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by Wayne Campbell
“The world today is indebted to us for the benefits of civilisation. They stole our arts and sciences from Africa.”- Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
The International Day for People of African Descent is observed on August 31 annually. This day of celebration was created by the United Nations to celebrate the diverse heritage and several contributions of people of African descent. The African Diaspora has long been recognized for its spirit and contributions to art, culture, science, and other fields, and it continues to mark a distinctive presence and positive impact in several parts of the world.
According to the United Nations international days reflect the values that society shares. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and well-being of their societies. Any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust, and dangerous, and must be rejected, together with theories that attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.
The United Nations strongly condemns the continuing violent practices and excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent and condemns structural racism in criminal justice systems around the world.
The Organization further acknowledges the Transatlantic Slave Trade as one of the darkest chapters in our human history and upholds human dignity and equality for the victims of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism, in particular people of African descent in the African Diaspora. Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent including Jamaica.
The International Day for People of African Descent is also an opportunity to assess the lived experiences of people of African descent around the world, promote and protect their rights, and call attention to the challenges and barriers many continue to face in the realization of their rights. Such assessments highlight the continued precariousness and radicalized experiences of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent.
The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner states that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent not only risk disproportionate victimization from conflict but face grave violations such as detention in inhumane conditions, human trafficking, exploitation, and forced transfers as they seek to make further perilous journeys to other countries in search of better opportunities.
The added dimension of gender-based violations, sexual exploitation, and abuse at the hands of traffickers is a lived reality for many women and girls of African descent. International migration is constant and many push factors for the migration and displacement of those of African descent, including climate change and conflict, have deep historical roots within colonial practices and their devastating legacies.
International human rights law provides a robust framework for the protection of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. It is therefore incumbent on states to not only safeguard the lives of persons of African descent on the move, but to ensure that their human rights and dignity are also preserved with special protection measures for those like women and children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and those battling health conditions who are most at risk.
The year 2020 marked the midterm of the International Decade for People of African Descent. While some progress has been made at legislative, policy and institutional levels, people of African descent continue to suffer intersectional and compounded forms of racial discrimination, marginalisation, and exclusion.
Five years into the Decade, the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the urgency to address long standing structural inequalities and systematic racism in health. The lack of recognition remains one of the major barriers impeding the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by people of African descent. The year 2020 also marked a turning point in the way these issues are being addressed at international and national levels.
The murder of George Floyd followed galvanised people to protest racism and racial discrimination and prompted important global discussions on racial justice. On this momentous day, the international community honours a vibrant culture while celebrating People of African Descent, their values and contributions to humanity. We pause to salute our Africanness on this day. In the words of the United Nations, states must do more to combat the multiple forms of discrimination and violation of rights facing people of African descent.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. [email protected] @WayneCamo © #InternationalDayforPeopleofAfricanDescent