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Reparation Conversations

International Forum for People of African Descent

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2024 | 12:09 AM
Verene Shepherd with June Soomer
Verene Shepherd with June Soomer

From April 16-19, 2024, there was a large turnout at the third session of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent (PFPAD), held at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. At that session, Ambassador June Soomer of Saint Lucia was elected Chair of the Forum, taking over from former Vice President of Costa Rica, Epsy Campbell-Barr. Verene Shepherd (VS) recently caught up with June Soomer (JS) to talk about the third session of the PFPAD and other issues facing people of African descent.

VS: First of all, congratulations on your election as chair of the PFPAD. How long is your tenure, and how does it feel to be chair?

JS: Thank you. It’s an honour. It’s for one year. I believe that the Permanent Forum can make a difference and that I can have an impact. The previous chair was extremely good at advocacy, especially in Latin America, and I think that we have to build on that work. I want to make an impact in different places.

VS: Who are the other members of the PFPAD? How were they selected, and what is their term of office?

JS: In 2022, we were selected in the first instance for three years with an option for renewal. By 2025 there will be a need for us to go back to the General Assembly (GA) and the Human Rights Council (HRC) for reappointment. There are 10 of us. Five of us were elected by the GA.

Members are Epsy Campbell Barr, Costa Rica; Gaynel Curry, Bahamas; Hongjiang Huang, People’s Republic of China; Justin Hansford, the United States; Martin Kimani, Kenya; Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, Colombia; Michael McEachrane, Sweden; Alice Angèle Nkom, Cameroon; Mona Omar, Egypt; and June Soomer, Saint Lucia.

VS: Why was a PFPAD considered necessary, especially as we already have a Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD) and other human rights mechanisms?

JS: The Permanent Forum was created to give voice to more than just an intergovernmental group or governments.

We were created to bring a broader constituency and bridge that gap between these mechanisms and government. We provide advice to the HRC, which is our remit, not the UN. The oversight of the UN is broad, so there is need for more focus on improving the safety and quality of life, the livelihoods of people of African descent that is not captured within the other mechanisms.

VS: What was the process for the approval and establishment of this forum?

JS: There were a number of important groups and people, like you, who advocated for the establishment of the PFPAD, so lobbying helped. It then went through the HRC and the GA. In fact, although the HRC approved its establishment at the GA, there were some countries that did not approve.

VS: Rehearse the mandate and priorities of this forum.

JS: The Permanent Forum has many mandates. First of all, we are a consultation mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders. We contribute to discussions towards the full political, economic, and social inclusion of people of African descent in societies where they should live as equal citizens without discrimination. We also give young people a space to organize and make recommendations.. We are involved in elaborating the “UN Declaration on the Promotion, Protection and Full Respect of the Human Rights of People of African Descent.” We are also supposed to monitor and review progress, ideally through a monitoring and evaluation plan. We promote greater knowledge and respect for the diverse cultures and contributions of people of African descent. We assist with coordinating the funding for the programmes we promote as we lack funding.

VS: To go back to the WGEPAD, please explain the relationship between the WGEPAD and the PFPAD?

JS: The WGEPAD has its own specific mandates, e.g., undertaking country visits, unlike the PFPAD. They go to the countries to do the work on the ground. They hold governments accountable. The PFPAD does not have the resources to do that. We are the new kid on the block, so we attract civil society more than other groups. We are getting a lot of attention at this time.

VS: You also want to work with other human rights mechanisms and bodies apart from the WGEPAD, right?

JS: Yes, and one of the things I intend to do in the coming months is to call a meeting of these other groups before I make any submission to the GA and to the HRC. We can strengthen our report and consolidate it with insights from other groups.

VS: Why was this third session important?

JS: It was very important because there were so many gaps in the first UN International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD) that could not be addressed. In fact, some governments never even acknowledged the Decade. The only way we can tackle systemic racism is if we have another Decade to focus and work on more specific issues. For the next Decade, we must have an action plan as well as a monitoring mechanism. As for the theme, we have not consolidated that, but we want to propose the inclusion of reparatory justice, which the initial drafters proposed unsuccessfully. We plan to have an intercessional meeting in a CARICOM country before the next session.

VS: Finally, the outcome of the last session: What were the major achievements?

JS: We had some significant successes from the last session. First of all, because it took place in the final year of the IDPAD, we put on the table a few more substantive issues relating to the theme of the current IDPAD, which is “Recognition, Justice, and Development”. We were able to advocate for another Decade, noting the persistent systemic racism and discrimination. We spoke about the structural inequalities and the ways to address them. The session addressed the issue of economic empowerment. Conversations on reparations stressed the building of intergenerational wealth and addressing economic disparities to promote inclusive growth. Reparations is tied very closely to the Sustainable Development Goals, and without reparations, we can never successfully achieve the stated targets. Issues relating to cultural heritage, the contributions of people of African descent, recognising our cultural diversity, and the issue of collective rights were all tabled.

Finally, one of the major issues for us in the next session is AI. We are putting together a group to look at reparations and AI.

VS: Thanks Ambassador Soomer, and good luck with the work you have undertaken.

Send feedback to reparation.research@uwimona.edu.jm