During the second convening of the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD), members of civil society raise the importance of recognizing African spirituality and traditional African religions, especially considering centuries of dehumanization and racial oppression. (Photo courtesy of Liseli Fitzpatrick)

By DaQuan Lawrence,
AFRO International Writer,

The United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) recently released the preliminary conclusions and recommendations from the Second Session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD). 

Held at the UN headquarters in New York City, from May 30 to June 2, more than 900 members of civil society and representatives of UN Member states called for reparations for the Atlantic Slave trade, colonialism and centuries of illegitimate racial oppression of people of African descent.  

Among the interventions offered by delegates, were the unique demands for the recognition of the significance of African spirituality and the impacts colonialism and slavery had, and racism has, on Black people’s sense of spirituality and religion

“We cannot talk about reparations and healing of any kind without addressing and redressing the worldwide desecration and dishonor of African sacred cosmologies — our eco-centered, eco-conscious, and cosmic way of life — our right to live — to be and breathe,” Dr. Liseli Fitzpatrick said to delegates and members of the Permanent Forum. 

Fitzpatrick is a Trinidadian professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., who attended the second session of the Permanent Forum due to her ongoing commitment to the healing, empowerment and liberation of African peoples. 

“Any exercise in reparations is futile if we do not recognize and respect the spirituality of African peoples and the inflicted injuries and injustices caused by centuries of spiritual and physical violence,” Fitzpatrick said in her remarks. 

Ekemini Uwan, is a public theologian and charter member of the International Civil Society Working Group for the PFPAD, who attended both sessions, also demanded spiritual reparations at the New York City convening.

“Mbubid owo ke America edo ndito ete nyin,” translated into English, this simple yet profound Ibibio phrase means, “Black people in America are our cousins,” which Uwan declared in the UN General Assembly Hall. 

During her remarks Uwan mentioned that her parents would repeat this phrase because it is the oral history of the Nigerian Ibibio people, and a connection to the transatlantic slave trade.

“When we talk about reparations, what are we repairing? Is it not the theft of over 12 million African people… Reparations is not merely about a check,” Uwan said to delegates.  

“It’s a check, plus land, debt cancellation, repatriation, and reunification of continental Africans with African descendants in the diaspora. The foremost harms of the Transatlantic slave trade were spiritual,” Uwan declared. 

Established in August 2021, the PFPAD is an advisory body to the UN Human Rights Council, a “consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders,” and a “platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent” according to OHCHR.

“The UN International Decade on People of African Descent mentioned the establishment of a forum on people of African descent, and that led to a lot of civil society advocacy,” Dr. Michael McEachrane, the Special Rapporteur for the UN PFPAD, told the AFRO regarding the origins of the Forum.  

McEachrane is a Sweden-based researcher and global scholar-activist of Tobagonian descent, who was integral to the establishment of the forum. The first UN international decade for the Africa diaspora started in 2015 and ends in 2024.

“The first session had 600 participants with 30 side events, and the second session had over 900 participants with over 60 side events. The Forum is only going to grow,” McEachrane said. 

During the session delegates also called for a second UN International Decade for people of African descent, and the removal of racial discrimination within the UN system as well as in developed nations, citing the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), the UN’s blueprint to combat racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia globally.

“The second session was quite generative and created space to express our truths, highlight our collective and unique plights, and put forward actionable recommendations,” Fitzpatrick told the AFRO regarding the significance of the convening.

“I appreciated the presence of all participants, particularly members of civil society,” she continued. 

Dr. Epsy Campbell-Barr is a politician, economist, and activist who served as vice president of the Republic of Costa Rica between 2018 and 2022, and currently serves as president of the PFPAD, and echoed Fitzpatrick’s praise for civil society delegates. 

“In different Forums, we need the support of civil society members. If we feel we can work without civil society, I am convinced that nothing will work,” Campbell told the AFRO on the importance of being connecting to and working with civil society.

Civil society members such as Fitzpatrick and Uwan and others have been invaluable during the two PFPAD sessions, as they aim to hold the UN and its Member states accountable for the historic and modern plight of the African diaspora. 

“In my statement I was highlighting the fact that Christianity was weaponized and used to perpetuate chattel slavery, with the Catholic Church sanctioning slavery through the zone divorces,” Uwan, a NAACP Image award-nominated author and co-founder of Truth’s Table podcast, told the AFRO.

“I wanted to introduce a perspective people are not always privy to, which are the ways that African traditional religion was manipulated in order to capture Africans. People must understand that Christianity was absolutely in Africa, but it was not everywhere,” Uwan continued.  

In an interview with the AFRO, Fitzpatrick shared that her remarks at the UN were spiritual, global and Pan-African, as she affirmed the validation of African spirituality and diasporic religious practices. 

“Dr. Bayyinah Bello reaffirms ‘African people do not live by flesh alone’ — the spiritual and physical are inseparable. I would add that spirit makes us ‘human’,” Fitzpatrick said.

Bello is a Haitian historian, humanitarian, professor at the State University of Haiti, and founder of Fondasyon Félicité (FF), a foundation named after Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité Bonheur Dessalines, the wife of revolutionary leader of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. FF is dedicated to preserving Haitian history and has been active in Port-au-Prince since 1999.

“The African spirit is formidable, dynamic, and ingenious — we have proven this time and time again,” Fitzpatrick said. 

“Having a global forum at the UN for people of African descent is a historic opportunity,” McEachrane shared. “I believe that delegates at the first two sessions also sensed this,” he concluded.