Black rights matter

Why the international community should be doing more to celebrate the UN’s International Decade for People of African descent 

identity artwork for UN international year
portrait of woman

Ife Thompson, a barrister and Brixton resident, explains the importance of UN’s International Decade for People of African descent and what individuals and organisations can do to promote it in the face of indifference from the governments of individual states, including the UK

People of African descent comprise a heterogeneous group with diverse histories, experiences and identities. The circumstances in which they live and the problems they face differ. What unites them, however, is that they have long been denied the full realisation of their human rights and it is possible to highlight a series of common issues that must be addressed

United Nations Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights

On 23 December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly declared the Years 2015 to 2024 the UN International Decade for persons of African descent; with the three themes of Justice, Recognition and Development.

These themes were given to anchor specific avenues of redress to the ongoing failings, in the protection and promotion of Black people’s rights.

Although the Decade started in 2015, only a few countries have recognised and marked it at a national level.

The UK government has failed to recognise or mark the decade.

Due to the low take-up of the Decade by states and the lack of money from UN member states towards the decade, there has been a shortfall in the information about the decade being notified to the international community.

In this short piece I will explain why, despite these state-facilitated impediments, we as the international community must celebrate and champion the decade.

The movement for Black lives and the use of international mechanisms to hold the states account

The recent international protests and uprisings for the liberation of Black people under the framework of Blacklivesmatter, re-centred the issue and the concept of racial justice in the Global North, and firmly showcased that for Black people the realisation of our human rights remains a reality deferred.

Professor Achiume

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, reminds us that “states have obligations under international human rights law to pursue reparative justice for historical and contemporary racial injustices”.

With this in mind, we have seen a push from organisers, human rights defenders and lawyers to seek redress from UN mechanisms like that of the Human Rights Council.

The international community has been left no choice but to start using these mechanisms, as state-provided ones, continually result in the impunity of police officers and vigilantes who take the lives of Black people.

The systemic change we require in the Global North cannot be achieved within current domestic frameworks as they stand. By looking to UN instruments like the CERD 34 Recommendation and the UN Decade, alongside UN mechanisms like the Human Rights Council – we can imagine and fashion better accountability frameworks.

What the decade calls on the international community to do and how we can use it to build on and weave into community demands

In General Resolution 16/19 – the programme of activities for the Decade, the UN calls on the international community to do the following:

  • Take measures to raise awareness about the International Decade, including through awareness-raising campaigns, and organising and supporting other activities, bearing in mind the theme of the Decade;
  •  Support initiatives and projects aimed at honouring and preserving the historical memory of people of African descent;
  • In planning activities for the Decade, examine how existing programmes and resources might be utilised to benefit people of African descent more effectively;
  • Use the Decade as an opportunity to engage with people of African descent on appropriate and effective measures to halt and reverse the lasting consequences of slavery, the slave trade and the transatlantic slave trade in captured African people and, to this end, ensure the participation of and consultation with non-governmental organisations, other stakeholders and civil society at large;
  • Continue to raise awareness about the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Practical ways in the international community can raise awareness and celebrate the decade 

Recognise and announce on their website the following pledge

“We as an organisation/company believe in the full protection and promotion of the human rights of persons of African descent and in our desire to pursue these aims we are celebrating the United Nations International Decade for Persons of African Descent” 

Recognise and celebrate the following calendar dates:

The World Day for African and Afro descendant Culture – 24 January

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination– 21 March

World Day of Social Justice – 20 February

International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade – 25 March

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition – 23 August

International Day for People of African Descent – 31 August

World Afro Hair Day- 15 September 

Human Rights Day – 10 December

Week of Solidarity with the Peoples Struggling against Racism and Racial Discrimination – 21–27 March

Print out the posters of the decade and place around your workplace or home 

Review and amend any policies having a discriminatory effect on Persons of African Descent

Respect and promote the full enjoyment of rights by Persons of African descent via the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Adopt the Halo Code 

The international Decade is an important and well-informed framework that can be utilised to assist all those committed to eradicating anti-blackness, promoting and furthering the human rights of Black people globally. 

I hope that through this short piece I have assisted the international community in finding ways to celebrate and further the decade on a localised level.