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UN Permanent Forum to Face New Global Challenges of the Next Decade for People of African Descent

Georgetown (Guyana Chronicle) Caribbean delegates stood and spoke tall and strong at Tuesday's 3rd Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum for People of African Descent (UNPFPAD) in Geneva, Switzerland, where a veteran Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Saint Lucian diplomat officially assumed the Chairmanship of the global entity.

By Earl Bousquet

Saint Lucia’s Ambassador Hon. Dr June Soomer chaired the meeting for the first time since her appointment was announced last year, with hundreds of delegates attending and thousands following online, all addressing the various challenges facing the forum and the opportunities for doing more and better at the end of the UN-designated Decade for People of African Descent from 2015 to 2024.

The Permanent Mission was formally established in 2021 as ‘a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders, to improve the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent.’

It also serves as an advisory body to the UN Human Rights Council, in line with the programme of activities for the implementation of the original International Decade for People of African Descent.

The Forum includes representatives of different world regions -including CARICOM- and at the end of the decade the UN has been strongly criticized by activists and advocates for its failure to finance and adequately observe it, with urgent calls now for “A Second Decade”.

The Forum hopes to ‘contribute to the full political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent in the societies in which they live as equal citizens, without discrimination of any kind and contribute to ensuring equal enjoyment of all human rights.’

It also hopes ‘to provide, in coordination with existing mechanisms, expert advice and recommendations to the Human Rights Council, the Main Committees of the General Assembly and organs, programs, funds and agencies of the United Nations, aimed at addressing challenges of all the scourges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and all their contemporary forms and manifestations confronted by people of African descent and that impede the full and effective realization and enjoyment of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.’

The forum will ‘consider the elaboration of a United Nations declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent’ and seek to ‘identify and analyse best practices, challenges, opportunities and initiatives to address, as appropriate, the issues highlighted in the provisions of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action relevant to people of African descent.’

Another objective is ‘To monitor and review progress on the effective implementation of the programme of activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and to this end gather relevant information from Governments, United Nations bodies and organs, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources.’

The Forum also plans ‘To request the preparation and dissemination of information by the United Nations system on issues relating to people of African descent and promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies.’

Another objective is ‘To raise awareness and promote integration and coordination of activities of agencies, funds and programmes relating to people of African descent within the United Nations system.’

The Forum will also ‘support the coordination of programmes aimed at the socioeconomic development of communities and people of African descent, and to examine the urgent global need to establish adequate channels to obtain data disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographical location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts, to enable the systematic design and collection of and access to high-quality, reliable and timely disaggregated data and gender statistics, conducive to the better execution of public policies in relation to people of African descent.’

It also plans ‘To offer advice and recommendations on matters concerning the protection, promotion and respect of all human rights of people of African descent.’

These goals, objectives and declarations of intent were (and are being) addressed by delegates and delegations from the global community, but particularly developed and developing nations of and with People of African Descent, as they hammer-out and smoothen proposals for change and acceleration of the actions embedded in the Forum.

The causes are many, wide-ranging and deep, addressing historical and current challenges delaying progress, from insufficiency of funds and inadequacy of resources to the slow pace of progress in achievement that’s led to natural support for the call for ‘A Second Decade’.

The Forum, by nature, is a global gathering of constituent entities representing governments and non-government organizations (NGOs), related regional and international entities, national communities and various constituencies of people of African descent everywhere: North and South, East and West.

The first UN Decade has left lessons learnt hard ways, some helpful, others harmful, even hurtful, but in all cases exposing challenges that open new opportunities for better planning and execution at global, regional and national, as well as at community levels.

Like with everything else that depends on the UN for funding and resource support -from food and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and Sudanese displaced by the war between two armies to selective application of its rules and Charter obligations by powerful states with nuclear and veto power, as well as some developing nations.

Size and diversity of populace and myriads of monumental tasks facing both the Forum and The Decade make it necessary for plans and expectations to be trimmed to suit the times and resource availability, administrative logistical issues and the realities of today’s geopolitical and economic considerations.

Global conflicts tend to cost people’s causes through shifts of world attention, as seen in the case of Haiti, Sudan and Ukraine after the October 7 Hamas attack that led to the globally-followed and totally-condemned disproportionate Israeli response.

Absence of UN funding is to be factored as to be expected, so much of the work of the Forum and the Decade will depend on the willingness of governments, regional and international entities and communities to fill gaps and take-up slack, at a time when the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are already predicting a decade of slow growth (at best) in an age of accelerated loss and damage from Climate Change and use of food and water as weapons of war, with preventable famine and deaths from malnutrition.

Billions continue to be allocated to and spent on weapons and wars while hundreds of millions face food insecurity, the super-rich growing richer and more of the poor dying from poverty, men and women rotating titles of ‘richest on earth’, spending billions on adventures in outer space while billions are forced by circumstances to wish and pray for Planet Earth to be a better place and space for all of Humankind.

The Permanent Forum and The Decade can be well-funded: and for decades to come, if and when the UN follows-up the welcome statements at the 2024 General Assembly supportive of the now-global decade-old CARICOM call for Reparations from Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide, by elevating it, now with African Union (AU) Indian support, to the status of a UN objective to be pursued and voted on annually at General Assemblies.

The nations of the world that built, enforced and benefitted from Slavery’s wheels of fortune are estimated to owe in the hundreds of trillions of US dollars and pursuing such resources will naturally also benefit the UN beyond its coffers as more member-states will be better able to do much-more to advance causes like the next Decade for People of African Descent.

Similarly, there would be no need for external intervention or universal appeals for alms for Haiti, if the UN’s member-states are able to throw their support behind continuing calls for France to repay the scores of billions of US dollars (in today’s money) extracted over 122 years by Paris, with US support, by way of Reparations for defeating Napoleon and starting the struggle for the end of slavery in the Caribbean and The Americas.

But in the meantime, the Forum will hopefully have learnt enough from Time and History to adjust to pursuit of the possible while agitating even more for better where mountainous obstacles block or slow progress.

The UN will take its time to adjust to a new world order with all members having permanent status (including Palestine) and without veto powers, but the global South is accelerating positive change through the Group of 77+, the accelerating emergence and power of the BRICS and the increasing leadership roles of developing nations in global groupings, vis-à-vis the declining economic and social fortunes of the G-7 and European Union (EU) groupings.

But until then, as Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie told the UN in 1963: ‘Until the philosophy that holds one man superior and another inferior is finally and totally discredited and abandoned, until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, until the basic human rights are guaranteed to all without regard to race -until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained.’

Six decades later, the wars predicted in the speech so-well-sung by Bob Marley & The Wailers rings true everywhere on Planet Earth today that people still have to fight to be free and live -in liberty- especially in nations of and with People of African Descent.

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