|Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
2nd session, 3rd- 7th February 2003
Selvarani Paneerselvam, intern, IMADR- UN Office
The Working Group on People of African Descent received its mandate
from the Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/68, which was
approved by Economic and Social Council resolution 2002/270, to study
the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent
living in the Diaspora, and to elaborate proposals for the elimination
of this discrimination. The Working Group of Experts on People of
African Descent met for its first session in November 2002. Three
experts have in so far carried out research in this specified area of
work and produced the results of their findings in this second session.
Summary of 2nd session
The issues considered by the Working Group during its five-day
session included a discussion on the paper presented by
Ambassador P.L.Kasanda (Zambia) on the "Identification and
Definition of ‘People of African Descent’ and How Racial
Discrimination against them is Manifested in Various Regions".
Similar discussions took place involving three other papers presented by
experts, which include Dr.Georges Jabbour’s (Syrian Arab Republic)
paper on "Some Personal Thoughts on Reparations and People of
African Descent", Professor Dr. Irina Zlatescu’s (Romania) paper
on "How to Use the UN Human Rights Mechanisms for an Effective
Protection of the Rights of People of African Descent", and Mr.
Doudou Dine’s (Special Rapporteur on Racism) paper on the 'Promotion
et signification des lieux de memoire de l'esclavage' (Promotion and
significance of the memorial places of slavery).
The specific issues discussed involved the definition of people of
African descent, deliberations of the forms of racial discrimination
manifesting in specific regions of the world (right to development, the
law enforcement, media and other contemporary forms of racism). Various
forms of reparation were discussed alongside the methods of calculation
and the parties who may be held accountable to make such reparations.
Subsequently, the representative from the United Nations Research
Institute for Social Development, Mr. Yusuf Bangura spoke on the issue
of "Racism and Public Policy". The issues underscored here
evolved around the lack of official recognition of the people of African
descent by a number of States in their statistics (statistical surveys)
and in government policies. Research was highlighted as a crucial
element to enhance the level of knowledge surrounding people of African
The representative from the World Bank, Miss Josefina Stubbs also
contributed towards the discussions. Next a representative from the
Inter-American Development Bank, Miss Claire Nelson also carried out a
presentation. It should be pointed out from the outset however that this
report does not cover all of the issues deliberated over the five-day
(A) Summary & discussion of Working Paper prepared by
Ambassador P.L.Kasanda (Zambia) (elected Chair-Rapporteur for 2nd
Identification and Definition of "People of African
Descent" and How Racial Discrimination against them is Manifested
in Various Regions
Ambassador P.L.Kasanda, defines "persons of African Descent…
as descendants of the African victims of the Trans-Atlantic and
Mediterranean Sea slave trade, including those of the sub-Sahara slave
trade". Furthermore he includes "those Africans and their
descendants who, after their countries’ independence emigrated to or
went to work in Europe, Canada and the Middle East where they also
experienced racial discrimination suffered by those who live in Western
European countries". The largest number of slaves were transported
on the trans-Atlantic route who were drawn from the west coast of Africa
and were mainly destined for the Western hemisphere and a small number
to Europe. A smaller number of slaves came from the interior of the West
Africa, East Africa and parts of Southern Africa, who were mainly
destined to the Middle East and some islands in the Indian Ocean.
Paragraph 13 of the Durban Declaration and paragraph 119 of the
Durban Programme of Action, express acknowledgment of the fact that
Africans and people of African descent continue to be victims of racism,
racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which
manifests itself as a direct consequence of slavery and the slave trade,
including the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
From the very outset it should be noted that the fact that the Chair
has carefully divided the various forms of racial discriminatory
policies and acts which prevail in different regions, clearly suggests
that people of African descent represent a diverse community at
different stages of economic development and with different issues,
needs and expectations which need to be addressed through the
implementation of this working groups mandate.
Manifestations of Racial Discrimination in Latin America and
the Caribbean Origin
· Invisibility: method of minimizing or erasing the contribution of
The invisibility of people of African descent in the national
cultures in Latin American may be attributed to the fact that it is
assumed to be founded on European Creole experiences. As a result of
this, people of African descent become more marginilized, thus
perpetuating social prejudices and discrimination against them. In the
media, such persons are absent or are portrayed in unflattering roles.
Finally and more importantly, invisibility in the area of population and
development planning means an absence of statistical information
according to the ethnic groups. Thus people of African descent are
denied the opportunity to become target group for donor agencies and
this further stifles their development programming.
· Economic Disenfranchisement: long term process, limits choice
& retards upward mobility thereby producing and reproducing poverty
This may be viewed as a result of discriminatory policies by
governments for example lack of investment for social or economic
infrastructure in geographic areas with black or predominantly black
communities. Other areas affected include that of the educational
sector, decision making positions, the expropriation of ancestral lands
for the purposes of national parks or sale to private individuals,
discrimination in employment etc. As a result of this people of African
descent are locked into stereotyped economic roles.
Furthermore the Ambassador highlighted the fact that knowledge of the
African past is restricted to that of slavery and servitude under
European descendants, thus continuously excluding people of African
descent from participating freely in the economic life.
Under this heading, the representative of the International
Association Against Torture NGO draws a link between the right to
development and enforced underdevelopment. The right to development
should be recognized as one of the most fundamental human rights and in
his view Africans in the Diaspora and more particularly in the USA have
been deprived of their right to development, although noting that some
have done so on an individual basis, that is without any support through
government or market policies. Costa Rica and the representative of
Space Afro-American NGO agreed that there is an intrinsic link between
development and racism. The representative of International
Possibilities Unlimited further called upon other UN processes to
recognize that racism is an impediment to sustainable development and a
causal factor in the endemic poverty faced by the developing world.
Manifestations of Racial Discrimination in Western Countries
The refusal of the Western powers to acknowledge and provide
reparations to victims of slave trades is said to constitute a
manifestation of such racism and racial discrimination, compared with
their attitude vis a vis human tragedies like the Jewish Holocaust. Such
historical facts surrounding the story of slave trade is moreover absent
in Western school textbooks. The Ambassador goes on to highlight the
main contemporary forms of racism which prevail in Western societies.
These include employment, housing, public amenities and law enforcement.
Generally such discrimination transpires under the provisions of social
services in areas in which they predominantly inhabit.
On a discussion of the contemporary forms of racism which prevail in
the law enforcement, the representative from the International
Association against Torture raised the issue of the mistreatment of
Black political prisoners who are prosecuted and sentenced on the basis
of their political beliefs. However they are subsequently labeled as
"criminals" without any reference to the politics which gave
rise to their incarceration.
The representative of International Possibilities Unlimited further
spoke of the racial disparity in the application of the death penalty
which is even more pronounced with juvenile offenders than it is with
adult offenders. She made clear of the fact he intention here is in
underscoring the comparatively high number of Afro-Americans who face
the death penalty in the US (Currently 67% of all juvenile offenders on
death row in the US are persons of color). There may in turn be a link
between Afro- Americans relying upon free legal representation as a
result of their economic status, and a result of this they are deprived
of their right to obtain the type and level of legal protection they
Manifestations of Racial Discrimination on the African Region
Under the period of colonialism and imperialism, such discrimination
was inflicted upon the "native" rather than upon the
"slave". Natives were valued only in so far as they
contributed to the creation of wealth of the metropolitan colonial
power. Thus the people of African descent faced poor quality of services
in such areas as education, hospitals, residential areas and public
(B) Summary & Discussion of Working Paper prepared by
Dr.Georges Jabbour (Brazil) "Some Personal Thoughts on Reparations
and People of African Descent"
Although the principle of reparation does not appear in the final
document of the Durban Conference, there is a form of silent consensus
based in Durban that proclaimed slavery as a crime against humanity,
thus in accordance with the basic tenets of international law each crime
Meaning of Reparation
Reparations may take various forms, it is a "multidimensional
word" (moral reparations: apologies, erecting of museums dedicated
to those victims of slave trade; or material reparation: monetary
funds). Under the circumstances the legal term "reparation"
should not be confused with such forms of aid or assistance to alleviate
Mr.Martins (representative expert from Brazil) urged upon the need
for a variety of material forms of reparation, stressing upon the fact
that moral reparation alone would not suffice as a means of healing the
past wounds. Egypt alongside the representative from the International
Association against Torture NGO endorsed this view. The former
reiterating the critical acknowledgment at the Durban Conference, of
slavery and the slave trade as an appalling tragedy of humanity,
nevertheless the end result of which is a mere expression of regret that
these practices continue. Thus as such the issue of reparation is a
crucial element which needs to be further elaborated upon in the mandate
imposed upon this working group.
Three-sided Material Reparations Relationship
Here there are firstly those slave descendants referred to as People
of African descendants, who fall under the definition provided by
Ambassador Kesanda. Secondly descendants of slave traders and owners,
who manifest themselves as families or companies who continuously
prosper. However in strict legal terms, Dr. Jabbour holds the opinion
that it is inequitable to impose reparations upon this category persons.
Finally there is the State who is in a better position to assess the
financial capability of those who ought to pay, thus they can be an
arbitrator acting from a position of sovereignty.
Here the representative from the International Association against
Torture NGO stood in opposition to the view that descendants of slave
traders and owners would not under legal terms be justified in imposing
reparations. The representative underscored the fact that reparations
are justified in that crimes against humanity have been committed and
have no statute of limitations, thus such descendants of slave traders
(corporations or countries) who derived enormous benefits from the
slavery period should be held accountable for their past wrongdoing. He
highlighted the fact that its NGO members are currently suing US
corporations which have profited from the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and
slavery. Thus just as a State may be held accountable for its past wrong
doings, so may companies who have reaped the benefits from such acts.
Here the representative urged for the further development of a rationale
in international law for the thesis that the essence of the concept of
crimes against humanity existed well before the use of this term in
Elements in the Calculation of Reparations
A few historical precedence, was evoked here as guiding principles.
For example Holocaust victims, the Americans of Japanese descent and
other countries which present certain similarities (incarceration,
suppression, loss of personal freedom, forced labour, poverty) to the
people of African descent situation.
Finally Dr. Jabbour proposed for the floor to take into consideration
any valuable material which may be available on this issue in order to
cover all further aspects of reparation. Only upon filling these gaps
may this issue be dealt with at an international political level.
The Chair noted that in order for this issue to truly receive support
in the form of a political will to make such reparations, there is a
clear need to tackle this on a legal platform. The representative of the
Space Afro-American NGO proposed that a package of reparations be
established for such persons of African descent. Interfaith
International NGO took this a step further by suggesting that a list be
drawn up on each aspect of reparation which may apply to the different
regions. This proposal was made with the intention of receiving a
preliminary response from the Western Group.
The representative of All for Reparations and Emancipation (AFRE)
also voiced concerns with the basic restoration of collective human
rights, recognition and reparation for Afro-descendants. Such persons in
her view have experienced the loss of their original identity, language
and religion and as a result suffer discrimination.
Summary and discussion on the Presentation by the representative
of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (Mr.
Yusuf Bangura) on "Racism and Public Policy"
The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)
invited high- level scholars from various regions of the world to
prepare papers and lead discussions at a parallel UNRISD conference held
from the 3rd to the 5th of September 2001. Participants of this
Conference encompassed representatives of governments, international
agencies, NGOs, academia and media persons. The conference provided
participants with research findings, insights, and policy debates on
some of the core issues of racism, xenophobia and intolerance as they
affect different groups, countries and regions, and examined the
opportunities, problems and challenges of public policies in the area of
combating such discriminatory behavior.
Four themes were focused upon in this conference; the social
construction of race and citizenship; the social dynamics of racism and
inequalities; organized responses to cultural diversity; and the impact
of public policies on race relations.
Two points were made on the findings of this conference, firstly the
complex ways in which racial cleavages influence the evolution of
citizenship, also expressing the opinion that formal equality does not
lead to equality of citizenship. Secondly the belief that there should
be an incorporation of social justice and equitable governance, which is
seen as a fundamental requirement for achieving stability and
consolidating values of citizenship.
The speaker raised three areas of research which he felt needed to be
focused upon, firstly involving social economics (private data;
employment, housing, attainment to education), political areas
(representation of people of African descent in civil service, political
parties, decision making positions), and security sector (representation
of people of African descent in prison, immigrants, judiciary).
In order to carry out such research, the key elements which need to
be addressed are for instance
· how the people of African descent compare with that of the host
· in which sector are the people of African Descent making progress
and in which areas are they lacking progress,
· and if so the reasons as to this lack in progress needs to be
looked at further.
More importantly public policies, which affect the people of African
descent, also need to be identified and researched closely. This point
is closely linked with that of the issues identified by the Chairperson,
Ambassador Kasendra in that people of African descent are continuously
being marginilized, thus are denied the opportunity to be targeted by
donor agencies or provided their right to development.
The speaker proposed for a paper to be commissioned on two critical
areas, that of Racial Profiling conducted by the police and immigration
officers. Secondly the manner in which the people of African descendants
are being reported by the media and further questioning the effects of
public policy here.
Mr. Matinez, fellow Brazilian expert, drew a link between the
proposal for hard data being recovered in the area of social economics,
which may then be used to diagnose public policies. He explained of the
racial census currently being conducted in Brazil to ascertain the
composition of such people of African descendants within the federal
governments and the positions they hold. This is being done with the
intention of preparing an execution of presidential decree in increasing
the position of people of African descendants to decision-making
positions. Additionally the Brazilian government wishes to apply such a
racial census to areas such as the judiciary and the armed forces to
improve the standing of people of African descent in this area. Such
programs could be replicated in other parts of the world where such
horizontal equalities do not prevail, which only make it more difficult
to carry out such census on the base of ethnicity and groups.
Further proposals relating to the issue of "Research" of
people of African descent
Regarding data collection, the representative of the World Bank
informed the working group of the problems it encountered through its
studies, in that such census or surveys are not asked in a culturally
appropriate manner and may be answered incorrectly. Thus as a result the
overall evaluation does not appear accurate. Costa Rica rightly endorsed
On the general issue of research, the representative of International
Possibilities Unlimited raised the problem of a lack of training in this
area of methodological research. She proposed that smaller institutions
or colleges might provide such training to the scholars who need more
training. This may be classified as a long-term proposal. The
representative of Space Afro-American NGO, spoke of the need to make
available, in all other languages the outcome of such research in order
for the local communities to have access to them. Furthermore she
highlighted the need for an exchange of information of these research
elements and their outcomes between various organizations, institutions
and governments in order to avoid duplicate researches being carried out
and furthermore to enhance the level of knowledge between these
Finally the representative from the African Society of International
and Comparative Law urged that more studies be carried out in the Asian
regions and further proposed that the WG may consider the elaboration of
a Code of Conduct for the media in order to impose the obligation upon
them towards refraining from airing negative impressions or stereotyping
Summary of other general issues discussed at the 2nd session
The representative from the Space Afro-American NGO highlighted the
fact that only four of the Latin American countries have ratified to the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism and
Racial Discrimination which is an important issue which needs to be
addressed. He further voiced his opposition towards the fact that people
of African descent are referred to as minorities.
In conclusion the representatives from the Space Afro-American NGO,
International Association against Torture NGO, International
Possibilities Unlimited, AFRE, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Costa Rica and a
host of other countries proposed that this working group should have a
permanent status in order to establish the proposals and
recommendations, which it is under a duty to provide under the given
mandate. The representative of the International Association against
Torture NGO voiced his opinion in that the Western Groups intention in
boycotting this session is to undermine the permanency of this working
group. Furthermore they are absconding for fear of this whole issue of
reparation, for if they succumb to moral reparation, the matter will
inevitably lead to material reparation and a call for legal justice
within their national systems. Thus the Working Group of Experts will
take into consideration all of the proposals and recommendations put
forth by the representatives and in turn present its final conclusions
to the Commission on Human Rights during its yearly meetings between
March 16th and April 26th of 2003.
Summary of the Draft Conclusions and Recommendations of the
Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
On the final day, the experts produced the final draft conclusions
and recommendations, which were then opened to the floor for their
comments. The following are a number of conclusions presented: firstly
people of African descent represent a diverse community at different
stages of development and with different issues, needs and expectations;
these variations should be acknowledged and further studied. People of
African descent can be said to be "invisible" because they are
largely absent or excluded with respect to domestic data collection,
statistical analysis and the depiction in the media. An intrinsic link
is drawn between the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) intercultural project "The Slave
Route" and that of the Working Group. The representative from
Canada urged for the inclusion of a paragraph here to link the Working
Group and that of the International Labour Organization for reasons that
in most cases people of African descent spend most of their time at
work. The Working Group also encourages the Western European and Other
Group of States to nominate an expert, so as to raise the level of
participation in the Working Group.
In turning to the Recommendations, with regards to the first
" The studying of problems of racial discrimination faced by
people of African descent living in the Diaspora. To that end, gathering
of all relevant information from Governments, NGOs and other appropriate
sources, including through holding public meetings."
The Working Group recommends the sending of a questionnaire to
Governments, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations,
national institutions, academics, and NGOs in order to assemble and
synthesize existing information about the situation of people of African
descent. The Working Group also will continue its consultations with the
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) to get
a greater understanding of Afro- descendant issues by undertaking
specific studies on the economic and social development of people of
Turning to the second mandate;
"The drafting of measures to ensure full and effective access to
the justice system by people of African descent"
Studies should be carried out on the domestic public defender/legal
aid systems, jury selection, judicial appointments, access to legal and
judicial training including on police violence.
On the third mandate;
" The submission of recommendations on the design,
implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial
profiling of people of African descent"
The Working Group encourages Member States to reform their
educational systems to reflect the history and culture of people of
African descent and the history of slavery. A study is also to be
undertaken on the media, which would focus in part on stereotypes,
negative imagery and issues of invisibility.
Under the first subheading of the fourth mandate involving short-,
medium- and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial
discrimination against people of African descent;
"Devoting special attention to their needs, inter alia, through
the preparation of specific programmes of action"
This includes national action plans as recommended in the Durban
Declaration and Programme of Action. Furthermore Governments are
encouraged to compile reliable statistical data on the political,
economic and social conditions of people of African descent. Other
indicators desegregated and race should also be accounted for in such
Under the second subheading,
" Designing special projects, in collaboration with people of
African descent, to support their initiatives at the community level and
to facilitate the exchange of information and technical know-how between
these populations and experts in the relevant areas".
The Working Group calls for Governments, National and International
developmental and financial institutions to take action in community
The third subheading provides for the development of ;
"… programmes intended for people of African descent that
allocate additional investments in health systems, education, housing ,
electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures and that
promote equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative
or positive action initiatives, within the human rights framework".
Finally on the "Organization of an participation in future
sessions of the Working Group", a voluntary fund should be
established in accordance with resolution 2002/68 of the Commission on
Human Rights to support the participation of NGOs representing people of
African descent. The Working Group also considers that at a later stage
the concept of reparations may be disseminated to form a basis for an
international political decision.