Interview with ANA LEURINDA Executive Secretary of the African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters (CAPSDH)
Apart from being Executive Secretary of CAPSDH, Ana Leurinda is the Founder/President of the NGO Culture of Afro-Indigenous Solidarity. She is an alumnus of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva, and has also carried out high-level studies in Mexico and Spain.
Recommendation 34 adopted by the seventy-ninth session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (8 August–2 September 2011) states that: “Racism and structural discrimination against people of African descent, rooted in the infamous regime of slavery, are evident in the situations of inequality affecting them and reflected, inter alia, in the following domains: their grouping, together with indigenous peoples, among the poorest of the poor; their low rate of participation and representation in political and institutional decision-making processes; additional difficulties they face in access to and completion and quality of education, which results in the transmission of poverty from generation to generation; inequality in access to the labour market; limited social recognition and valuation of their ethnic and cultural diversity; and a disproportionate presence in prison populations.
Q: Tell me about the Decade for People of African Descent.
Last year, on 10 December 2014, the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, in its resolution 68/237 launching the “International Decade for People of African Descent”, adopted the theme: “Recognition, Justice and Development”. It was a great victory for the cause of justice with a strong reaffirmation of the call for a full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), adopted at the “Third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” which took place in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.
The purpose of the Durban Declaration was to make people of African descent, indigenous peoples, minority groups and some other vulnerable groups more visible. We hope that the coming into force of the Decade will put an end to the opposition, which we have witnessed on a regular basis since this important conference, which has been undermining the Durban follow-up process. The Declaration acknowledges that slavery and the slave trade were crimes against humanity. We have a dream that the present century will be one in which the world will be called upon to atone with “reparatory justice” for the crimes against Africans and their descendants.
Q: What do you mean by “reparatory justice”?
The silence of the enslaving nations must be broken and their denials terminated. Our values of respect, peace, justice and reconciliation require that we attain reparatory justice. Issues like a formal apology, the right to food, healthcare, education, adequate housing and cultural development are being denied. This is the legacy of the slave trade to the Americas, where some 12 million African ancestors were dragged in chains. Survivors have a right to “reparatory justice”. The enduring elements of colonialism constitute the greatest threat to people of African descent facing the historic heritage, social stigma and marginalization.
Q: Where do people of African descent live?
People of African descent exist all over the world. There are around 200 million of them living in the Americas, and many millions more living in other parts of the planet. To give you a few examples: they can be found in Eastern Europe; in the South and West of India known locally as “the Siddi community of tribes”, many of them coming over as migrants or slaves from south-east Africa. They are considered as being one of the most disadvantaged communities. In Egypt, the Nubians; in Basra, Iraq, the Black Communities are called as’abd (slaves) and are descendants of East African migrants; in Yemen, a network of people of African descent works at the local level for the elimination of caste discrimination (Muhamshen). The Gnawas are the descendants of ancient Black African slaves deported to the Maghreb by the Arabs. They are the guardians of a spiritual and cultural heritage.
In line with Recommendation 34 (paras. 7 & 20) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), these groups need special measures of affirmative action to build their identity by articulating advocacy for legal and policy change in different fields. More research and documentation needs to be carried out to improve their visibility and to promote their rights at the local, national, regional and international levels. Racial discrimination is everywhere—it remains widespread in a multitude of countries.
Civil society has played a networking role, together with groups who have been advocating for their rights and the local movement initiatives that support change through action. These groups have been helping people of African descent to achieve the legal change to strengthen anti-discrimination visibility and bringing it into line with the rest of the world.
Q: What are the main weaknesses and what can be done to make people of African descent more visible?
In many countries there are no data on this problem. States have to make this group more visible using data to support their public policy and in this way they can promote affirmative action through a differentiated service to combat discrimination as the first step allowing states to help civil society monitor and quantify the problem.
The consequences of slavery on the transatlantic slave trade, which is reflected in the link between poverty and racism, was recognized by countries in Santiago de Chile in 2000 and Durban, South Africa, in 2001. This should remind us that global problems require global solutions.
Many resolutions that have not been implemented reflect the formal commitment of the member states to satisfy the aspirations of collective well-being for individuals, communities and peoples of African descent. These resolutions are clearly being contradicted through the indifference of some states. No allocation of financial and technical resources is associated with these formal intentions so as to permit people to enjoy the principles of those resolutions.
Q: What are the expected outcomes from the United Nations?
The General Assembly has appointed the High Commissioner on Human Rights as coordinator for the “International Decade of People of African Descent”. He is well aware—and hopefully regrets as much as we do—the very limited presence and participation of civil society in its sessions. Despite expressions of good intentions, most member states remain indifferent to their responsibilities and have difficulty in allocating financial and technical resources in order to make this dream come true. There should be more visibility in the international arena.
Thus far, the governments of United Nations member states have been playing the diplomatic game, remaining silent and indifferent to their commitment to the International Decade for People of African Descent. Major players, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank—two of the main multilateral agencies—manage and distribute substantial financial and technical resources in most of our Latin American countries.
Besides other forms of discrimination, NGO representatives living in Switzerland are unable to obtain financial help to attend conferences in other countries. Even though we are living and working here, it does not mean that we are rich enough to travel. Most of the time we are working voluntarily. On the other hand, they do ask us to contribute our input to the work they are doing—this is quite unfair to us!
We welcome the “Fellowship Programme” that runs parallel to the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and we call for a better selection of candidates, taking into account those who need more training.
Q: Tell me more about the Permanent Forum.
We are anticipating the establishment of a Permanent Forum for People of African Descent as a priority matter. This is a new platform to discuss the Programme of Activities and objectives of the International Decade for People of African Descent. In recognizing the Decade Dedicated to People of African Descent the United Nations declares: “States should adopt measures to enable the full, equal and effective participation of people of African descent in public and political affairs without discrimination, in accordance with international human rights law.”1
The Forum should be established, bearing in mind the best practices of the “Forum of Indigenous Issues”, with an equitable and regional representation of expert leaders among people of African descent who have the capacity to change things. This does not means that we are just going to listen to their complaints, but rather to establish a mutual dialogue and to try to find solutions based on normative standards.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Director-General of the United Nations for his efforts and support in creating more space here in the Palais des Nations in Geneva for NGOs.