BMH UK make UN ICERD African-phobic intervention

Thursday, 10 December 2015





Britons leading black newspaper The Voice leads with BMH UK's ICERD intervention to recognise anti-black/African-phobic racism on World Human Rights Day

One of the top stories on The Voice newspaper on World Human Rights Day is the Intervention made by BMH UK's director Matilda MacAttram at the Palais de Nations at the United Nations celebration event marking the 50th anniversary of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Britons leading black newspaper uses an image of a young man of African descent being stopped and searched by the police with a caption saying 'Contention: race and policing an emotive issue in the UK' for this feature.

The article details how MacAttram called on the CERD committee to formally recognised and commit to addressing anti-black/African-phobic racism, in order for the work to begin of addressing the systemic discrimination that black people of African descent in the UK have faced for the 50 years since ICERD was ratified by the British government.

Click here or see below for the full article.

UN must formally recognise Anti-black/African-phobic racism

BMH_UK_I_CERD_Intervention_The_Voice_10-12-15_-3Black Mental Health UK raise need for the recognition of anti-black/African-phobic racism in the discrimination agenda at ICERD 50th celebration.

The 50th anniversary of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) was marked with a United Nations event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, attended by member states and civil society organisations including human rights campaigns group Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK).

National interventions were delivered by representatives of member states as well as experts from the CERD committee and I as BMH UK's director made a three minute intervention from the floor calling for the recognition of the problem of anti-black/African-phobic racism.

While welcoming the work that ICERD has done over the past 50 years I felt it important to raise this at the anniversary of the UN's key human rights international instrument in the fight against racism and discrimination, as addressing this injustice is part of their mandate.

It was inspiring to hear about the achievements that have been made through this international convention from many eminent speakers, but I felt that it was equally important for those attending to be aware that the issue of the systemic discrimination faced by black people of African Descent living in the UK in almost every area of life, that has remained unaddressed, even though the UK became a signatory to this declaration from the year it came into force in 1966 and then ratified this convection in 1969.

Conflating with other issues 'erases' the problem

Matilda_MacAttram_ICERD_50_UN_2015During the three minute intervention I was able to tell the CERD committee and representatives from nation states around the world attending these celebrations, that in the UK, the discrimination faced by people from the UK's African Caribbean communities had been conflated with other issues within the Equalities agenda.

I explained that this has meant that the discrimination faced by black people has been consistently sidelined by other interests that dominate this sector's agenda at the communities expense.

The CERD committee also heard during my intervention how the anti racist movement and government agenda to address discrimination of those with 'protected characteristics' has not served to protect the UK's African Diaspora, who continue face anti-black/African-phobic racism on a daily basis. However the absence of a name to describe this systemic discrimination has increased the invisibility of the inequalities faced by this group.

I went on to explain that because there has not been the language to describe the discrimination that this group faces, so governing systems in the UK function as though it does not exist, even though the levels of inequalities faced by people of African descent have become steadily worse since ICERD was ratified by the British government 50 years ago.

State coercion

BMH_UK_News_pagesSome of the inequalities this group face were then listed including in areas of: the disproportionate over representation within prison system and even more disturbingly within youth detention centres. This committee were told about the disproportionate use of the Mental Health Act against black people and the disturbingly high levels of coercion that they face while locked up within psychiatric services, even though there isn't a higher prevalence of mental illness amongst this group.

Reference was also made to the military style policing that black communities living in the UK are subject to, as well as the levels of state violence that they face through the use of weapons like Taser, batons and restraint, as well as the rise in the disproportionate numbers of black people subject to strip searches when in police custody.

The force used by the state against black people, just like the economic and social exclusion that this group face is always conflated by other issues within the equalities agenda in a way that erases or waters down the injustices that black people face the committee heard.

In this way it has ensured that such inequalities are masked in policy documents and subsequently never properly addressed and so the inequalities just get worse; this is an injustice and it must be put right the CERD committee and member states attending this landmark event were told.

The opportunity to bring these issues into an international human rights forum such as the ICERD 50 Celebration has ensured that voices that have effectively been silenced in your home country can be given the proper consideration that they deserve in this international human rights arena.

There is a need for ICERD to formally acknowledge anti-black/African-phobic racism so that the systemic and routine discrimination and racism that black people of African Descent living the UK face from all quarters of society can begin to start being addressed.

The intervention I have made means that there will have to be a recognition of the specific, structural and systemic discrimination faced by people of African Descent and as such the language needed to address this will have to be used. This will no longer make it invisible and then it cannot so be easily ignored or conflated with other issues in the equalities agenda as has been done in the past.


By Matilda MacAttram, director Black Mental Health UK, Fellow, United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.


Copyright © 2015 Matilda MacAttram All rights reserved.

For information on obtaining permission to resue this work email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission, where published the authors byline, biography and copyright notice are retained in their entireity.


This article was first published in The Voice newspaper online on Thursday 10 December 2015

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