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Youth Delegates Issue Declaration for Reparatory Justice at United Nations

African diaspora youth at UN Geneva forum push for representation, reparations, and systemic justice reforms.

Yumi Ndhlovu (front left) and members of the International Civil Society Working Group Youth Subcommittee during the reading of the Youth Declaration at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. ( DaQuan Lawrence/The Hilltop)

Members of the International Civil Society Working Group Youth Subcommittee at the PFPAD convenings at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (DaQuan Lawrence/The Hilltop) 

Youth delegates recently issued a declaration at the United Nations (UN) human rights office in Geneva, calling for reparatory justice, human rights protections and representation on the UN’s premier platform for people of African descent.

As member states and representatives of international society recently convened in Geneva, Switzerland during the third official meeting of the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent (PFPAD), a delegation of African diaspora youth from various continents coordinated one of the forum’s most significant outputs.

“The third session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society and human rights defenders during a critical moment for equality and racial justice,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a recorded statement during the opening of the session.

Held between April 16-19 in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the third PFPAD session was convened by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) under the theme, “the Second International Decade for People of African Descent: Addressing Systemic Racism, Reparatory Justice and Sustainable Development.”

More than 1,000 representatives of civil society from more than 85 countries participated in a week of meetings to develop international policy recommendations for the UN’s General Assembly. 

During the final day of the proceedings members of the PFPAD’s International Civil Society Working Group’s (ICSWG) Youth Sub-Committee issued individual and collective statements, urging the Forum to consider institutional recommendations that would allow youth to serve the forum in a greater capacity.  

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“Today, I stand before you with a clear mission: to amplify the presence and influence of youth in the Black world and at the Permanent Forum at-large,” Miles Henderson, a co-chair of the ICSWG Youth Sub-Committee, said to member states and forum participants in Geneva.

“Given the fact that the majority of the African population is made of youth, I recommend the creation of two permanent seats on the Forum for youth, that are inclusive of location, gender and of civil society,” Henderson continued during his intervention.

According to the UN, the PFPAD currently consists of ten members from around the world who are mandated to contribute to the political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent in the societies in which they live as equal citizens without any kind of discrimination.

“When I was Vice-President, my government worked a lot to achieve the resolution to approve the Permanent Forum,” Dr. Epsy Campbell-Barr, the former vice president of Costa Rica, told The Hilltop.

Campbell-Barr served as the inaugural chair of the PFPAD and presided over the first two sessions before her successor, Dr. June Soomer of Saint Lucia became chair during the most recent session.

“In this third session, we have a lot of participation from members of civil society and international governments. More importantly, we have many young people that are participating in this discussion” Campbell-Barr explained.

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While the PFPAD sessions generally focus on international and comprehensive remedies for crimes against humanity such as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and racialism, which disproportionately have impacted the African diaspora, members of the ICSWG Youth Sub-Committee were explicit in their calls for racial and social justice.

“We, youth participants of the third session of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, come together in full unity within the African diaspora in support of the Sustainable Development Goals as well as recommendations proposed by the forum with our first Youth Declaration,” Cameron Clarke, a member of the ICSWG Youth Sub-committee, declared.

“We affirm the ultimate objectives of the forum and the upliftment of people of African descent…we also recognize the effects, victims and perpetrators of violent extremism across Africa and the African diaspora,” Clarke, a graduate student in Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies program, continued.

Many of the youth delegates made calls for the reformation of the PFPAD to increase the mechanism’s efficacy and African diaspora youth involvement. Yumi Ndhlovu, a New York University student and member of the ICSWG Youth Sub-committee, read the collective youth demands to the assembly hall, which called for a number of things. 

The demands included at least two PFPAD youth members, the creation of a Youth Forum to cultivate leadership, the development of a global Pan-African Student Congress to unify student groups and the naming of a permanent African member of the UN Security Council. 

They also included emphasizing the right to reparations and self-determination, holding future PFPAD meetings at locations in Africa and across the diaspora; and increasing member states’ monetary support of the PFPAD, including additional financial support for the Youth Forum.

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While members of the international community and the PFPAD itself were inspired and surprised by the actions of the youth during the Geneva convening, youth leaders within the ICSWG believe such outputs are the outcome of years’ worth of organizing and strategic developments.

“We’re very proud of the work that our Youth Sub-committee put forward to elevate, highlight and unite the youth voice at this past forum. We strive to think for the whole and not for the few,” Jadayah Spencer, co-chair of the ICSWG Youth Sub-committee emphasized to The Hilltop.

Spencer shared that although delegates may have witnessed high-level organizing at the UN, the youth subcommittee worked hard to ensure youth from all over the world had their voices heard by organizing town halls, developing surveys and ensuring feedback was available in various languages.

“Forum participants may have only seen our work in Geneva, including our youth dinner, side events, our consultations for the declaration and the declaration itself,” Spencer said. “This was the culmination of two to three years of work to cultivate an international team and to ensure that we received feedback in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and other diaspora languages.”

Jadayah Spencer and Miles Henderson, International Civil Society Working Group Youth Subcommittee Co-Chairs outside the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (DaQuan Lawrence/The Hilltop)

Sumaya Elkashif is a 2023 Howard University alumna, member of the ICSWG Youth Subcommittee, and a graduate student at the Bologna, Italy-campus of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, who shared her perspective on the youth interventions during the third PFPAD convening with The Hilltop.

“I support all the statements made by the youth representatives, particularly the emphasis on creating youth seats at the Forum and a youth sub-forum,” Elkashif,  a Sudanese American who hails from Columbia, Maryland, said.

“We have the biggest growing numbers in terms of population, and it is important to put youth voices to the forefront. Afro-descendant youth play a critical role in creating change at the local, national and international levels,” Elkashif explained.

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Mayowa Fageyinbo is a 2019 Howard alumna, a member of the ICSWG Youth Subcommittee who attended the session organized by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, who discussed her experience with The Hilltop.

“The conversations and side events felt more robust, and the energy in the space was vibrant,” Fageyinbo exclaimed. “There are still areas for improvement, including the integration of youth into the Forum, however, the response to us as youth was incredible!”

“I think the next step is for the Forum to recognize these efforts and not make it an isolated case but an integral part of PFPAD functioning without us having to ask,” Fageyinbo explained. 

Future efforts, activities and the structure of the Forum were not lost on leaders of the subcommittee, who maintained their steadfast commitment to UN and PFPAD reformation.

“Moving forward funding will be very important because it’s clear that the funding this Forum needs isn’t being prioritized entirely within the UN”, Qadira Muhammad, who serves as the coordinator for the ICSWG-Youth Subcommittee, told The Hilltop.

“That is something we discovered throughout the week in various conversations. Considering the mandate and our demand for an additional day for youth delegates to deliberate – funding is going to be a big question.

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Muhammad emphasized the importance of African diaspora youth being involved in diplomacy, international affairs and human rights initiatives.

“We’re talking about nation building, state building and making solutions and changes to our communities, which literally cannot be accomplished without Black youth aged 35 and younger,” Muhammad said.

“Why would we stop youth from participating in high-level diplomacy and international policy sessions? They are apparently old enough to experience the decisions governments make, so they should also be able to provide their input,” Muhammad explained. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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