Vice-President of Costa Rica and Vice-Chairpersons of the UN CERD Committee highlight the need for states to develop Action Plans during the Decade for People of African Descent

“We cannot discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without taking into account historically-marginalized populations”


Coinciding with the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations held in the city of New York, NY; the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica and the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) organized a panel entitled “The United Nations Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development: The Need for Action Plans to Combat the Historical Inequalities Faced by Afro-descendants.” Epsy Campbell Bar, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica, and the Vice-Chairpersons of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Gay McDougall and Pastor Murillo, participated in the panel. The purpose of the event was to explore strategies for the development of concrete action plans to combat historical inequalities faced by Afro-descendant groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. The panelists shared their expertise on international standards to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance and discussed the possibilities of developing better practices to be considered by the Member States in implementing internal action plans.

The panel highlighted the importance of promoting concrete action plans that will result in increased programs to respond to the social and economic needs of the Afro-descendant population around the world. This is especially true given that it has been five years since the Decade for People of African Descent began and there are still many challenges to overcome, affirmative actions to develop, and plans to put into motion. In this regard, Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of Race and Equality and the panel moderator, stated “We do not want a second Decade for Afro-descendants to pass by without concrete plans. We deserve more than just declarations of intent – we need solutions.”

Following the introductory remarks, CERD Vice Chairperson Gay McDougall highlighted the structural obstacles that have impeded Afro-descendants from developing their full potential and urged states to review their laws and synchronize them with the objectives of the Decade. She emphasized that the objectives of the Decade will only be met if states have the political will to make it happen.

Vice President Campbell Barr indicated that all countries should be committed to overcoming the challenges of historical exclusion, racism, and discrimination. “Issues that effect Afro-descendants are not just for Afro-descendants, and the women’s issues are not just for women; these are issues for all States,” she stressed. Additionally, she highlighted the need to include racial self-identification questions in the censuses of the individual countries of the region in order to generate accurate population data about the Afro-descendant populations. Additionally, Vice President Campbell Barr called attention to the need to have concrete action plans created by and for Afro-descendants as part of the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as one cannot talk about meeting these objectives without considering their impact on historically-marginalized populations. For this reason, she questioned the audience about urgent problems in the areas of health, employment, education and violence – particularly against women – given that statistical indictors continue to show alarming levels of inequality and marginalization.

In his intervention, CERD Vice Chairperson Pastor Murillo warned about the difficulty states will have achieving the SDGs if they do not consider the needs of the Afro-descendant population. He indicated that only six countries in the Americas currently have affirmative action plans, and that very few Afro-descendants are found in parliaments and other government bodies. This phenomenon is proof that xenophobia and racism are global traits linked to the historical discrimination against this population. “Just as the profound causes of inequality against women have its roots in the historical discrimination they have experienced at legal and institutional levels of different states, the fight against racial discrimination has a similar history –it is necessary to rectify the injustices committed against these populations in order to cement plans, projects, and laws which will allow us to move forward,” said Mr. Murillo.

Despite many advances in recognizing the rights of the Afro-descendant population, there are many challenges to face in the next seven years of the Decade. According to the expert panelists, states must build bridges between the objectives of the SDGs and those of the Decade of Afro-descendants to improve the situation of the Afro-descendant population through state policies. Before that, States need to understand the realities face by Afro-descendant women, youth, and children. Special attention must be paid to the situation of pregnancy in girls and what measures governments can take for its prevention. States must also continue to incorporate the history and culture of the Afro-descendant population in their education programs. Censuses should include specially designed, culturally appropriate questions that will actually result in Afro-descendants self-identifying their race. Finally, the panelists called for countries that have yet to ratify the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance to do so in order to build a diverse and inclusive world, with social justice for all – especially for those who have been historically marginalized.

Race and Equality is convinced that the International Decade for People of African Descent represents an important commitment in the fight against racism. Therefore, it should be a priority for states to reflect on the urgent need to develop action plans that result in the protection of the human rights of Afro-descendants.

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