May 25th marks the third anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis that catalyzed global protests and signaled a watershed moment in the fight against racism both domestically and abroad. Coincidentally, the U.S. will host the Second Session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City from May 30th to June 2nd. The U.N. established the Permanent Forum in August of 2021 when the General Assembly adopted a resolution in its ongoing effort to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance.
As a poverty, race, and inequality scholar and professor of African American Studies who attended and spoke at the First Session in Geneva last December, I know that the work of the Permanent Forum is instrumental in the effort to eliminate racial inequality. The Biden administration and Congress must substantively support the Permanent Forum to address systemic and structural racism and racial inequality in the U.S.
The General Assembly established the Permanent Forum with the intent to use it as an advisory body for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Toward this end, its mandate outlines primary objectives that include:
1) Contributions to the full political, economic, and social inclusion of people of African descent in the societies in which they live as equal citizens,
2) The provision of expert advice and recommendations to the Human Rights Council and other U.N. agencies that address racism, and
3) The identification of best practices, opportunities, and initiatives to end racism.
These are only three of the nine objectives identified by the mandate, which is both timely and imperative. Racism and racial inequality unfortunately persist, particularly in the U.S.
A report by the National Fair Housing Alliance details how the housing appraisal industry perpetually undervalues homes in communities of color. Racial appraisal bias is one of the key drivers of the racial wealth gap. A study on COVID-19 shows that racial health inequities have led to the disparate impact of the pandemic on Black communities. Black people are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized and nearly twice as likely to die of the disease than white people.
And the casual brutality illustrated by the murder of George Floyd and most recently Jordan Neely, another unarmed Black man who was fatally choked on a subway train in New York City, is a tragic reminder of the events that led so many to take to the streets in protest proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.
These and other issues were discussed at the First Session in Geneva among an international network of representatives from civil society and government. The Second Session will produce formal recommendations to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
Those recommendations will require adequate funding from the U.N. to enact them. Here’s the problem: Leadership of the Permanent Forum expressed concern during the First Session that there is insufficient funding to undertake the full scope of the mandate. The funding for the Permanent Forum is allocated from the budget for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the majority of which relies on voluntary contributions from Member States and other donors. The U.N. reports that last year’s voluntary contributions “were insufficient to respond to all requests for assistance or needs identified by U.N. Human Rights.”
The budget deficit means that the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly will be constrained in efforts to act on the recommendations of the Permanent Forum. The U.N. needs Member states to increase their voluntary contributions and this is where the U.S. can assume a leadership role. As of April 30, 2023, the U.S. ranks 13th in its voluntary contributions behind Germany, Canada, Ireland, Finland, and New Zealand, among others.
The Biden administration and Congress must increase U.S. voluntary contributions to the U.N. in efforts to repair our reputation on the global stage and the Permanent Forum is an important reason to do so. It presents a remarkable opportunity for the U.S. to promote the human rights of people of African descent both domestically and abroad by redressing issues of racial inequality. We must substantively support the Permanent Forum by providing ample funding to the U.N. as it, in partnership with Member States, strives to end the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance.