Washington, D.C. February 15, 2018. The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) participated in a Capitol Hill briefing for H. Res 713, which seeks to support the goals and ideals of the “International Decade for People of African Descent.” The International Decade for People of African Descent was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in order to strengthen national, regional, and international cooperation to promote the full enjoyment of the human rights of people of African descent and ensure their full participation in all aspects of society. The decade runs from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2024. H. Res 713 recognizes the important contributes of Afro-descendants all over the world and, if passed, would require the U.S. House of Representatives to not only support the international community in promoting the rights of Afro-descendants, but also call upon the United States to “develop and implement domestic and global strategies to execute the goals and ideals of the ‘International Decade for People of African Descent’” and “combat racism.”
The briefing was called by U.S. Rep Hank Johnson (GA-04) who sponsored the resolution and featured key panelists and contributors such as Willie Baker from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; distinguished actor and political activist Danny Glover; and Race and Equality’s Executive Director, Carlos Quesada. U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation, Dr. Mischa Thompson moderated the dialogue.
The briefing comes at a key time where U.S. policy on racism and discrimination continues to cause debate. Support for Afro-descendant communities across the hemisphere, and the world, are greatly needed. Opening remarks by Rep. Hank Johnson, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) and Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI) highlighted the importance to the timing of this briefing, as well as the need to discuss the issues affecting Afro-descendant communities and “promote equality among all populations.” From the U.S. perspective, the Congresspersons urged concrete actions and greater leadership in promoting Afro-descendants in the Americas and in the UN system.
Throughout the conversation, the importance of promoting a dialogue on the Afro-descendant population of the hemisphere was front and center. As an ardent activist and known traveler of the world, Danny Glover has observed that poverty, destabilization of countries, and militarism have affected many communities, but has had an especially significant effect on the Afro-descendant populations. As examples, Mr. Glover noted the perils of the Garifuna people in Honduras, the crisis situation of food scarcity in Venezuela, and the populations displaced in as a result of the armed conflict. Mr. Glover, having seen firsthand these situations through his philanthropic visits, assessed that the Decade should serve as a platform to discuss issues of importance to the Afro-descendant population. Especially important issues include access to justice, education, and economic development. Mr. Glover also urged greater cooperation with leaders across the hemisphere in countries with high Afro-descendant populations.
In discussing the situation of Colombia and Afro-descendant populations displaced due to the conflict, Mr. Willie Baker made quick but powerful remarks from his experience as a member of a U.S. Delegation to the country in 2015. His takeaways from visiting the displaced communities were deeply concerning. Afro-Colombians face greater risks of killings by the paramilitary and continue to live in deplorable, cramped conditions far away from their homes. Mr. Baker strongly condemned U.S. involvement in the conflict and urged the public to step up by pressuring members of Congress to act.
In his remarks, Mr. Carlos Quesada of Race and Equality urged greater action by both the U.S. and international community to benefit Afro-descendants during this Decade. He criticized the lack of actions by the global community in addressing issues of racism and discrimination in the first International Decade for People of African Descent, declared in the 1970s. This Decade resulted in little progress in the international community. Mr. Quesada assessed that the current Decade brings an opportunity for the US to become a global leader in promoting Afro-descendant rights in the region, by means of its political influence and involvement with regional mechanisms of protection and defense of human rights. Mr. Quesada urged the US to support the work that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) does to combat racism and to keep pushing legislation like H.R. 703 that encourages a greater dialogue. Moderator Dr. Misha Thompson closed the conversation by adding that another proposed US bill – H.R.1039, would create a unit at the State Department that focuses specifically on Afro-descendants. More information this and H.R. 703 can be found at the following links:
H.R.703 Commemorating the International Decade of People of African Descent