A Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (#PfPAD) is the most appropriate and vital mechanism with which to bring coherence to a host of instruments that have been tried and tested through the United Nations, and sometimes, through other international arrangements. Structural and systemic anti-Black racism manifests in the climate crisis, global public health crisis, state violence, economic inequality, and various other markers of human life. Not only is it time to create intergovernmental and civil society coherence to address the broad swath of issues affecting people of African descent—it is the best way for the United Nations to ensure that it is indeed a relevant international body, current and willing to address issues that have reached a breaking point.
The 193-member body unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, a 10-member advisory body that will work closely with the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
The representative of the United States expressed her strong support for the establishment of the Permanent Forum, noting that the Administration of President Joseph R. Biden has placed the dismantling of racism at the forefront of its work. She recalled that, at the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session, her delegation led a joint statement on combating racism that was signed by more than 155 countries. It has agreed to facilitate visits to the United States by the Special Rapporteurs on racism and on minorities, she added. Today’s resolution creates a “new and necessary space” to build a better future for people of African descent around the globe, she said, emphasizing, however, that by joining today’s consensus, the United States is not changing its long-standing position on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
The new Forum will serve as a consultation mechanism for people of African descent and other stakeholders, and contribute to the elaboration of a UN declaration – a “first step towards a legally binding instrument” on the promotion and full respect of the rights of people of African descent.
Further, it will work to identify and analyze best practices, challenges, opportunities and initiatives to address issues relevant to people of African descent as highlighted in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which was adopted 20 years ago at a landmark UN summit against racism and discrimination.
Negotiations on the modalities of the Permanent Forum have been under way since November 2014, when the General Assembly officially launched the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
Through the resolution adopted on Monday – which articulates the new body’s mandate for the first time – the Assembly expressed alarm at the spread of racist extremist movements around the globe, and deplored the “ongoing and resurgent scourges” of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The move comes just days after the Human Rights Council established a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent, and on the heels of a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.
In that report and various public statements, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has pointed to the “compounding inequalities” and “stark socioeconomic and political marginalization” faced by Africans and people of African descent in many countries.
The report also notes that “no State has comprehensively accounted for the past or for the current impact of systemic racism” and calls for a transformative agenda to tackle violence against Afro-descendants.
UN-wide expert advice
The Permanent Forum of People of African Descent will be made up of five members nominated by Governments and then elected by the General Assembly, and five additional members appointed by the Human Rights Council.
Among other mandates tasks, it will seek to advance the full political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent in the societies in which they live – as equal citizens without discrimination, and with equal enjoyment of human rights – and contribute to the elaboration of a UN declaration on the rights of persons of African descent.
The Forum will provide expert advice and recommendations to the Human Rights Council, the Assembly’s main committees, and the various UN entities working on issued related to racial discrimination.
It will also collect best practices and monitor progress on the effective implementation of the International Decade’s activities, gathering relevant information from Governments, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and other relevant sources.
The first session of the Permanent Forum will be held in 2022, with subsequent annual sessions rotating between Geneva and New York.