an International NGO in Consultative Status with the United Nations
Press release, April 23, 2012.
FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO HUMAN RIGHTS AND SELF-DETERMINATION?
IHRAAM CHICAGO CONFERENCE 2012
AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE HEADING IN NEW DIRECTION?
On April 20-21, 2012, key representatives of the African American popular leadership and intelligentsia broke new ground in Chicago at the IHRAAM-sponsored conference titled FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO HUMAN RIGHTS AND SELF-DETERMINATION? Speakers and attendees flew in from all corners–California, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Washington, DC, Virginia and Canada. The atmosphere in the conference hall at East-West University was electrifying, as speaker after speaker added new planks to attendees’ understanding of where the African American struggle had been, where it was now, and the direction it had to go to move forward. There was no disagreement from either speakers or floor on the general direction proposed by the title of the conference: that the African American struggle must now move on from civil rights to human rights and self-determination.
The panelists included former Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party Candidate for President, Cynthia McKinney; Law Professors Vernellia Randall and Carla D. Pratt; Political Science Professor and President of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, Dr. Tyson King-Meadows; representatives of major and historic popular African American organizations, Attorney Ava Muhammad (representing Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam), Attorney Chokwe Lumumba (National Chairman of the New Afrikan People’s Organization and a duly elected councilman from Jackson, MS), John Boyd (Founder of the National Black Farmers Association), Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah-Geechee Nation; Henry English (president of Black United Fund of Illinois); Attorney Standish Willis (leading civil rights attorney having argued before the UN Inter-American C omission on Human Rights); and international law professors Francis A. Boyle and Daniel Turp (former Canadian member of parliament for the Bloc Quebecois). The Moderators for the five panels were (1) Judge Leonard Murray, (2) Mary A. Mitchell (Sun-Times News columnist), (3) Kamm Howard (representing N’COBRA); (4) Chicago Attorney Gregory Mitchell and (5) Atlanta Attorney Musa Dan Fodio.
The Conference opened with an introduction by Dr. Farid I. Muhammad, a member of the IHRAAM Directorate and conference chairman. He welcomed attendees, and most particularly specified how the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) viewed its role, as an international NGO in consultative status with the United Nations, in relation to the African American struggle for equality and equal status in the United States: as that of an organization devoted to providing educational and consultative services relative to the question of self-determination, as well as facilitating the access of domestic organizations to international forums and mechanisms of the UN and other intergovernmental bodies. Dr. Muhammad underlined that as an international NGO, IHRAAM clearly cannot and does not view itself as another African American leadership organization, but rather as helping to extend technical service to such bodies.IHRAAM Acting Chair Diana Kly then delivered a memorial address to IHRAAM Founder and Chair, Dr. Y. N. Kly, who passed away on January 6th, 2011. She outlined his long commitment to the struggle from an early age, his contribution as an engaged and award-winning scholar and writer to bringing the African American struggle to the UN, and bringing the Attention of African Americans to the usefulness and applicability of international law to their struggle.
On PANEL ONE Civil Rights: Necessary But Not Sufficient?, Cynthia McKinney, Vernellia Randall and Tyson King-Meadows took the measure of the achievements of the civil rights struggle. All were clear that despite the election of President Barack Obama and the powerful psychological impact of his presidency, little benefit was flowing to African Americans, whose economic situation overall was disproportionately worsening. Cynthia McKinney spoke passionately on the need of the African American people to get a grip on their identity as a people, and to reclaim leadership from those individuals who purport to speak for African Americans but did not achieve leadership positions due to African American support or remain unresponsive to African American needs. Vernellia Randall spoke on Dying While Black and raised the issue of recognizing the specific identity of those Black Americans whose African ancestors had been enslaved in the United States and went on to produce a new ethnic group here in America which did not look to any particular state abroad. Tyson King-Meadows projected the overall movement of the African American situation to date as moving “From Hallowed Ground to Hollowed Victoria: Black Civil Rights and the Post-Racialism Imagination”. The role of black elected officials was critically assessed, as was the issue of whether that elected leadership was or indeed even could be effective in addressing the needs of African Americans, and what should be done about that.
On the evening of April 20th, at the Banquet held at the Ramada Inn Lake Shore, international law professor Francis A. Boyle gave the after-dinner address, titled “African Americans’ Right to Self-Determination”. Dr. Boyle reviewed the findings of a Special Tribunal held in San Francisco in 1998, entitled “USA On Trial: The International Tribunal on Indigenous Peoples and Oppressed Nations in the United States”. At that time, Professor Boyle served as prosecutor before the Tribunal, presenting the African Americans’ case for self-determination as resting on their historical victimization through genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as substantiated by the terms of the Genocide Convention and the Nuremberg Principles, and the ongoing suffering and inequalities suffered by the descendant communities of enslaved Africans as part of the lingering after-trauma effects of their historical experience. The seven impartial outside jurists brought in to adjudicate the event found this a winning argument.
On April 21, 2012, the Conference then addressed the issues to be dealt with by PANEL THREE: Collective Empowerment, Institutions, Jurisdictions, Dr. Farid I. Muhammad set the stage by presenting empirical data capturing African American attitudes toward the notion of self-determination, and the creation of a political body representing their collective interests: the findings of his IHRAAM-sponsored national telephone survey (which sampled households in 24 major, geographically diverse and predominantly African Americans cities) found that 67% of all African Americans were in favor of establishing a National Assembly while 81% were in favor of exercising more direct control over institutions in their local communities. Chokwe Lumumba, from his vantage point of decades of leadership of the Republic of New Afrika and now as councilman in Jackson, Mississippi, stressed the importance of land and economic development to the achievement of self-determination, spoke to the establishment of the developing Kush Region in Mississippi, and invited African Americans to return to their historical homelands in the South. John Boyd, as leader of the 100,000 strong movement of Black farmers, also addressed the importance of land, not just as politically-governed territory, but for the anchoring of traditions and self worth for the family and the soul, and how it is the ultimate resource for sustenance in times of need. Henry English emphasized the need for self-reliance, and indicated how the Black United Fund of Illinois had been able to support a variety of community projects through their membership-driven fund, which might provide a micro-model for fundraising by the African American community at large.
On PANEL FOUR: USING THE UN TO ADVANCE AFRICAN AMERICAN INTERESTS, Attorney Standish Willis advised how he had successfully accessed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the torture of African American prisoners, and brought direct pressure to bear on the American government through the state reporting requirements of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CERD). Queen Quet of the Gullah-Geechee Nation took to the dais singing, with the flag of the Gullah-Geechee Nation attached to the speaker’s podium. She advised how through IHRAAM’s facilitation, she had been the first to officially address the United Nations in Gullah, as a representative of her people, had been engaged with UNESCO and the UN Forum on Minority Rights, how the US government had recognized the existence of the Gullah-Geechees through the establishment of the Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor, and had been granted (as international law professor Francis Boyle affirmed from the floor) de facto recognition by the US government. She indicated that the Gullah-Geechee nation had a constitution, and a legislative body, with other instruments of governance being projected. Atty. Dan Fodio called from the floor that the Gullah-Geechee Nation represented a microcosm that might well inform African Americans as they pursue their own struggle.
The much-anticipated PANEL FIVE: WHAT NEXT? could not be fully addressed due to time constraints. However, the essence of what needed to be done had clearly emerged through the discussions that took place in the question and answer sessions that followed each panel, and the quality ongoing exchanges among speakers themselves. The problematic issues concerned how to recapture African American leadership from those who had been placed into leadership positions by others, as well as how to address the varied psycho-historical issues and challenges of identity uniquely experienced by formerly-enslaved peoples of African Descent in the United States. Finally, the need for a political body speaking directly and specifically to the needs of African Americans (a Constituent Assembly) was raised and was received so positively that it seemed as if it were a foregone conclusion. All speakers agreed that while international law and custom might provide guidance and legitimacy for the African American struggle and a forum in which to pursue it, there was no substitute for self-organization, self-reliance and true self-determination. It was recognized by all that this protracted struggle would have to be waged family by family, block by block, city by city and ultimately state by state. It was recognized that true self-determination for African-Americans wouldn’t be won overnight, but was a process of continued engagement that could be the mission of future generations.More information on the Chicago 2012 Conference will be available shortly on the IHRAAM website at http://www.ihraam.org/Conferences-Chicago2012. A video of the conference is being prepared and will be available for circulation and showing by African American organizations, as well as made available on YouTube. To request a copy or additional information, please contact IHRAAM legal fellow, Aneesa Mitchell. The Conference Proceedings will be published by Clarity Press, Inc.