General Assembly Establishes Permanent Forum for People of African Descent as ‘Consultative Mechanism’, Advisory Body to Human Rights Council
In a landmark decision, the General Assembly established today a 10‑member subsidiary organ that will serve as a standing forum to hear the voices of people of African descent and help eliminate all forms of discrimination against them.
Acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted the draft resolution titled “Establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent”, deciding that the subsidiary organ will function as “a consultative mechanism” for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders. Additionally, it will also contribute to the full political, economic and social inclusion of that population as equal citizens without discrimination of any kind. It will also serve as an advisory body to the Human Rights Council.
Also by the text, the Assembly mandated the Permanent Forum to consider the elaboration of a United Nations declaration on the promotion, protection of and full respect for the human rights of people of African descent, and to identify and analyse best practices, challenges, opportunities and initiatives to address the issues highlighted in the provisions of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
The Permanent Forum will consist of five members nominated by Governments and elected by the General Assembly, and five members appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council. It will meet annually, rotating between the United Nations Office at Geneva and New York Headquarters, or other venues decided by the Assembly.
Guyana’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), welcomed the resolution, highlighting the fact that its adoption took place on the anniversary of the abolition of slavery across much of the Caribbean region, nearly 200 years ago. The “momentous” text will go down in history as the day the United Nations took action to establish a critical venue for people of African descent, she declared.
Chad’s representative, co-facilitator of negotiations on the draft, said it strikes a delicate balance among the various positions of Member States, and gives tangible form to an intention first set out in 2014.
Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of African Group, described the unanimous text as a “milestone” in the fight against racism.
Costa Rica’s delegate, the other co-facilitator, hailed today’s action as a dream come true for people of African descent.
However, several delegates, including those of the United States and United Kingdom, emphasized that elaborating a new United Nations declaration on the human rights of people of African descent falls within the purview of Member States, not the Permanent Forum.
Also speaking today were representatives of Slovenia (for the European Union), Israel, Mexico, Chile, Iran, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa and Algeria, as well as the Permanent Observer for the Holy See.
The General Assembly will meet again a date and time to be announced.
Follow-up to Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
The General Assembly had before it the draft resolution “Establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent” (document A/75/L.119/Rev1), as well as a draft amendment (document A/75/L.121/Rev.1).
The representative of Hungary said the amendment would delete, from operative paragraph 1(h), the word “gender” in the phrase “to obtain data disaggregated by income, gender, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographical location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts”. The amendment would also add the phrase “to enable the systematic design and collection of and access to high-quality, reliable and timely disaggregated data and gender statistics”, after the words “in national contexts”. She explained that the revision was proposed in consideration of some countries’ data-collection systems and capacities, and to make it easier to achieve consensus.
The representative of the United States then presented an oral amendment to operative paragraph 9, requesting a reversion to the language of the draft’s original version.
An official representing the Secretariat said that adopting draft resolution A/75/L.119/Rev.1 [without the United States oral amendment] would give rise to budgetary implications of between $507,400 and $527,800 under the proposed programme budget for 2022 (and $827,400 and $847,800 in each year thereafter) under section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management, section 24, Human rights and section 29E, Administration, Geneva. She added that adopting the draft, as orally amended, would give rise to budgetary implications of between $72,400 and $92,800 under the proposed programme budget for 2022 and each year thereafter under section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management, section 24, Human rights, and section 29E, Administration, Geneva.
In either case, the Secretariat would present revised estimates to the main part of the Assembly’s seventy-sixth session, detailing the additional requirements needed under the proposed programme budget for 2022, she said.
The Assembly then accepted the proposed changes without a vote.
Also acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted draft L.119/Rev.1, as revised and orally amended, establishing the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent as a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent, as well as an advisory body to the Human Rights Council, in line with the programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent and in close coordination with existing mechanisms.
The 10-member Permanent Forum, meeting annually in rotation between Geneva and New York, will 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 will also provide expert advice and recommendations to the Human Rights Council, the Main Committees of the General Assembly and the wider United Nations system to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance confronted by people of African descent that impede the full realization and enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Also by the text, the Permanent Forum will consider the elaboration of a United Nations declaration on the promotion, protection of and full respect for the human rights of people of African descent. In addition, it will 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.
The representative of Slovenia, speaking after the adoption on behalf of the European Union, said the bloc joined the consensus on the resolution in light of the urgent need to eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination against people of African descent. Noting that the European Union has sought to elaborate a clear mandate for the Permanent Forum, she expressed regret, however, that many of its proposals were not taken on board. Turning to operative paragraph 1(c) — concerning the elaboration of a United Nations declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent — she said the European Union interprets that as not transferring the Assembly’s responsibility to the Permanent Forum. She also expressed a reservation about operative paragraph 1(h) regarding data collection, saying it contains controversial elements. She went on to emphasize that the cost of the Permanent Forum should be covered by voluntary contributions, adding that the European Union stands ready to discuss such matters in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).
The representative of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), highlighted the fact that the resolution’s adoption took place on the anniversary of the abolition of slavery across much of the Caribbean region, nearly 200 years ago. Describing the text as momentous, she said it will go down in history as the day the United Nations took action to establish a critical venue for people of African descent. Going forward, CARICOM is keen to work alongside the global community in addressing the Permanent Forum’s recommendations, as appropriate, she added.
The representative of the United States expressed her strong support for the establishment of the Permanent Forum, noting that the Administration of President Joseph R. Biden has placed the dismantling of racism at the forefront of its work. She recalled that, at the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session, her delegation led a joint statement on combating racism that was signed by more than 155 countries. It has agreed to facilitate visits to the United States by the Special Rapporteurs on racism and on minorities, she added. Today’s resolution creates a “new and necessary space” to build a better future for people of African descent around the globe, she said, emphasizing, however, that by joining today’s consensus, the United States is not changing its long-standing position on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Indeed, today’s resolution is but “one step among many” that the United Nations is taking to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination, she pointed out, adding that it is therefore inappropriate for the topic to be housed under a single agenda item. Also, the Permanent Forum’s mandate does not include the elaboration of a United Nations declaration — which can only fall under the purview of Member States. Noting that racism and discrimination remain “sadly universal”, she stressed that the international community’s response must therefore be similarly universal. The United States will continue to elevate the voices of other groups — including indigenous peoples, women and girls, LGBTI individuals, persons with disabilities and so many more — wherever possible, she pledged.
The representative of Israel said that whereas her delegation joined the consensus on today’s resolution, it continues to disassociate itself from any reference to the Durban Declaration — a text which “politicized the fight against racism” — including in operative paragraphs 1 and 6 of today’s resolution.
The representative of Mexico described the negotiation process as open, transparent and inclusive, while noting with regret that — without calling into question the prerogative of Member States to present amendments to draft resolutions — one delegation proceeded in such a way following the silence procedure. That action defies the Assembly’s working methods and should not set a precedent for the future, he emphasized.
The representative of the United Kingdom condemned all forms of racism and racial discrimination, stressing that the most effective way to tackle the scourge is to encourage countries to uphold their human rights obligations. Given the number of existing mechanisms, there is no need to mandate the Permanent Forum by elaborating a new declaration, he said, adding that the international community should focus on implementing existing instruments, rather than creating a new declaration.
The representative of Chile emphasized the importance of keeping the fight against racism and discrimination at the forefront of global efforts.
The representative of Costa Rica, co-facilitator of the negotiations on the draft resolution, hailed today’s action as a dream realized for people of African descent. Expressing hope that the Permanent Forum will stand as a vibrant arena to listen to their voices, he said it should operate not simply within the budget of the United Nations, but bring the “toils” of all partners together. Budget implications will be dealt with by the Fifth Committee and the Assembly, he added.
The representative of Iran, emphasizing that all the terms of today’s resolution must be understood in conformity with national laws, disassociated his delegation from all non-consensual language contained in the text.
The representative of Indonesia described the Permanent Forum established by today’s resolution as an important new space. As a diverse and multi-ethnic country, Indonesia grants constitutional protections for all people, prohibiting any discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion, he said, adding that his country stands committed to supporting the Permanent Forum with full respect for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
The representative of Chad said the adoption marks the end of an historic process at the United Nations. “This is a step, but an important one,” she added, noting that the text — the negotiation of which was facilitated by her delegation alongside Costa Rica — strikes a delicate balance between the various positions of Member States and gives tangible form to an intention first set out in 2014. Chad and Costa Rica committed to an open and transparent process from the outset, not least because of its sensitivities, and remained fully faithful to the General Assembly’s mandate, she said.
The representative of Japan welcomed the resolution’s adoption and expressed hope that the Permanent Forum will help to create a synergy.
The representative of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stressed that racial discrimination, injustice and racism, among other matters, must be addressed. While the resolution will not address all the problems, at least it was adopted unanimously, he said, describing the text as a milestone in the fight against racism.
The representative of South Africa said her delegation is aware of the racial discrimination that people of African descent still face today, and welcomed the establishing of the Permanent Forum as a consultative mechanism and a platform to improve their safety and quality of life. It will work to address the challenges of racism, she said, pledging that South Africa is committed to full implementation of the resolution.
The representative of Algeria, requesting that the Secretariat respect the rules of procedure governing affairs of the Assembly and its subsidiary bodies, pointed out that amendments should be submitted well in advance. Oral amendments can be made only on an exceptional basis, he added.
The Permanent Observer for the Holy See welcomed the return to the agreed language concerning operative paragraph 1(h), saying that the term “gender” is the same as “sex”. He added that disagreement during the negotiations was concerning because the fight against racism calls for the unity of all.