The following speech was given by H.E. Irwin LaRocque, Secretary General of CARICOM, at the brief session of the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights, during the thirty-third (33rd) Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). Also speaking at the July 6 session were Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis Denzil Douglas, IACHR Commissioner Professor Rosemary Belle-Antoine and IACHR President Jose de Jesus Orozco Henriquez.
“The Caribbean Community is pleased to be associated with the launch of this important report on The Situation of People of African Descent in the Americas. This landmark report is one of the major works in the 53 year history of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a body which has played a significant role as a watchdog for the rights of all the peoples of the hemisphere.
This study, conducted to coincide with last year’s International Year of People of African Descent, looks at the situation of 30 percent of the population of the Americas and seeks, as it says, to “render visible” a social group which has been marginalised to the point of being invisible. Invisible in the sense that many countries do not collect or make public statistics on social indicators of their Afro-descendant populations.
We in the Caribbean must take careful note of the report given the demographics of our Region. Many of the findings of the report resonate with the situation for people of African descent in our Community. Our reality may not be as stark or as widespread as some outlined by the report but there is enough discrimination, injustice, deprivation, and psychological trauma existing in the Region to give us pause for thought and action.
Too many persons of African descent in this part of the world do not have access to basic services in health and education for example and thereby have difficulty in realising their full potential and contributing meaningfully to the advancement of their families, communities and nations.
It was one of the reasons which prompted the Caribbean Community to co-sponsor a success resolution at the 61st General Assembly of the United Nations which resulted in the United Nations designating 25th March 2007, as the International Day to mark the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. That year was the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition and the observance was one means of highlighting the challenges faced by the descendants of slaves.
In the face of those challenges there is no doubt that people of African descent have made a significant deposit in the treasury of human civilisation in this hemisphere. As the late Professor Emeritus and former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Rex Nettleford said: “the African presence continues to make the impact where it most matters, in the enduring areas of language, religion, artistic manifestations and even kinship patterns, as well as in areas of ontology and cosmology rooted in the creative diversity that is now the global reality of our Third Millennium and has been the lived reality of the Caribbean and the wider Americas of which the Caribbean is an iconic integral part.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, this Report may be a sober reminder of the deep-rooted problems which remain in the hemisphere but there are sufficient examples of people of African descent who came to the fore in spite of the challenges. There is no better way to end than to leave with you the words of Aime Cesaire, from Martinique, who in his widely celebrated poem, “Return to My Native Land”, said:
“No race holds the monopoly of beauty, of intellect, of strength, And there is a place for all at the Rendezvous of Victory”.”