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Amara Enyia on the Inaugural UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent Sessions

UN-PFPAD Session at United Nations Geneva Office, Geneva, Switzerland. Image via DaQuan Lawrence

The United Nations (UN) recently held the inaugural sessions of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) in Geneva, Switzerland. Dr. Amara Enyia, who serves as chairwoman of the International Civil Society Working Group (ICSWG) for PFPAD, met with The Hilltop in a one-on-one interview to discuss the opening sessions and the future of the Forum.

Between Dec. 5-8, over 600 delegates from UN member states and civil society took the floor to call for global recourse and the institutional protection of human rights for African descendants world-wide. Enyia, a strategist, public policy and social impact expert on city and state policy and international affairs, and a former mayoral candidate for Chicago, attended the convening along with several members of the ICSWG. 

The ICSWG-PFPAD “consists of people around the world who are dedicated to making the Permanent Forum impactful, raising local and international awareness of the Forum’s progress, and creating opportunities to engage civil society and have grassroots stakeholders provide their input,” Dr. Amara Enyia said. 

Established in August 2021, during the 7th year of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, which spans between 2015 to 2024, the PFPAD will act as an advisory body to the UN Human Rights Council. In December 2021, Howard University law professor and Howard alumnus, Justin Hansford was elected by the UN General Assembly as the U.S. candidate for the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent for the inaugural 2022-2024 term.

The UN General Assembly declared that the Forum will also serve as “a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders” and “platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent.”

The Geneva convening included international delegates along with representatives of civil society organizations, Black liberation focused organizations and members of national governments from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and North America.

During Day 1 of the PFPAD sessions, Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez, the nation’s first Black vice president, discussed international racial and economic justice and congratulated H.E. Espy Campbell-Barr, the first woman of African descent in Costa Rica to serve as vice president, on her appointment as chairwoman of the Permanent Forum.

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The convening consisted of international and virtual pre-events and side events that discussed the human rights situation of Africans on the continent as well as Afro-descendants in Europe, North America and across the South American continent in nations such as El Salvador, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Argentina.

Enyia shared her thoughts about the inauguration and future of the PFPAD, engagement among international delegates of African descent, and the role of women in global politics and foreign policy.  

Former Vice President of Costa Rica & UN PFPAD Chairwoman, Dr. Epsy Campbell-Barr and ICSWG-PFPAD Chairwoman, Dr. Amara Enyia 

The Hilltop: “What are your thoughts on the UN-PFPAD convening?”

Enyia: “My mind has been kind of in two places at the same time: substance and experience. I’ve been observing how this mechanism can be improved to help us advance our strategic objectives. First, we have to be intentional about seeing each other. This was a very powerful space for people of African descent to come together. Even beyond the actual mechanism itself; the side conversations and connections made across organizations, countries and languages. People who have been in this work long before I was, have focused on developing the concept of permanent forum. We know that it’s only going to be as effective or as impactful as we make it.”

The Hilltop: “What do you think about the turnout and engagement among delegates?”

Enyia: “I believe in quality over quantity, and I was pleased with the turnout because Geneva is not the most accessible place to get to and extremely expensive. We had to lobby hard to create pathways for subsidized lodging and transportation support for flights. We believe this mechanism has legitimacy to the extent that civil society is engaged, and that UN Member States and civil society members are equally engaged. Moreover, the members of the Forum have set terms, and once those positions change civil society members want to ensure the terms of the values we articulated are consistent.”

The Hilltop: “What are your expectations of the May/June 2023 convening?”

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Enyia: “I’m focused on substance and infrastructure. I think it’s important because every constituency (women, youth, LGBTQIA, etc.) represents different perspectives in this work. Regarding infrastructure: making sure that we have the time and the space to engage civil society proactively on developing the agenda for this next session.”

The Hilltop: “Will UN Member States fund the UN PFPAD?”

Enyia: “Ideally, our vision is that Member States will contribute significantly because it’s a tangible demonstration of their commitment based on the rhetoric that we hear when it comes to people of African descent in their countries.”

The Hilltop: “Colombia’s Vice President, Francia Marquez discussed racial, economic and gender justice. H.E. Campbell-Barr was elected Chairwoman of the PFPAD, and you serve as Chairwoman of the international civil society working group. What are your thoughts on women’s undisputable influence on global politics?”

Enyia: “We’re going to do what we’re going to do; you know? I love seeing people who follow through, who have a track record of commitment because when you start something, you don’t know how it will end. Three points; I recall being an early supporter for VP Marquez and I remember the severe resistance she encountered. I also remember being in Colombia during her inauguration. When I see former Vice President Campbell-Barr bringing Vice President Márquez along for the PFPAD opening and knowing Francia’s journey – it validates our commitment as people of African descent. Lastly, the ICSWG includes a group of folks that worked together in the middle of the pandemic; even after the resolution was passed, the working group expanded because the work is for longevity. “

ICSWG-PFPAD Chairwoman, Dr. Amara Enyia and Colombian Vice President, Francia Márquez

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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