As the 10th anniversary commemoration of the Durban Declaration against racism approaches, the United Nations is giving special recognition to the African Diaspora.
This is the International Year for People of African Descent. The United Nations estimates that about 200 million people of African descent live in the Caribbean and the Americas, with millions more living in other parts of the world outside the African continent. Accordingly, the U.N. Human Rights Commission recognizes people of African descent as a distinct group whose rights must be promoted and protected.
“This international year offers a unique opportunity to redouble our efforts to fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that affect people of African descent everywhere,” said Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
According to some estimates, about 12.5 million Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean during the era of the slave trade.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.N. agency tasked with promoting cultural understanding, designated August 23 as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition because it marks the anniversary of the slave revolt against France in 1791 that led to the first black independent state, Haiti. Many historians also view the slave uprising as a significant catalyst for the abolition of the slave trade.
In her day of remembrance message, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, urged everyone to learn the history of the slave trade to discover our common humanity and intensify the fight against prejudice and racial discrimination.
“Each of us must be empowered to learn about this past and to reclaim it, as a necessary step in building new common ground,” she said.
Looking beyond this year, the world body plans to erect a permanent memorial at U.N. headquarters in New York to remember victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The memorial will “symbolize universal recognition of the tragedy that befell not only Africans and people of African descent, but humanity as a whole,” according to a statement.
The memorial is projected to cost about $4.5 million and should be completed by late 2012.
The United Nations launched an international design competition in June and named R&B artist and Tony Award winner Melba Moore as a goodwill ambassador for the construction of the memorial.
One of this year’s highlights in this global focus on people of African descent is the commemoration of the Durban Declaration. The theme for the 10th anniversary is “Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: recognition, justice and development.”
The commemoration event, however, is mired in controversy. Israel, the United States and several other countries boycotted previous racism conferences because of anti-Semitic remarks by some Middle Eastern heads of state. The United States has already announced that it will boycott the anniversary conference, citing “ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism” at previous conferences.