Members and Observers of the UN Human Rights Council:
We, the undersigned members of civil society, in advance of the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, write to express our unequivocal support for the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (Working Group). As people of African descent and organizations working directly with people of African descent, we are responding to recent suggestions that the Working Group be discontinued in favor of a permanent forum on people of African descent. We firmly believe that there is room for more than one entity at the United Nations working to elevate the voices of, and advance the human rights of people of African descent both in the Diaspora and on the African continent. While we recognize that there is room for improvement in the functioning of the Working Group, we call for the strengthening and not the weakening of this critical entity.
The Working Group is currently the principal mechanism at the United Nations with a mandate to study, highlight, and make proposals to address all the issues concerning the well-being of Africans and people of African descent including the situation of racial discrimination and racial profiling. It is also the only official forum at the United Nations that gives voice exclusively to people of African Descent and Africans all over the world. As organizations that work to ensure justice for all people of African descent, we have been grateful for the vital contributions that the Working Group has made in promoting the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), and in particular, raising awareness and understanding on structural and institutional racism, which persists in excluding people of African descent from the full realization of human rights, freedom, and equality.
Many of us have been honored to work directly with members of the Working Group. In its recent country visit to the United States in January 2016, the Working Group helped expand the vision of racial justice activists, organizers and leaders who did not utilize a human rights framework. We were grateful for the sustained efforts by Working Group members to engage meaningfully and robustly with civil society particularly at the grassroots level, and with people of African descent directly impacted by police violence, the prison system, gun violence, gentrification, economic exploitation, and by exclusion and discrimination stemming from a range of different institutions. The Working Group's preliminary report echoed and aligned with civil society demands for reparatory justice for people of African descent for crimes against humanity and other injustices stemming from the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, segregation, and institutionalized racism and sexism.
We thank the UN Human Rights Council for its support of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. As we commemorate the 15th anniversary of the DDPA, which specifically called for the Working Group's establishment, we commend the Working Group for its commitment to advancing the implementation of the DDPA. We recognize the role of the Working Group in drafting the programme of activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent (Decade), and in particular, support the call for a United Nations declaration on the human rights of people of African descent, as well as an annual international forum to address the goals of the Decade, and to mobilize the global public on the program for the Decade, as well as the DDPA.
Amidst so much turmoil in the world, and specifically, racial and xenophobic unrest in the United States and abroad, it would indeed be a travesty of justice to do anything that would undermine this important forum for people of African Descent. We instead call on the members and observers of the Human Rights Council to bolster the mandate, budget, and work of the Working Group. We thank you for your support and consideration.
Executive Director, US Human Rights Network