Oral Statements to Regional Seminars for Afrodescendants

Statements delivered to Regional Seminars on Afrodescendants in 2001 and 2002 were heard and responded to by the UN.

Oral Statements to Regional Seminars on Afrodescendants in order of presentation:

  1. Statement to the Regional Seminar in La Ceiba, Honduras, March 2002
  2. Statement to the First Informal Workshop on Afrodescendants in Geneva, Switzerland, Morning Session, May 2001
  3. Statement to the First Informal Workshop on Afrodescendants, Afternoon Session

1) The Regional Seminar on Afro-Descendants in the Americas
La Ceiba, Honduras, 21 to 24 March, 2002

There would be no racial discrimination against us if we, the so-called African Americans, had not been dispossessed of our homeland, Africa, taken into slavery for 430 years and stripped of our identity: mother tongue, culture and religion. We descendants, in South America, Central America, North America and throughout the Diaspora, are suffering the lingering effects of slavery.

The taking away of one’s identity has the same effect as does racial discrimination: it places the powerful in rulership over the powerless. Call it what you will, discrimination against us is born out of the loss of identity. Still today the Black man is denied the means of getting up, or reclaiming his lost ties: his identity. When he tries he faces opposition.

For the lack of knowing his original family name, the Black man accepts a family name that fits the region where he resides. You see the difficulty that we have in communicating with each other. We are of the same family, you and I, yet we sit across the table speaking these European languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. The slave masters forced these languages upon our foreparents. They are not our languages.

Once, long ago, our freedom to think and speak in our own languages was willfully taken. The door to our identity was permanently shut! This door must be opened! During slavery our mother tongue, culture and religion were mercilessly destroyed. Consider the magnitude of the damage that this did to us. Reparations in the form of money alone will not repair this! Complete restoration should be our demand. Let’s give ourselves a name and begin it.

The Durban Conference Against Racial Discrimination has asked the Commission on Human Rights to establish a working group or mechanism in order to deal with the issues of the Afrodescendants’ communities. The door is now open in the United Nations! Come, let’s grasp this opportunity! Lets go there with a name for ourselves, that we have chosen, together, and tell them that we want a place in the UN system, collectively. We are a family. This is our chance to reclaim ourselves, or our identity. Quoting professor Bengoa, the process of reclaiming lost ties is called "ethnogenesis."

Like the Indigenous Peoples, we are many diverse peoples and nations. We do not have to give up our diversity, or our leadership to become as one, politically. The Indigenous Peoples are even more diverse than we, yet they have been able to come together under one name in order to gain human rights protection, reparations and restoration. They have a place in the UN system. We do not. Cannot we do the same as they, or better? We are 250,000,000 strong, approximately. Given a platform, 250 million people have a lot of political power. We need a name. I offer, the name LOST FOUND Peoples, to begin the discussion. There is no question that we were lost, and that Professor Jose Bengoa and the Working Group on Minorities are in the process of trying to help us find a place where we fit.

Silis Muhammad.

Editor's Note: The name Lost-Found Peoples was not accepted, and the name Afrodescendants was agreed upon by unanimous consent.

2) Informal Workshop on Afro-descendants in the Americas
Working Group on Minorities

Morning Session
May 19, 2001

Statement by Mr. Silis Muhammad

Greetings Mr. Chairman, members of the Working Group on Minorities. I would like to thank each one of you for your part in organizing this special informal workshop for Afro-Descendants in the Americas. Also, I thank the NGOs that contributed to organizing this workshop.

My name is Silis Muhammad. For four years I have been attending the meetings of the Working Group on Minorities to deliver prayers on behalf of African Americans in the United States. From my first intervention before this esteemed group of experts, my concern has been with the subject of today's Agenda Item 2: The relevance of minority protection to the Afro-Americans, and its relation to the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

When we African Americans consider the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities, we conclude that we remain a lost people. While we are a people and not a minority, in the United States we are placed within a minority status. Thus, the U.S. Government, with knowledge that it has denied us our identity for the past 400 years, is in violation of the aforementioned Declaration. In Article 2 the Declaration emphasizes that minorities have the right to enjoy their culture and identity.

In our first intervention before this group we questioned whether the so-called African Americans are in possession of their human rights. We concluded that the UN does not recognize us, or know where we fit. Four hundred years of plantation slavery and its lingering effects have left us outside of a definite place within the UN system, and thus not in possession of our human rights. Today we thank the Working Group on Minorities for demonstrating its willingness to hear our concerns and assist us.

We know that to the extent that we have been deprived of our culture, our religion and our language, we do not have human rights. During the period we were enslaved, we lost our identity: our 'mother tongue', our culture and religion – by whatever names they were then called. Owing to the acts of plantation slavery and its lingering effects, we have been duplicated as a type of clone of the Anglo-Saxon: we speak their English, practice their religion, and have lived their culture. In addition, the wrongful act of forced breeding between the slaves has produced a changed African American people. Thus we are without a definite identity as to tribe, nation or a people, and we are not in control of our future.

African Americans in North, Central and South America and throughout the Diaspora all suffer from the loss of their identity. We did not come to the Americas willingly and we did not come as English speaking Christians with an Anglo-American culture. Neither did we come as Spanish or Portuguese speaking Christians with Spanish or Portuguese influenced culture. African Americans are a people who for more than 400 years have been mindful, daily, of a consciousness of "otherness", with respect to racial differences. We have been forcibly displaced from our common territory and scattered throughout the Americas Region and beyond. The African American "racial" group is a group destroyed, having neither racial dignity nor political bond.

We African Americans in the United States have cried out in many ways over many years for the restoration of our dignity as a people. Yet the U.S. Government commits, daily, the international wrongful act of denying our existence while claiming respect for human rights. It is our desire to reconstitute ourselves, for we do recognize ourselves as the African American people, internally. It is also our desire to receive reparation from the U.S. Government for the ongoing loss of our 'mother tongue', and our internationally recognized political identity. We ask that the Working Group on Minorities let us know what it recommends in relation to our desire to reconstitute ourselves, and to receive reparation and international political recognition.

In conclusion, it is our prayer that this body of experts, the Working Group on Minorities, will become the force within the United Nations for the creation of international instruments, arbitration mechanisms and laws that require States to recognize and respect the dignity of the minorities and peoples under their jurisdiction.

3) Informal Workshop on Afro-descendants in the Americas
Working Group on Minorities

Afternoon Session
May 19, 2001

Statement by Mr. Silis Muhammad
Read by Harriett AbuBakr

For the past three years I have been asking the UN to provide the forum for African American leaders, and this they did. This forum was the closest they could come. I want to thank Mr. Eide, Mr. Bengoa, Mr. Sik Yuen and their experts for giving up their Saturday to sit down with the African American leaders and try to find a place within the existing UN declarations and covenants where we can fit.

We could take another 100 years and create another wheel, but a wheel exists already and all we have to do is step within it. They are here - the expert and technical support - to help us step within the wheel. They recognize that we are all from Africa and that we call ourselves African Americans and Afrodescendants.

Professor Bengoa wrote a working paper that was approved by the Working Group, discussing whether to make race an element of the definition of minority, and discussing whether we should be recognized as a people. Did you read it? Are we not a race, and do we not have a feeling of otherness from those in power because we lost our 'mother tongue', religion and culture when we were brought into slavery?

Forced mixed breeding renders us human but without human rights. Latin Americans, Central Americans and Black Americans in the United States and Canada do not have their human rights. While you are talking about marginalization, discrimination, autonomy - you first need collective human rights and political recognition. That's why these UN experts are here.