African Regional Agricultural Credit Association, World Environment and Resources Council, Pan African Union for Science and Technology, Prahar, Canners International Permanent Committee, VAAGDHARA, Ius Primi Viri International Association, World Barua Organization, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Center for Environmental and Management Studies, Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, World Muslim Congress, United Schools International, International-Lawyers.Org, European Union of Public Relations, African Green Foundation International, Conseil de jeunesse pluriculturelle (COJEP), Association of World Citizens, International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), Health and Environment Program (HEP), Association culturelle des Tamouls en France, International Solidarity for Africa, Action of Human Movement (AHM), African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation, L'Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie, Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul, Zero Poor in Africa, Jeunesse Etudiante Tamoule, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and Society for Development and Community Empowerment.
The Council will next hold a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
General Debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
International Humanist and Ethical Union expressed concern about the growing crisis in human rights taking place around the world related to harmful witchcraft beliefs and practices. Witchcraft related abuses occurred on a worldwide scale, with the highest prevalence in India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The most affected by witchcraft related abuse were women, children, and people with disabilities. These groups were the most likely to be used as scapegoats for all kinds of problems, including illnesses, misfortunes and poverty.
Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés (OIPMA) spoke about the importance of recognizing that the adoption of the Vienna Declaration had greatly strengthened certain human rights principles and declared women’s rights as fundamental. The organisation emphasized the need to combat impunity. However, while the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action were recognized as an important milestone in mankind’s quest for universal human rights, there was still a long way to go. In too many places, human rights remained far away, but a decisive position on human rights from the Council could help.
Iuventum EV congratulated States in the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean for the adoption of the Escazu agreement earlier this year. The treaty was recognized as the first of its kind in the world to include specific binding provisions for the promotion and protection of human rights defenders in environmental matters, stemming from the 2012 United Nations conference on sustainable development.
International Committee for the Respect and the Application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights wished to record its concern regarding the precarious situation affecting refugees living in the Tindouf camps in Algeria for more than 40 years. The basic rights of these people were being violated. The Comité also expressed concern that no United Nations human rights body or mechanism had been able to visit the camps to observe the situation of the refugees there; even the number of refugees in the Tindouf camps was unknown.
Sikh Human Rights Group said that States had to take all necessary measures to allow women to represent their countries in the United Nations system. Women were underrepresented in diplomatic missions in New York and Geneva. Frequently, high-ranking diplomatic staff lacked relevant expertise on the question of women’s human rights defenders. The full participation of women in political affairs was a requirement for the full implementation of their rights.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia regretted that aspirations for independent, effective and empowered national human rights institutions were yet to be realized in many Asian countries. It called on all United Nations agencies to encourage engagement between national human rights institutions and civil society in accordance with the Paris Principles and the Kandy Programme of Action.
Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik drew attention to the fact that Muslim-born people who converted to Christianity in Iran faced harassment, intimidation, and judiciary sentences. The organization reminded that around two million children had been left behind in Iran. Girls were not registered for high school after they had finished school at the age of 13, which was the age of marriage for girls in Iran.
Liberation called attention to the numerous crimes committed against indigenous women in Tripura in India. Raped indigenous girls were shunned. Many girls had been raped by immigrants and members of the Indian armed forces. The organization called for an independent investigation into cases of sexual violence and extrajudicial killings committed by illegal immigrants and Indian armed forces.
Association pour l’Intégration et le Développement Durable in Burundi said in India, racism had a religious base. The caste system was propagated by the majority. The elimination of castes was important but the Government was trying to protect the system and trying to hide the gravity of the problem. However, attacks by the upper castes against the lower castes were getting worse, with women being particularly vulnerable to harassment.
Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee was concerned that India continued to support discrimination faced by human rights defenders and civil society. Those two networks were under attack by the Indian Government as human rights defenders faced threats from extremist forces. Authorities also harassed people under the guise of the National Security Act. There was no remedy available; where could protection be found for human rights defenders?
Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association MBOSCUDA said that India imposed draconian policies on its citizens. The provisions of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action must be implemented in India to stop human rights violations. However, Manipour indigenous peoples were still under attack by Indian Special Forces, with women and children affected in particular. Cases filed in the Supreme Court concerning those attacks had still not been given justice. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action needed to be honoured.
International Buddhist Relief Organization said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action promoted human rights as a matter of priority. The organization deplored the non-implementation of resolution 30/1 related to the reconciliation in Sri Lanka, establishing responsibility and promoting human rights. The organization had presented a report to the Council on this subject, but it had not received any response.
Guinea Medical Mutual Association spoke of the violence and discrimination that continued against the Singhalese people in northern Sri Lanka. These people were intimidated and forced to leave their homes as part of a racist apartheid policy. The Association emphasized how century-old Buddhist sites were being bulldozed even as they spoke. The Association reminded the Council that there should be no place for racist apartheid States in Sri Lanka or anywhere else.
Conseil International Pour Le Soutien des Process Equitable Aux Droits de L’homme declared that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action still represented a window of hope for non-government organizations around world. However, the Conseil highlighted how Saudi Arabia continued to exercise numerous violations without a check, which made it morally imperative to stand up against this double face where the country tried to appear open and tolerant on the outside, while cracking down on human rights on the inside. Saudi Arabia had imposed numerous executions against human rights defenders.
Indian Council of South America (CISA) reminded the Council how the peoples of Alaska had signed a resolution calling on the United Nations and United States to grant the peoples of Alaska self-determination. However, the Indian Council highlighted how the Supreme Court of the United States had legalized the settlement of the land by the white race. The Indian Council called on the United Nations to re-enlist the elders of Alaska as the proper authorities over the land.
Solidarity Switzerland-Guinea said that the international community had failed to build on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It noted that during the last phase of the internal armed conflict in 2009 in Sri Lanka, military personnel had donated their own food and clean water to innocent Tamil civilians. The Sri Lankan Government was the only Government to ensure medical treatment to terrorists. The organization condemned the burning of ambulances by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, whose members had also violated the rights of women and children in Sri Lanka.
Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale – OCAPROCE Internationale reminded that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action aimed for the full protection of the human rights of all, including of migrants and women. The organization was concerned about the situation faced by many women around the world. Thousands of women continued to suffer multiple forms of sexual and gender-based violence, such as the Saharawi women in the Tindouf camps.
International Association for Democracy in Africa noted that women had always had to struggle against sexism and discrimination. In Pakistan it was as rampant as a decade ago, where recently a girl had been burned alive after being raped. There was a social taboo associated with the rape of women, which was considered to shame her family. The Government paid no heed to that problem but placed the blame on women.
Iraqi Development Organization, in a joint statement, reminded the Council that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in Yemen had severely impacted the Yemeni people’s right to self-determination through an illegal war. Before the war, the Yemenis had been close to the ideal of power sharing. The Yemenis must take any legitimate action to end the unlawful war and to realize their right to self-determination.
Alsalam Foundation, in a joint statement with Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, expressed concern about States’ violations of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action with their failure to prosecute security forces who carried out human rights violations, in particular torture and extrajudicial violence. In Bahrain, torture was rampant in prisons and security forces frequently used extrajudicial violence with impunity against protesters, critics and journalists.
African Regional Agricultural Credit Association said Pakistan was ranked 121 out of 127 in the United Nations gender equality index. If a woman was killed by her brother, Islamic law allowed him to settle the case with his family, which was often forgiven. Religious groups launched assaults against women’s freedom in places like Balochistan. Girls were also dropping out of education. Discrimination in the region against women was serious: if you were killed, you deserved it; if you were raped you asked for it.
World Environment and Resources Council recommended that priority be given to promote democracy, development and human rights. Women in Pakistan were forced to voice out their protests. Superficial laws to protect women had been adopted. But the cases of murders and rapes had only increased in recent years. Even with the protection of the women act, acid control and acid prevention act, domestic violence act, anti-rape act, women in Pakistan had little hope of justice and the legislature and judicial branches had done little to protect them.
Pan African Union for Science and Technology said Pakistan was the world’s third most dangerous place for women in the world. The development of the female population was viewed as a threat to machismo. Women in Pakistan were victims of domestic violence, gang rapes, honour killings, extortion, burning and abduction for human trafficking. This was a pronouncement of the culture of violence portrayed by the perpetrators.
Prahar said many States faced huge challenges and were moving backward in human rights, and India was one such State. Detention under administrative laws had increased in the last three years. India had failed to protect indigenous peoples and to implement existing policies. If India could not protect the indigenous rights of the northwest region, then it was a violation of the Vienna Declaration and those people would have to protect themselves.
Canners International Permanent Committee called attention to the situation of women in Pakistan, which was one of the most dangerous countries for women in the world. There was no wonder that there was an ever-increasing gender gap in Pakistan, which ranked high on the United Nations list of gender inequality. Women had low life expectancy and were faced with domestic and sexual violence.
VAAGDHARA noted that India was seriously lagging behind with the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The rights of indigenous peoples, Dalits and women were under growing attack. Women in India faced domestic violence at the hands of their relatives and families. They faced sexual harassment at school and universities. Women were left to bear the agony alone.
Ius Primi Viri International Association underlined that women in Yemen had faced different forms of harassment after the Houthi coup d’état. The rights of children were also trampled on, including through the recruitment of child soldiers. Houthi militias had destroyed State institutions and used State resources for the war.
World Barua Organization reminded that the diversity of indigenous peoples was protected under the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. However, the way India handled its indigenous peoples raised serious doubts about its commitment to the Declaration. It appeared that the Government went hand in hand with illegal migration in north east of the country, in Assam and Tripura, where indigenous people had lost all hope that they could receive help from the authorities.
Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de L’homme reminded the Council that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action underlined the responsibility of States to enhance and preserve human rights. But 25 years later, women continued to be exposed to multiple forms of discrimination around the world. The Council should pay particular attention to Africa, where some of the worst forms of violence against women were on the rise and perpetrated with impunity, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Centre for Environmental and Management Studies asked how a nation could progress when it treated half of the population with contempt? The Centre drew attention to the situation of women in Pakistan who had been commodified since the beginning of the country’s existence. The rights of women were being lost amid a cacophony of nationalism across the country. The intensity of Pakistan’s human rights violations had not been fully recognized. Some small examples of progress acted as a white collar against the black backdrop of numerous human rights violations.
Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture said it was stunned in the face of Israel and its defiance of United Nations resolutions on human rights. Settlements on Palestinian territories were increasing and Israel should be condemned for undermining United Nations resolutions. The Centre addressed numerous crimes committed, particularly preventing Palestinians from exercising their right to self-determination. The designation of the Jewish nation bill, including having Hebrew as the official language, meant that this right to self-determination was further undermined.
Commission to Study the Organization of Peace decried Pakistan for depriving women of an education, a career and a place in society. The Commission called out Pakistan for its discriminatory treatment of women, but emphasized that the real threat came from radical Islamic terrorists who did not hesitate to rape and abuse women. It condemned the Pakistani Government for not taking precautionary or urgent measures to curb the power of these groups. Conditions were seen to have worsened in Pakistan due to the Government’s failure to protect the rights of women.
World Muslim Congress recognised the peoples’ right to take legitimate action to realise their right to self-determination. That right of the people of Kashmir was protected under international law. However, it was being violated in Jammu and Kashmir. Failing to subdue the peoples’ resistance, the Indian Government was now engineering a judicial process that would enable them to build colonies in that region, which would sow the seeds of a future war.
United Schools international said Pakistan was one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries. The economy was in peril in terms of poverty and unemployment. The gender gap was one of the main issues that the country struggled with as prejudice was rampant. There had been several cases of harassment and rape, even in elite working situations. Pakistan also did not recognise the work done by employed women, preferring to recognise women who remained at home.
International-Lawyers.Org had witnessed persons who were prominent Government Ministers in their countries during times of serious human rights abuses elevated to lead United Nations bodies. They raised concerns about the United Nations Secretariat retaliating against journalists because they reported about wrongdoing within the Organization. They expressed hope that the United Nations could be the model of human rights protections that it aspired to be.
European Union of Public Relations said women were constantly denied their rights in Pakistan. To maintain masculine dominance, the dogmatic nation had restricted development in female education and participation despite efforts like the national education act. The gap between the presence of men and women in the working world was made worse by practices such as child marriages and child labour. Women were also conditioned from an early age not to question the society’s patriarchy.
Africa Green Foundation International reminded the Council that the process of protecting human rights should be conducted in line with the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law. The resolution on Sri Lanka was based on a report full of lies. The Council had adopted it without any discussion, thus breaching its own procedure and the United Nations Charter
Conseil de jeunesse pluriculturelle (COJEP) denounced the actions and restrictions created by Saudi Arabia against Iraqis, Iranians, Qataris and Palestinians, who had not been allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage for political reasons, which violated their right to exercise their religion. Saudi Arabia should cease imposing such unlawful restrictions and from using religion as a weapon in conflicts.
Association of World Citizens called attention to the harassment faced by women human rights defenders every day. The organization read a letter from a female human rights defender who was in prison in Iran, to her son as he started a new school year; the Father was also in detention.
International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in a joint statement, underlined the importance of strengthening civil society. Non-governmental organizations at the Human Rights Council used to have an unlimited number of invitations for outside audience to attend side events. The process of accreditation was not convenient for those who did not use the Internet. Such actions would limit the desire of civil society to participate physically and contribute to discussions.
Health and Environment Programme said it was concerned at the progress regarding the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It supported the wording of paragraph 7 on the protection of human rights, and recommended that States adopt policies to improve human rights.
Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France pointed to the fact that despite the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, in Sri Lanka, only the majority community enjoyed civil rights, while Tamils were in fear for their lives. The Association highlighted that there were still 40,000 war orphans in Sri Lanka, while 7,000 square kilometres of Tamil land was under control of Sinhala soldiers. It emphasized that Tamils in Sri Lanka were still waiting for justice.
International Solidarity for Africa pointed out that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recognized the rights of people to take legitimate actions in accordance with the United Nations Charter in order to realize their right to self-determination. But the Sri Lankan Government was condemned for denying free rights to the Tamil people, and for responding with State violence and massacres against the Tamil people. The Council was urged to ensure the freedom of speech for Tamil people.
Action of Human Movement (AHM) reminded the Council that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted 25 years ago. Despite this fact, the plight of 30 million stateless Kurds throughout the occupied Kurdistan was decried. The Movement condemned the fact that the Kurdish language had been banned, Kurdish headquarters attacked, Kurdish historical leaders hanged, and current Kurdish leaders jailed. The rights of Kurdish people were seen as even further violated when the peaceful city of Afrin was invaded and annexed by Turkey earlier this year.
African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters said a comprehensive analysis of national human rights institutions across the globe was necessary. Women were the worst sufferers in any conflict zone, this was the case in Kashmir. They suffered from direct atrocities or indirectly as mothers, wives, sisters or daughters. They were also subject to sexual harassment, gang rape and obstruction of justice by Indian forces; 11 per cent of those women had suffered sexual harassment by the Indian forces.
United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation found that many countries had taken measures to apply the Vienna Declaration. However, some States, including Libya, were rolling back human rights measures. Militias that intervened in conflicts violated international and national law. Libya’s situation was a negligence of the country’s leaders and the gang warfare was gaining traction. Article seven of the Charter needed to be enacted to disarm the warring factions and tangible measures to protect citizens needed to be taken.
L’Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie said the Eelam Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka suffered issues of militarisation, illegal land acquisitions, land deplacement, detention of political prisoners, lack of investigation into accountability for enforced disappearance, and the lack of accountability for the structural genocide that had been in place since independence. The domestic legal system was incapable of processing judicial procedures without significant international involvement.
Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul drew the Council’s attention to the peculiar case of the occupied Tamils territory under the illegal occupation of Sri Lankan Security forces. Cases had been filed in Sri Lankan courts in 2013, concerning 15 enforced disappearances; those cases had been dragged out. How could it be said that the judicial system in Sri Lanka was functioning properly and impartially? There was no hope in the judicial mechanisms in Sri Lanka.
Zero Poor in Africa reminded that although Saudi Arabia had allowed women to drive, it had cracked down on women activists without clear charges. Over the past few months, the Saudi authorities had issued dozens of decisions preventing women human rights activists from travelling abroad. The organization called on the Human Rights Council to pressure Saudi Arabia to respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Jeunesse Etudiante Tamoule reminded that the victims in north and east of Sri Lanka had continued to suffer from the lack of accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. That was due to the politicized judiciary, police and the army, as well as the lack of protection for victims. The organization called on the Human Rights Council to grant self-determination to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University drew attention to the impact of climate change on human rights. As a faith-based organization working on climate change and human rights, the organization stressed that climate change represented a potentially irreversible threat to humanity. Climate policies should enable people to be respectful of human beings and the integrity of the planet.
Society for Development and Community Empowerment recalled that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stated that all people had the right to self-determination and to freely pursue their economic and social development. The organization reminded of the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka in 2009, noting that the occupation of the homeland of Tamils needed to end in order to achieve a lasting peace in the country.
The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its twenty-first and twenty-second sessions (A/HRC/39/69).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent – mission to Guyana (A/HRC/39/69/Add.1).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent – mission to Spain (A/HRC/39/69/Add.2).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent – comments by Spain (A/HRC/39/69/Add.4).
Presentation of Reports by the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
MICHAL BALCERZAK, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, spoke of the recurring incidents the world had increasingly witnessed of xenophobic mob attacks against racial minorities, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, as well as the racist language openly used by representatives of political parties, including at the highest levels of government, which were then amplified further in social media. Mr. Balcerzak urged the Council to be equally worried about that which may not gab the attention of the media – the passive expressions of racial apathy, racial colour-blindness, a general indifference toward societal, racial, and ethnic inequality, and a lack of engagement on race-related issues. This indifference towards the suffering of people of different ethnicity or race and lack of accountability created the basis for structural racial discrimination.
Mr. Balcerzak summarized the conclusions from the Working Group’s public session focused on the theme “Framework for a Declaration on the promotion and full respect of human rights of people of African descent.” The Working Group had concluded that people of African descent were particularly vulnerable to structural discrimination and various forms of inequities with respect to the enjoyment of human fights. The Working Group had concluded that the criminalization of irregular entry and other discriminatory State actions, including immigration legislation and practices, perpetrated negative perceptions of migrants and people of African descent, while bolstering support for right-wing extremism. The Working Group also concluded that people of African descent were disproportionately discriminated against in the administration of justice, evidenced by the prevalence of racial profiling, the disproportionate incarceration and the police brutality that they were subjected to. The Working Group was alarmed that women of African descent were increasingly vulnerable to multiple forms of discrimination.
The Working Group urged States to engage with communities, especially those with long histories of mistrust of authorities, including people of African descent. States should develop zero-tolerance policies towards white supremacy, Mr. Balcerzak said. The Declaration should call upon States to recognize the existence of their populations of people of African descent and the cultural, economic, political and scientific contributions they had made, as well as guarantees for their civil, political, economic, and cultural rights.
Mr. Balcerzak described the Working Group’s visit to Guyana in October 2017, where it met with representatives of the Government, institutions and civil society. The Working Group noted the ongoing work of Guyana’s Government to promote human rights, diversity and inclusion. However, despite positive measures, the Working Group remained concerned by the length of judicial proceedings at the pre-trial stage and the overcrowding of prison facilities. The Working Group encouraged Guayana to adopt a national plan of action against racial discrimination. It also strongly encouraged the Government to make efforts to reform the State judicial system to ensure that the right to a fair trial without undue delay was guaranteed not only in theory but also in practice.
Mr. Balcerzak also described the Working Group’s visit to Spain in February 2018. He welcomed some positive advances in Spain, including the submission in Parliament of a comprehensive law on discrimination. However, Mr. Balcerzak noted with concern that the human rights of people of African descent in Spain were not fully recognized. He underlined the major gaps that existed between law and practice in protecting people of African descent from racism and xenophobia. Civil society had reported that people of African descent were “invisible” and that laws did not offer any protection from everyday racism. People of African descent in Spain were found to face inequalities and multiple forms of discrimination. Domestic workers, predominantly women of African descent, were described as “invisible” and subjected to long hours of work with no safeguards against abuse. The Working Group was also concerned about the trafficking of women of African descent into Spain and the rest of Europe. The Working Group urged the Government of Spain to put an end to all forms of collective expulsion and pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants.
Mr. Balcerzak concluded by saying that the Working Group was available and ready to contribute to the drafting exercise of the Declaration on the promotion and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent. He reiterated the Working Group’s call to Member States to act resolutely and reach consensus at the earliest so that the Forum for People of African Descent and be held as soon as possible.
Statements by Concerned Countries
Guyana, speaking as a concerned country, recognized that many of the recommendations made by the Working Group were already being addressed, adding that it was sure that the findings and suggestions would assist it where they were relevant. Guyana appealed to the Working Group for greater understanding of the social makeup of Guyana, and the need for an integrated approach across all six peoples of the country as a suitable way to protect any single community. Guyana also asked for better understanding of the limitations of its financial and human resources, and for the need to prioritize and phase the implementation of relevant recommendations.
Spain, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the visit of the Working Group to Spain, and its conclusions and recommendations. It strongly supported the fight against all forms of racial discrimination and xenophobia. Equality and non-discrimination were at the heart of the Spanish Constitution, and the country had a solid legal framework to combat all forms of discrimination. Spain agreed that there was a need to strengthen the legal framework to combat discrimination against people of African descent. Accordingly, in June 2018 the Government had created a general directorate on equality within the Ministry of Presidency, Judicial Relations and Equality, which was tasked to work in the area of equality and elimination of all forms of discrimination. It had also promoted universal healthcare for all persons. That was part of an ambitious programme in the work of all ministries to combat discrimination.
Brazil, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, welcomed the report on elements for a draft declaration on the promotion and full respect of people of African descent. The declaration had to recognize the contributions of people of African descent as well as the persistence of racism today, and combat intersectional forms of discrimination. Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that despite efforts to implement resolution 68/237 proclaiming the International Decade of People of African Descent, the intensification of discriminatory practices in certain parts of the world had been noted. People of African descent were subjected to racial profiling and exposed to continuous cycles of poverty. European Union thanked the Working Group for its decisions on violent manifestations of racism, Afrophobia, xenophobia and hate speech. Universal ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was the best way to combat racial discrimination.
Brazil was committed to adopting, by 2024 a declaration on the enjoyment of all human rights by people of African descent. Equality and non-discrimination were foundational principles of human rights and any racial discrimination ran contrary to those principles. UN Women said that women of African descent experienced multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on both sex and race. People of African descent had been historically oppressed through slavery and apartheid, and the 2030 Agenda offered a roadmap towards the full realization of their rights. Djibouti welcomed the Working Group’s report and shared observations on the need to combat multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against people of African descent. The increase of violence and intolerance arising from extremist ideologies was noted.
China said the work to draft a declaration that incorporated the full respect of people of African descent was important; China understood their difficulties in achieving human rights. China supported the continuation of the Working Group’s efforts and was in favour of the development of the draft declaration and adherence to the action plan for the International Decade for People of African Descent. Bolivia said because of institutional racism and a legacy of slavery and colonialism, people of African descent faced disproportionate discrimination. Land was a strategic resource for African people and they had suffered a violent dispossession of their lands and struggled to maintain control of them. Land should be a cornerstone of their rights. Venezuela said emphasis needed to be placed on the interconnection between Africa’s legacy of colonialism, slavery and poverty. Also all forms of discrimination needed to be eradicated. Historic injustices contributed to economic inequalities, social exclusion and poverty. Venezuela was building a multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural society to address those issues.
Costa Rica agreed that the draft Declaration should emphasize the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism on the economic, social and cultural instability in Africa. There needed to be a clear structure and preamble to the Declaration and mention aspects that gave rise to the nature of discrimination against people of African descent. Iraq considered poverty to be a form of racism and the Government had adopted a strategy to improve the living standards for all citizens without discrimination. The authorities had also adopted a law to protect diversity, which applied to all. They believed the implementation of the Durban Declaration was the best way to guarantee security in society. Angola had adopted the International Decade for People of African Descent because of their belief that the international community should pay special attention to the fight against injustices experienced by people of African descent. Actions and true international cooperation to address problems affecting people of African descent was needed.
South Africa noted that the unabated occurrence of racial profiling of people of African descent and the impunity of the law enforcement officers involved was of ever increasing concern. States must hold accountable those who violated the rights of people of African descent. Côte d’Ivoire voiced concern that some States did not collect relevant data to determine the prevalence of racism, racial discrimination and hate speech against people of African descent, which was an obstacle to fighting extremist ideologies, extremist discourse and hate. Azerbaijan echoed the view of the report that people of African descent were particularly vulnerable to structural discrimination and various forms of inequality. It underlined the importance of eradicating all forms of discrimination faced by them, including through the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Madagascar stated that the plight of people of African descent in many parts of the world remained of concern. The lives of millions of such people were every day affected by hate speech, inequality and marginalization. Lesotho regretted that far-right extremists had taken advantage of the current global challenges, such as large-scale migration and terrorism, to fuel racism. People of African descent had been victims of the worst atrocities, such as the transatlantic trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Jamaica reminded that it continued to bear the burden of the lingering effects of past atrocities from the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. It supported the Working Group’s call for reparatory justice, and it remained concerned that 17 years since the adoption of the Durban Declaration, racism remained prevalent across societies, countries and regions.
Trinidad and Tobago noted that realization of the rights of all could not be achieved without the promotion and protection of human rights of people of African descent, as for centuries they had been victims of enslavement and racial discrimination and were still disadvantaged because of social biases and discrimination. International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, in a joint statement with International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), expressed its strong support to the mandate of the Working Group. The Working Group could include further elaboration on the topic of Afrophobia and support was extended to the proposal of the President of the Council to appoint Ms. Dominique Days as a member of the Working Group. Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development was committed to combatting racism and xenophobia. People of African descent were more exposed to acts of racial discrimination, even from law-enforcement agencies. African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters had participated in the sessions of the Working Group but since it coincided with the Council, many States and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council could not attend. Hope was expressed that this would not happen again.
MICHAL BALCERZAK, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, thanked speakers for the constructive feedback and comments, adding that the mission of the Working Group did not end with the country report, but that it continued with feedback and dialogue. Operational guidelines on the Sustainable Development Goals had been finalized and by the end of 2018 the Working Group would have an opportunity to test them in the field. The guidelines themselves were work in progress and would be reviewed in future to achieve better outcomes. As for the interactions envisaged by the Working Group, he recalled that the agenda item would be included in March 2019. The Working Group reiterated readiness to be part of that process, adding that States should draw lessons from the past. There was no reason to prolong the drafting of the guidelines on the Sustainable Development Goals. The Working Group was engaged in building synergies with other mechanisms, such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was extremely important that the mandate of the Working Group was exercised in all areas, particularly through country visits. The Working Group appreciated input from all relevant stakeholders. On land rights, the Working Group had organized a discussion on that topic and it would continue to deliberate on it in future sessions.
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