Discussions surrounding people of African Descent at the UN

The 3rd session of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent that took place in April 2024 in Switzerland. Find out about the principal debate and Brazil's participation

Photo by Benjamin Polge / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP) Photo by Benjamin Polge / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP)

The Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, established by the UN General Assembly in 2021, contributes to the political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent worldwide and is part of the activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The third session of the forum was held in Geneva, in Switzerland, from 16 to 19 April. 

This initiative is a sign of the global community’s acknowledgement that descendants of the victims of the European transatlantic trade and African people who have participated in more recent migratory movements constitute one of the most historically vulnerable groups in society and their rights need to be promoted and safeguarded.

“Anti-racism is an institutional and cross-cutting value in all of Conectas’ thematic programmes, so going to the forum was a very important opportunity for learning and making connections,” says Caroline Leal, an advisor on the strategic litigation team at Conectas, who was one of the Conectas representatives at the event.

Reparation as a key point

One of the crucial discussions at the 2024 forum was on reparations for people of African descent. This matter has a complex history but it has been gaining momentum around the world. For example during the session, an ambassador from the Caribbean Community and others from South American nations advocated for the creation of a special international tribunal to assess reparations for enslavement and its consequences.

Also significant was the demand from a coalition of civil society organizations in Haiti for France to reimburse billions of dollars to the country to cover a debt that formerly enslaved individuals were forced to pay in exchange for recognition of the island’s independence in 1804.

 “The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights himself was very forceful in his speech, calling for concrete actions from governments for a new era of reparations aimed at compensating for the atrocities of the slavery era,” Leal said.

Other panels at the event addressed topics such as education, discussing how to decolonise the school curriculum and culture, aiming to acknowledge the contributions made by Afro-descendant communities and promoting the protection of their heritage and freedom of expression.

In addition, one of the outcomes of the third session of the forum was the recognition of the need for a second International Decade for People of African Descent (2025-2034), not only to continue the goals set for the first decade, but also to update the objectives in light of current challenges, including climate change and the rise of antidemocratic extremism.

Progress was made in the debate surrounding the construction of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights of People of African Descent and for the inclusion of an 18th item on the list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN’s 2030 Agenda to address ethnic-racial equality which is not covered in the existing 17 resolutions.

Brazil’s participation

The Brazilian government participated in the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent through a delegation from the Ministry of Racial Equality and other agencies. They presented actions aimed at promoting and acknowledging the history and culture of Afro-Brazilians, as well as institutional efforts to halt violence against young black individuals, women, and practitioners of religions of African origin.

There was a special mention of the Black Youth Alive Programme, which aims to reduce inequalities faced by the black population, especially the youth, through measures in the areas of health, education, and public safety.

Simultaneously, parallel panels composed of civil society members brought other important data and debates. Odara – Black Women’s Institute, for example, presented a robust dossier on the deaths of black children as a consequence of the actions of the Military Police of Bahia, which was shared and discussed with activists from Brazil and Latin America, and passed to June Sommer, the current president of the forum.

“The forum provided space both to discuss universal issues and to address specific and regional problems,” says Leal from Conectas.

Brazil was also present at the event in other ways, notably with the unprecedented exhibition “Red Atlantic,” featuring around 60 works by 22 Brazilian artists. The collection, on the mezzanine of the UN building and curated by Marcelo Campos from Rio de Janeiro, included works directly related to the theme of slavery.

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