Oakland resident Priscilla Naa Ankrah was an observer at the first meeting of the United Nations’ Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, which took place Dec. 5-8, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Ankrah holds a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She is a program director of Priority Africa Network, a nonprofit that works to build bridges between recent African immigrants and the African American community. She is also a 2022 Audio Academy Fellow at KALW-FM.
Ankrah was interviewed about her experience by Dan Rosenheim for Local News Matters. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you happen to attend the forum? It must have been very exciting.
I was an observer on behalf of my employer, the nonprofit Priority Africa Network, and it really was exciting. It was the first meeting! After years and years of negotiating and advocating, the Permanent Forum was the result of three UN world conferences related to racism dating back to 1967.
How many people were at the forum and how many from the Bay Area?
There were about 900 people at the forum, with roughly 300 there as official representatives of member states or elected members of the forum. And then the rest were from civil society, from NGOs. I would say there were about 600 representatives from civil society.
People came to the meeting from everywhere in the global African diaspora — Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Algeria, Senegal, Morocco and so on. …
ABOUT THE PERMANENT FORUM
What it the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent?: Adopted in 2021, UN General Assembly Resolution 75/314 formally established the Permanent Forum as “a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent, as well as an advisory body to the Human Rights Council.”
According to the UN Secretariat, 900 people attended the Forum’s first meeting in December 2022, with about 600 people representing civil society.
Twenty-three member states were represented at the meeting.
There are 10 elected members of the Forum. Justin Hansford is an elected member from the United States.
The primary mandates of the Permanent Forum include:
- To contribute to the full political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent in the societies in which they live.
- To provide expert advice and recommendations to the Human Rights Council, the Main Committees of the General Assembly and organs, programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations aimed at addressing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance confronted by people of African descent.
- To consider the elaboration of a United Nations declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent.
Grassroots mobilization: Beginning in March, Priority Africa Network, and its partners will host a series of town hall meetings to lift up the concerns of Black people in the Bay Area for presentation to the Permanent Forum. The Network plans to host Justin Hansford and to present its concerns to the Forum through his advocacy.
The elected member of the forum for the U.S. is Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University, who was endorsed by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
From the Bay Area, there were a dozen or so people — from Black Alliance for Just Immigration, for example. And one prominent local person was Professor Egbert Higinio, who teaches at Merritt College and is president of Garifuna Indigenous Peoples Association.
Okay, so you get there — how did you feel?
On the first day it was just overwhelming — feelings of joy, excitement, possibility. You know, seeing the famous Broken Chair statue at the Geneva UN was a very moving and powerful thing for me. And so was just being in the presence of so many different African people dedicated to the same mission: realizing a world in which xenophobia, Afrophobia no longer exist. It was a powerful moment.
So, did those feelings of joy and excitement last for the whole four-day meeting?
After day one, things shifted into a more business-like atmosphere. Member states had their ideas of what the Permanent Forum should look like, people from civil society had some other ideas.
One issue was the amount of time allotted for speaking — member states got more than NGOs, even though we represented more people.
But I will say that elected members of the Permanent Forum were very committed to making sure the voices of civil society were included in shaping not just this conference but future meetings over the next three years.
What happened outside the formal proceedings?
There were many side events, shaped by members of NGOs. There were presentations — gender justice for women in Brazil, for example, or climate change, or a global plan for reparations. There was an event with African filmmakers, showing the diaspora in ways that counter stereotypes about African people.
One of the topics that kept coming up was the role of technology and surveillance that negatively impacts people of African descent — the use of biometric data in controlling migration and in criminal legal processes.
I’m guessing that was especially an issue for civil society, as opposed to governmental organizations.
Right, because governments are often invested in surveillance!
Climate change was a major issue coming on the heels of COP 27 (the Climate Change Conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November). There was particular interest in the creation of a fund for countries that have been negatively affected by climate change.
What were the important takeaways or resolutions from the Forum meeting.
This was a first meeting, really a preview. So there weren’t formal resolutions, though there was a recommendation to extend the U.N.’s International Decade for another 10 years, so it ends in 2034 instead of 2024. (The International Decade is a commitment by the U.N. General Assembly to address racism and xenophobia that targets people of African descent).
There are also plans to create a special membership post for someone under 24. This would be an international representative, one person in the forum who would specifically be a representative for African youth.
The final objective of the Permanent Forum is to create a binding declaration to which member states could be accountable.
Maybe the most important development was the plan for local consultative meetings to take place after the conference and before the next meeting of the Permanent Forum, which will be at the UN Headquarters in New York this spring.
In the U.S., Justin Hansford will be traveling to consult with local Black communities. He will be in Oakland this spring, though there’s not a specific date yet.
You talked about how it felt coming to the conference. How do you feel in the wake of it?
I feel a lot of energy and global solidarity!
In the Bay Area, in preparation for Justin Hansford’s visit, we’re working to create a coalition of black-led NGOs to bring our recommendations to the forum — specifically lifting up the issues facing black people here.
Even though one critique of UN mechanisms is that they’re not binding and lack an enforcement mechanism, it remains a very influential body. And so having that platform to advocate for changes that you want to see is very powerful!
And if Bay Area folks want more information?
They can write to me or to our organization.