Region criticised over lack of support for Decade of People of African Descent
A leading Caribbean intellectual has criticised the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for doing little to help to drum up support for a proposed Decade of People of African Descent.
“Sadly, CARICOM has done very little to advance the project at the United Nations, where the proposal is still languishing,” Professor Verene Shepherd of the University of the West Indies (UWI) said on Tuesday as she delivered the Annual Independence Lecture, organised by the UWI Open Campus.
Shepherd, who is also chair of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said the Group is hoping that the United Nations (UN) will declare a Decade of People of African Descent and agree to a set of strategies designed to address some of the major problems faced by people of African descent, including those in the region.
“But so far, there has been little action by CARICOM countries to help to drum up support for the Decade and little awareness in the region about it,” she said.
She added that while several Caribbean leaders defended reparations for Caribbean slavery and native genocide and opposed the US trade embargo against Cuba, when they addressed the UN General Assembly last month, only the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson-Miller, publicly supported the Decade.
“This is ironic; for the delay in the declaration of the Decade of People of African descent by the United Nations is attributable to the refusal of those who crafted the programme of action for the Decade to remove references to reparation and make it less visible,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd, who is the head of the Reparations Commission in Jamaica, spoke on the topic: “CARICOM and the Decade for People of African Descent: A Post-Independence Imperative”.
She said CARICOM’s silence on the Decade, is reminiscent of the virtual silence on its forerunner – the 2011 International Year of People of African Descent, “mostly ignored by the Caribbean, but embraced by others in GRULAC” — (Group of Caribbean and Latin American States).
She noted that the UN General Assembly in 2009, at the urging of states like Columbia and Guatemala, proclaimed 2011 the International Year of People of African Descent.
Shepherd further quoted the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, as saying that the aim of the International Year was to “strengthen national actions, and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural; aspects of society, and promotion of greater knowledge and respect for the diverse heritage and culture.
“Those who proposed and subsequently endorsed the International Year of People of African Descent recognised that people of African descent have been victims of racism, structural discrimination and enslavement for centuries. That in many countries, their access to opportunities in education, health, employment and justice is still inadequate. So there is great need for various concrete special measures.”
She said while the reason for CARICOM’s scant attention to the Decade is unclear, it could be due to “our apparent discomfort with discussing on ethnic-specific activities in our so-called harmonious, Creole or multicultural societies, especially when the ethnic group in question is African/African Caribbean.