Recognition, justice and development:
the promise of Black diplomacy and the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent
May 30, 2023
Photo: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock
The United Nations-declared Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015-2024, presented an opportunity for collective engagement on advancing and achieving recognition, justice and development for Black peoples globally. This was a call to action by 193 member states (countries) at the United Nations level to take intentional action towards recognizing the historical and present day institutional and societal conditions that perpetuate violence, exclusion and disenfranchisement for people of African descent.
Beyond recognizing these societal ills, the Decade called for the delineation of justice to be an evaluative framework to improve systemic outcomes for people of African descent. While criminal justice reform is one of the most immediate requirements for social justice, as seen through the many examples of police brutality and racial profiling captured in the media, there are other aspects of justice that also need transformation and innovative reform.
Legislative justice is the requirement of public policy actors to use the public facing instruments of decision-making to enact policies, regulatory frameworks and implementation mechanisms that are focused on addressing historically entrenched systemic anti-Black racism, discrimination, and marginalization.
Economic justice is the identification of the barriers to economic stability and well-being faced by Black communities. Examples of these barriers include inequitable access to credit products at federally regulated financial institutions, overrepresentation in industries that pervasively perpetuate precarious work and income instability and being effectively blocked from home ownership. Economic justice in this context requires a complete overhaul and rebuilding of systems and processes to not only recognize where the barriers to effective and equitable participation exists, but also to actively work to dismantle them with measurable progress in the immediate, intermediate, and distant future.
Only one year remains in the Decade for People of African Descent, and actions aimed at building more equitable outcomes take time to gain momentum for lasting impact. It is for these reasons that the establishment of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent is so significant. The unanimous adoption of the Permanent Forum by the United Nations General Assembly, on August 2, 2021, signals that more work in the immediate, short, and long term is absolutely vital to recognizing and protecting the human rights of people of African descent.
With the establishment of the Permanent Forum as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council, countries, governments, nonprofit organizations, academia, and civil societies can continue working collectively to achieve human rights, equity and justice for People of African Descent on a global stage. As an international multilateral policy instrument embedded within the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, it provides a distinct opportunity and mechanism for cross-sectoral leaders of Black communities to collectively tie our advocacy to. This is the opportunity for people of African descent to see the conclusion of the Decade as the commencement of a new way to take itemized action for our holistic development.
Development in this context requires a reflective approach in the recognition of the nuanced human rights abuses that people of African descent have been and continue to be subjected to, with the requisite application of justice in all its definitive frameworks.
Through the development of the Permanent Forum, Black leaders globally can continue to take up and create space through Black Diplomacy. Black Diplomacy is a key initiative of the organization that I founded, Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow Today. I define it as “Black communities’ utilization of our lived experiences to successfully navigate systems, institutions and policy frameworks that were not designed with our meaningful participation in mind.”
I attended the inaugural meeting of the Permanent Forum, held in December 2022. From the storytelling of Black people from various regions of the world, gathering at the seat of world governments in Geneva, the weight of the Black experience of historical trauma was palpable. Still, amongst this contextual backdrop of longstanding struggle, lay a renewed sense of hopeful optimism for social justice efforts to be achieved through the development of a strong institution for us and by us.
The UN Decade for People of African Descent was the start of Black Diplomacy-infused systemic recognition; now the Permanent Forum is the implementation phase where calls to action domestically and globally are tied to itemized accountability mechanisms. Social justice has been activated on a global scale and Black communities globally are watching and working for the transition in the human rights outcomes of justice and development.
The Sustainable Development Goals as a tool for action
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global action mechanism that possesses accountability and measurable targets for achievement. The SDGs inevitably have embedded the themes of Recognition, Justice and Development manifesting throughout their guiding principles. To follow are ways that Black Diplomacy can inform how we understand some of the SDGs:
- Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. The eradication of poverty is not achievable if the mechanisms that perpetuate the cycle of poverty are not addressed. This means that a systemic approach is needed to mitigate the conditions that contribute to the existence of poverty globally. Through the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, pathways to the eradication of the cycle of poverty can be created and sustainably maintained through innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration within and between communities, governments and corporate institutions.
- Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The experience of Black communities within the education system continues to produce inequitable outcomes. The Permanent Forum presents another opportunity for the development of education, training and mentorship that are culturally reflective and responsive, while also positioning and empowering Black young people as leaders and champions together with our elders. There is obviously an important role – and opportunity -- for UNESCO in this work.
- Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth. This goal is situated at the heart of economic justice for people of African descent, which requires establishing policy priorities that champion employment equity, elimination of precarious work and the development of sustainable economic security measures to facilitate homeownership and positive social determinants of health.
- Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions. As with Goal 8, Goal 16 is also embedded in the Permanent Forum’s key objectives based on the Decade for People of African Descent. The target to “significantly reduce all forms of violence…end abuse…develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels” is achievable when the judicial system includes representation of Black communities in criminal justice reform decision-making. Also needed is a nuanced understanding of how the judicial system victimizes Black communities at the highest levels of decision-making.
These goals will be achieved through legislative, economic, environmental and criminal justice reform. For meaningful participation and change to occur, Black policy actors, activists and advocates work closely with allies.
Canada and the Decade for People of African Descent
In the Canadian context, Black communities are still faced with both covert and open anti-Black racism and discrimination in our systems and institutions. Most challenging here in Canada is the “wait and see” approach as well as disingenuous and performative allyship; where signing a pledge to participate or making public statements on days of significance creates the perception that we’re all in this together, without any real commitment for social and institutional change.
Canada is well past the Recognition phase of the Decade, having made public statements beginning in 2018 on the importance of addressing systemic barriers to participation in relation to the International Decade. These public statements followed a 2016 progress assessment from the Working Group of Experts for Canadians of African Descent. Subsequent to their findings, the Working Group produced a list of recommendations to the federal government to assist in advancing the human rights of Black Canadians. The federal public service has achieved some itemized progress from these recommendations, ranging from the creation of a federal anti-racism secretariat, a call to action from the Clerk of the Privy Council Office and directives for federal Minister mandate letters.
Canada took the positive step of recognizing Emancipation Day on August 1, 2021. For us as a country, Emancipation Day also recognizes the legacy of racism, and annually calls us to move forward with the goals to achieve progress on desired human rights outcomes for Black Canadians.
For Canada, the work remains to continue to build upon the themes of Justice and Development through legislative, economic, and further social justice actions. All aspects of Canadian society, from governments to private sector and community organizations now have the responsibility to facilitate the full participation of Black communities in the achievement of human rights and justice.
Essentially, with the adoption of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, the priorities of Black communities in Canada include ensuring the intentional inclusion and representation on policy development platforms, and a regular “seat at the table” when decisions are being made. This means the full and intentional participation in climate change forums, G-series summits, economic development conferences and the like, where human rights issues impacting Black communities fully integrated in mainstream policy discussions and actions for implementation.
The mandate of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent is clear, and Canada is now on the hot seat to deliver on full achievement of Recognition, Justice and Development for Black Canadians. There is much work to do, and Black advocates and activists are ready to roll up our sleeves to deliver the sought-after outcomes through the Permanent Forum. We are ready to meet with Canadian and global policy makers, corporate and community leaders to do this work together. We invite you to seek us out, ally with us, and together we will ensure that the promise of intentional inclusion and belonging, for the benefit of all, is realized beyond 2024!
Candies Kotchapaw is the founder and executive director of Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT) and created the Black Diplomats Academy. She is also the president of Candies Kotchapaw Consulting. Over the last five years, Kotchapaw’s career has focused on designing solution-focused programs to overcome systemic barriers within public and corporate employment spaces. Kotchapaw expertly applies her structural social work theory of practice to analyze public policies, including those relating to the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent and the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent. Her public diplomacy profile has been built by designing and delivering tested and proven experiential learning programs prioritizing Black young professionals’ talent, while consulting with senior federal government representatives on opportunities for strengthened diversity, equity and inclusion strategizing.