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UN General Assembly establishes Permanent Forum of People of African Descent to combat systemic racism

On 2 August 2021, the UN General Assembly established a long due platform aimed at improving the lives of Afro-descendants; just days after the Human Rights Council established a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent.

The unanimously adopted United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent will be working closely the with Human Rights Council in order to tackle racism, racial discrimination and the legacy of slavery globally. The advisory body will consist of 10 members, five of which will be nominated by governments and elected by the General Assembly and the other five appointed by the Human Rights Council.

Roles of the forum will include expert advice as well as recommendations to the Human Rights Council, aimed at resolving issues related to racial discrimination. The new consultation mechanism will serve as the “first step towards a legally binding instrument” to promote the full respect of the rights of all people of African descent.

Despite the existing efforts to combat racism, people of African descent continue to suffer under systemic racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and general intolerance. These injustices remain widespread and must be condemned internationally.

The establishment of the forum has been a long time coming and negotiations have been occurring since November 2014 when the UN General Assembly established 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent under resolution 68/237.

The theme of the International Decade is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development”, referencing the urgent 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.”

The newly established forum will be monitoring the progress of the implementation of the International Decade’s activities which include making positive progress in the areas of recognition, justice, development, and multiple or aggravated discrimination. Furthermore, the forum will collect relevant information from governments, UN bodies, and non-governmental groups aimed at targeting discrimination.

When also considering the report titled ‘Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers’ recently published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, the necessity of the new forum becomes more and more prevalent.

In the report, the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet calls for a transformative agenda to tackle violence against Afro-descendants and notes that:

“No state has comprehensively accounted for the past or for the current impact of systemic racism.”

The first session of the United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent will be held in 2022 and will continue to meet annually, alternating between Geneva and New York. The creation of the forum is a positive and necessary step towards elevating the voices of Afro-descendants while addressing the current and widespread injustices they face globally.

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