WASHINGTON—As the United States celebrates Black History Month and the world continues to highlight the International Decade for People of African Descent, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) introduced two pieces of legislation on Thursday focused on promoting the rights of people of African descent and recognizing their achievements and invaluable contributions to society.
The African Descent Affairs Act of 2021 would establish a U.S. strategy to protect and promote the human rights of people of African descent worldwide.
“We have seen a sharp increase in racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other forms of prejudice and discrimination across the globe,” said Chairman Hastings. “Global racial justice movements have drawn attention not only to the problem, but also to opportunities to join efforts with countries around the world to develop and implement global and national solutions.”
The African Descent Affairs Act, originally introduced in 2019, seeks to facilitate the full and equal participation of people of African descent in society; promote knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture, and contributions of people of African descent; and strengthen and implement legal frameworks that combat racial discrimination by:
- Developing an Office of Global African Descent Affairs within the U.S. State Department to develop global foreign policy and assistance strategies beyond the African continent;
- Creating a State Department fund to support antidiscrimination and empowerment efforts by civil society organizations;
- Requiring annual State Department human rights reports to include a section on discrimination faced by people of African descent;
- Creating similar initiatives at the United States Agency for International Development.
A related resolution recognizes the achievements and contributions of people of African descent and Black Europeans in the face of persistent racism and discrimination.
It encourages the European Union (EU), European governments, and members of civil society and the private sector to work with African descent communities to implement national strategies to address inequality and racism.
“While the presence of Blacks in Europe can be traced to enslavement, colonization, military deployments, voluntary or forced migration, the movement of refugees and asylum seekers, or educational and other professional exchanges and even before the time of the Egyptians, the story of Europeans of African descent and Black Europeans still remains largely untold,” said Chairman Hastings. “The system has rendered many of their past and present contributions to the very fabric of Europe unseen or forgotten, which is unacceptable.”
The resolution urges the United States to take a number of steps to improve the situation of people of African descent in Europe by supporting:
- EU-wide anti-racism and inclusion strategies, including implementation of the EU’s first Anti-racism Action Plan and the adoption of national strategies in all 27 EU Member States;
- A Joint U.S.-EU Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality and Inclusion, as well as other multilateral efforts to address racial inequality and combat racial discrimination, including efforts of the OSCE, Council of Europe, United Nations and their parliamentary assemblies;
- The active promotion of racial and ethnic representation and participation at all levels of national, regional, and local government, in addition to other measures.
Chairman Hastings originally introduced the resolution, which was co-sponsored by the late Rep. John Lewis, in March 2019.
“It is my hope that when we gather in the years to come to review the efforts of the United Nations designated International Decade for People of African Descent, we will not only speak of how our efforts resulted in our respective nations publicly recognizing the injustices and long-term impact of slavery and colonialism, but also of how our societies reconciled these issues in a manner that ensured equal opportunity, access, and justice for all people of African descent,” said Chairman Hastings.
Both initiatives align with President Biden’s recent executive orders on racial equality and justice.
Over the past decade, the Helsinki Commission has drawn attention to continuing issues of racism and discrimination on both sides of the Atlantic, most recently through a September 2020 hearing on reinforcing U.S.-EU parliamentary coordination to promote race equity, equality, and justice following the June 19, 2020 adoption of the European Parliament resolution on the anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd.
Representatives Gregory Meeks, Gwen Moore, Steve Cohen, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Bobby Rush are original cosponsors of the bill.