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U.S. Pre-Launch of First World Summit of African Descendants

Global event will be held in La Ceiba, Honduras, in August, with PAHO/WHO support

Washington, DC, 26 May 2011 (PAHO/WHO) - The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) today hosted an event announcing the upcoming First World Summit of African Descendants, which will take place on August 18- 21 in La Ceiba, Honduras.

The summit will highlight the socioeconomic conditions of Afro-descendant populations and establish a consensus on strategies, plans and actions to ensure development with equity for these groups. The event is part of the United Nations-declared International Year of African Descendants and is being supported by international and civil society organizations, whose representatives participated in today's event.

"This International Year of African Descendants provides an opportunity to right historical wrongs: in health, education, poverty, land rights, jobs, and financial credit for economic and social progress," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses. "This celebration is important for recognizing the strength and resilience of Afro-descendant communities throughout the Americas, who have thrived despite historical discrimination and repression."

Health data show that, compared to Caucasians, Afro-descendant babies are more likely to die, their mothers face more risks in childbirth, adult men have higher rates of homicide and HIV, and adolescents are more likely to become pregnant. At the same time, "equal access to health services and contraceptives remains a challenge," said Dr. Roses. "This year is a time to celebrate the power of Afro-descendant organizations in challenging and changing these inequalities."

The La Ceiba summit will provide an opportunity to analyze international cooperation and "close the existing development gaps through concrete commitments, clear strategies, and adequate resources," said Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro, ambassador of Honduras to the United States. He added that his country is pleased to be hosting the summit and noted his government's support for Afro-descendant affairs, for example, through the creation of a new Secretariat for Development of Indigenous and Afro-Honduran Peoples. The head of the new agency, Luis Green, participated in today's event.

An estimated 150 million African Descendants live in Mexico and Central and South America.

"We are in 2011, and this will be the First World Summit of African Descendants," said Jim Coffin, of Phelps-Stokes, which has 100 years of experience promoting social justice in Africa and the Americas. "People will be empowered, commitments will be made. This summit will make a big difference."

One of the Americas' pending debts is "to put an end to historical and structural discrimination against African descendants," said Santiago Cantón, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). He said initiatives like the summit are "essential steps" toward ending such discrimination. The summit will raise awareness of violations of the human rights of African descendants, and thereby help put an end to them.

The summit will also provide an opportunity to follow up on previous commitments, such as those made during the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and will help develop a medium- and long-term agenda for improving living conditions of African descendants, said Gilberto Amaya, coordinator of the summit's planning committee. Discussions will focus on politics, society, culture, and education, among other subjects, said Amaya. Some 600 to 800 people are expected to participate in the summit, including representatives of international organizations and Afro-descendant social movements, as well as others who wish to attend.

Celeo Álvarez Casildo, president of the Organization for Ethnic Community Development (ODECO) and executive secretary of the World Summit of African Descendants, thanked organizations including IACHR, the Inter-American Development Bank, and PAHO/WHO for their support. PAHO Director Roses praised ODECO for providing "global leadership by bringing together people from all over the world to celebrate their African heritage and their achievements."

Álvarez Casildo said the summit was expected to conclude with a Declaration of the Decade of African Descendants and the creation of a new Fund for Afro-descendant Development, among other achievements. "The summit is not the end, it's a means for transformation," he said. "It's an extremely important medium to ensure that these voices no longer remain silent."

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Contact: Oswaldo Gomez, Comunication Specialist, Office of Gender, Diversity and Human Rights, PAHO/WHO, Tel: 202-974-3463, email: gomezo@paho.org

 
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