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Civil Society Members Discuss Reparations at United Nations Geneva Office 

Photo by DaQuan Lawrence.

The United Nations (UN) held the inaugural session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) in Geneva, Switzerland between Dec. 5-8, 2022. Members of civil society attended the convening raising significant issues such as global reparations, recourse for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial era, as well as wars and authoritarian regimes in Africa.

Siphiwe Baleka, a delegate for Guinea-Bissau and president of the Balanta B’urassa History and Genealogy Society in America, and Peter Kuel, a delegate for South Sudan and president of South Sudan International Advocacy for Human Rights (SSIAHR) discussed their respective opinions with The Hilltop.

The Forum was established in August 2021, and will act as an advisory body to the UN Human Rights Council and 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 PFPAD convenings consisted of over 600 delegates and an international and intergenerational network of grassroots, nongovernment, public sector representatives and social activists in addition to other human rights defenders from UN Member states.  

Collectively, representatives called for the institutional protection of human rights for African descendants world-wide. Many delegates discussed how systemic or structural racism and xenophobia currently negatively and disproportionately impact people of African descent.

The Balanta B’urassa Society is a nonprofit dedicated to informing African descendants about the importance of family genealogy and history research and facilitating the repair of the Balanta people who were victimized by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The SSIAHR is a nongovernmental human rights organization that seeks to improve the human rights condition in the Republic of South Sudan and to protect human rights for people violated by institutions around the world.

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In his comments at the Geneva convening, Baleka, a Pan-African scholar activist and graduate of Yale University who was pivotal in launching Guinea Bissau’s Decade of Return Initiative, openly and eloquently addressed the legacy of colonialism referencing international law and global historical precedents.

“This Ethnocide committed by European colonial powers and their successor states is a crime against humanity that has no statute of limitations and has not been punished nor repaired” Baleka said.

“The Geneva Conventions say that prisoners of war remain so until their final release and repatriation. The Durban Declaration…recommends the facilitation of ‘welcomed return and resettlement of the descendants of enslaved Africans… and urges all states to facilitate all appropriate legal procedures and free legal assistance’…” he continued.

The Geneva Convention and their Additional Protocols constitute international rules that supposedly limit the barbarity of warfare. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) is a resolution passed after the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, that called for tangible actions by states and other actors to eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related prejudice.

Kuel, a native of Mayon County in Unity, South Sudan, explicitly addressed the contemporary human rights situation in South Sudan in his remarks in Geneva. “I believe the PFPAD can help organize against the conflicts in South Sudan by bringing leaders to account for their malfeasance via indictment or by employing tactics to help pressure those leaders to change,” Kuel said.

“There needs to be a recognition that staying in power for additional 12-40 years creates a tribal or clan-like mindset which sets the stage for intra-state wars, leaving people desperately seeking refuge in other countries. Instead of finding safety in these shelters, they have found slavery in Arab countries, i.e. slavery in Libya and death in the Mediterranean Sea,” he continued.

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“The lack of respect for Africans amongst African dictators and leaders is the main factor behind why Black people are not respected by the various government bodies. We must hold our leaders within Africa and the diaspora accountable for their actions that denigrate the countries and the people they lead,” Kuel said.

Reflecting on the UN-PFPAD sessions, Baleka mentioned, “It was an extraordinary vibe and deep global Pan African solidarity amongst delegates. However, the UN, international law and the current world order is nothing more than the scientific refinement of colonialism and white supremacy.”

“At the UN we engaged in diplomacy, which is a conscious choice by opposing forces to settle their differences without war. Yet, until the global African diaspora signals that we have that capacity for transnational unity, our diplomacy has no teeth,” Baleka said.

“I believe global solidarity and unity within civil society is the best way to fight the situation facing Black people worldwide. African leaders need to be the forerunner of treating Black people with dignity,” Kuel said.

“We win wars by winning battles, and we win battles by engaging in the battlefront – be it our communities or at the UN,” Baleka concluded.

The second sessions of the PFPAD are scheduled for May 30 – June 2, 2023, at the UN Secretariat in New York.

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Copy edited by Jasper Smith 

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