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MORNING - People of African Descent in All Parts of the World Face Environmental Racism, Chair of the Working Group on People of African Descent Tells Human Rights Council

Meeting Summaries

 

Council Holds General Debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

 

People of African descent in all parts of the world face environmental racism in the siting of landfills, toxic waste dispensaries, extractive industries, industrial and mining areas, factories and power plants and in other environmentally hazardous activities, the Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent told the Human Rights Council this morning.

Domnique Day, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said that hazardous waste continued to be exported to countries in the Global South with environmental policies and safety practices that conveniently accommodated wealthier nations’ desire to send the problem elsewhere. Transnational corporations developed lucrative endeavours that disregarded or denied serious or deadly impact to local populations. This was not new and yet it persisted, unabated, and intensified over time, she said, in her presentation of the Working’s Group’s annual report, entitled “Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and people of African descent”. People of African descent were also disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, as climate change was a byproduct of ongoing economic reliance on extraction, exploitation and accumulation through dispossession.

In the interactive dialogue, speakers agreed that environmental issues needed to be looked at through a racial discrimination lens - so that climate change was not just about protecting the planet but so that it was inclusive to all. They also agreed that the repercussions of climate change impacted people in different ways, including people of African descent. Many speakers continued to share their concern about those discriminated against as a result of the climate crisis - and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. All should be given the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment, something that many disadvantaged communities could not access.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue with the Working Group were European Union, Peru on behalf of a group of countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Ecuador, Senegal, Indonesia, South Africa, Venezuela, Kenya, Cuba, Russian Federation, United States, Peru, Brazil, China, Pakistan and Panama.

Also this morning, the Council held a general debate on follow up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Speakers renewed their commitment to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and focused in particular on the need to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. Gender equality, the empowerment of all women and girls and their full and equal enjoyment of all human rights was one of the most important priorities, speakers said. A gender transformative perspective should always be taken into account in decision-making and resource allocation. Some speakers said the right to abortion was a human right and that access to safe abortion was key and the COVID-19 pandemic had made it more difficult to access such services. Some speakers said COVID-19 had created structural inequalities.

Speaking in the general debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action were Israel on behalf of a group of countries, Ukraine, Slovenia on behalf of the European Union, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-aligned Movement, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Austria on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Armenia on behalf of a group of countries, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Venezuela, Indonesia, Cuba, Russian Federation, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Israel, Iraq, South Africa, Albania, Belarus, United States, Syrian Arab Republic, Georgia, Afghanistan, UN Women, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Iran.

Speaking in the general debate were the following non-governmental organizations:

International Planned Parenthood Federation, Joint statement: Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, Co-sponsor: Amnesty International, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Federation for Women and Family Planning, Rutgers, Center for Reproductive Rights, Inc, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Action Canada for Population and Development, Federation for Women and Family Planning, World Jewish Congress, Association for Women's Rights in Development, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Asociacion HazteOir.org, Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples, Réseau Unité pour le Développement de Mauritanie, China Foundation for Human Rights Development, Institute for NGO Research, Joint statement: Ingenieurs du Monde, Co-sponsor: United Nations Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Association d'Entraide Médicale Guinée, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés , European Centre for Law and Justice, The Organization for Poverty Alleviation and Development, Solidarité Suisse-Guinée, Sikh Human Rights Group, Mother of Hope Cameroon Common Initiative Group, Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale , Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi, Centre Zagros pour les Droits de l'Homme, World Barua Organization, Liberation, Center for Organisation Research and Education, Joint statement: Conselho Indigenista Missionário, Co-sponsor: Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos, Justiça Global , Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil Conselho Federal , Terra de Direitos, Integrated Youth Empowerment - Common Initiative Group, Association pour la défense des droits de l'homme et des revendications démocratiques/culturelles du peuple Azerbaidjanais-Iran , Community Human Rights and Advocacy Centre, Maloca Internationale, and World Muslim Congress.

Ethiopia spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, followed by a general debate on item 9 on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

General Debate on the Follow-up to and Implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Speakers renewed their commitment to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and focused in particular on the need to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development . In this context, the right to development and the elimination of its obstacles required effective development policies at the national level, and fair economic relations and a favourable economic environment at the international level in order to support global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Gender equality, the empowerment of all women and girls and their full and equal enjoyment of all human rights was one of the most important priorities, speakers said. A gender transformative perspective should always be taken into account in decision-making and resource allocation. More work was needed to mainstream gender across the Council’s work, including in resolutions and mandates - and in fact-finding missions. A number of speakers regretted that women in many countries were seeing their human rights trampled upon because of their sex.

Some speakers said the right to abortion was a human right that should not depend on a woman’s ability to travel across state lines or internationally. Some countries had recently expanded and protected abortion rights, however, more needed to be done in this area. Another speaker said access to safe abortion was key and the COVID-19 pandemic had made it more difficult to access such services. States were called on to address the inequalities around abortion and urged that it be decriminalised. Personal beliefs should not prevent access to abortion services, one speaker noted. A number of speakers said abortion rights must be taken out of the realm of politics and needed to be claimed back.

One speaker raised concerns around intersex persons and their plight as they continued to face discrimination in many areas of life, such as in education, healthcare and employment. Legislation needed to better protect intersex persons. There was an urgent need to combat discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics and address its root causes. One speaker highlighted the need for laws that recognised diversity in family structures and relationships and prohibited gender-based violence. Members of various family configurations faced significant challenges due to discrimination, including based on age, class, disability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or migration status.

A number of speakers said that the settlement of disputes by peaceful means and refraining from the threat or use of force were among the basic principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and strongly condemned gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law during armed conflicts.

Some speakers said COVID-19 had created structural inequalities. States were encouraged to join forces and combat inequalities. One speaker said that as the fight against the pandemic continued, it should focus on improving human rights by uplifting the living standards of people, building resilience to climate change, ensuring safe and orderly migration - and addressing structural challenges. Another speaker said that the COVID-19 pandemic had further highlighted racism, adding that one of the most pressing priorities of the international community was to stop the pandemic in its tracks. It had claimed the lives of many, brought about devastation, and had exacerbated poverty, inequalities, discrimination and other forms of intolerances while reversing global gains in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It was paramount to recommit to the principles enshrined in the Vienna Declaration - and enhance international cooperation and global solidarity.

One speaker called upon States to listen more to youth, noting that youth were sharing their views and challenges on social media. Another speaker said that while many non-governmental organizations were permitted to speak at Council meetings, they were not always heard, and called for more United Nations engagement with civil society. A number of speakers raised violations in a number of specific countries and regions, which, among others, denied the inhabitants the right to self-determination.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Presentation of the Report

DOMINIQUE DAY, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, presenting the Group’s annual report, entitled “Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and people of African descent”, said it gave an overview of the Group’s activities this year, including its twenty-sixth session, which included a series of five public regional meetings with representatives of civil society to strategize the way forward at the mid-term of the International Decade for People of African Descent and the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The Group’s twenty-seventh session, dedicated to systemic racism and the lessons of 2020, built on the report of the Working Group on COVID-19, systemic racism and global protests, and explored how, for people of African descent, the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and law enforcement violence were intimately intertwined and derived from the historical construct of race in general, and Blackness in particular, as a site of exploitation in the name of profit and business necessity. The Working Group would report on these sessions to the General Assembly at its seventy-sixth session, Ms. Day said.

People of African descent in all parts of the world faced environmental racism in the siting of landfills, toxic waste dispensaries, extractive industries, industrial and mining areas, factories and power plants and in other environmentally hazardous activities. Hazardous waste continued to be exported to countries in the Global South with environmental policies and safety practices that conveniently accommodated wealthier nations’ desire to send the problem elsewhere, Ms. Day said. Transnational corporations developed lucrative endeavours that disregarded or denied serious or deadly impact to local populations. This was not new and yet it persisted, unabated, and intensified over time.

Today, people of African descent were also disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, which was a ticking time bomb. Climate change was a bi-product of ongoing economic reliance on extraction, exploitation and accumulation through dispossession. Only a racialised analysis illustrated how climate change was not an isolated crisis, but instead was linked to economic and political frameworks that had systematically disregarded the right to life and other core human rights for certain people. Systemic racism and unspoken understandings of racial hierarchy license profited at the expense of certain lives, resources, lands, and futures. Despite active roles in the creation of extreme weather events and climate-related emergencies, many governments evaded responsibility for the collateral consequences of the climate crisis for people of African descent, even in their own countries. To be effective, efforts to address the climate crisis must take a human rights approach that centred on impacted communities. States must include people of African descent in decision-making at all stages, including preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. The Working Group called upon all Governments to protect the right to a healthy environment in partnership with impacted communities of African descent globally.

Discussion

Speakers agreed that environmental issues needed to be looked at through a racial discrimination lens - so that climate change was not just about protecting the planet but so that it was inclusive to all. They also agreed that the repercussions of climate change impacted people in different ways, including people of African descent. Many speakers continued to share their concern about those discriminated against as a result of the climate crisis - and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. All should be given the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment, something that many disadvantaged communities could not access. The Council was asked what could be done to further help such disadvantaged communities. A number of speakers welcomed the Working Group’s report and agreed that discrimination on environmental grounds had worsened. Only political will could help achieve racial equality around the world.

Interim Remarks

DOMINIQUE DAY, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said that worldwide, the Working Group saw that people of African descent experienced similar types of systemic racism that manifested in different ways, transcending borders, continents and developed context. The Durban Declaration offered language and framework to ensure that the international community’s commitment to racial equality and equity were realised, including how racism shaped the face of inequity and inequality in the world. This language remained highly relevant and political will was needed in this regard. Research had shown that reparations alone would have decreased the impact of COVID by 31 to 68 per cent. Stakeholders should look at the available research. Protecting biodiversity in the Amazon had become a major focus of the Afro-Brazilian population, looking at countering agri-business in the face of its impact on the Amazon. In response to questions on how to push back against businesses that had abdicated their responsibilities to the environment, she said that oversight of agri-business and big business industries was part of the State’s protection role. The international community must model respect to ensure that actions conveyed the importance of respect for people of African descent. Referring to the massive lack of access to vaccines in the Global South, she said that was the result of policy decisions by certain States.

Discussion

Speakers said they looked forward to engaging with the Working Group to find meaningful ways of addressing the challenges highlighted. They said that no form of racism should be tolerated. There was still a long way to go, not only for people of African descent but also for people of Asian descent. Discrimination towards Muslims was also noted by one speaker. The need for political will to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to achieve racial justice was reiterated. Decades of structural discrimination and exploitative economic practices were highlighted. The Council was urged to use its mandate to safeguard all citizens.

 

HRC21.138E