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‘Long Overdue Recognition’: United Nations Celebrates First International Day for People of African Descent

The United Nations celebrated the first International Day for People of African Descent on Tuesday, Aug. 31. Through the observance, the United Nations says it intends to promote contributions to the African diaspora and eliminate discrimination against people of African descent.

“This day is a celebration of the enormous contributions of people of African descent to every field of human endeavour. It is a long overdue recognition of the profound injustices and systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, and continue to confront today,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

The declaration comes during the International Decade for People of African Descent, which began in 2015 and will end in 2024. The year 2020 marked the midpoint of the decade. More than 200 million people in the Americas identify as being of African descent, according to the UN.

The objective of the day is to “promote greater recognition and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.” 

Between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, Costa Rica will host the first commemoration of the International Day for People of African Descent through forums, conferences and cultural activities. The Central American country spearheaded efforts to establish the day, considering itself a multiethnic and multicultura nation.

In celebration of the day intended to honor the political and scientific contributions of African people around the globe, a pre-recorded event presented by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights showcases diverse African cultures through music, dance and art.

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in December 2020 establishing the Aug. 31 day, citing that on Aug. 31, 1920, the first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World ended in New York. The resolution noted that Marcus Garvey led discussions at the convention that produced the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.

The UN cited the death of George Floyd as a turning point in the way racial injustice should be addressed and strongly condemned “continuing violent practices and excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken acknowledged the day of commemoration in a statement.

“The United States joins others around the world in commemorating the first International Day for People of African Descent. This day was created to promote the extraordinary contributions of Africans and members of the African diaspora around the world and is an opportunity to focus on eliminating all forms of discrimination against people of African descent. The United States continues to support the International Decade for People of African Descent through shared goals of recognition, justice, and development.”

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