Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 22, 2018 - Washington, DC

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers
Distinguished representatives of Civil Society and Academia
Distinguished Presenters
Secretaries and Executive Secretaries, colleagues
Esteemed guests

It is my honour to welcome you to today’s forum which presents the most interesting topic, aiming among other enlightening outcomes, to establish the direct connection between the herbal remedies of Afro-descendants in the Americas and the resourcefulness of their African ancestors who harnessed and preserved the curative knowledge and practices in which they were steeped, and which have been used over the ages to heal, enhance and preserve life, from one generation to the other.

Building on activities successfully executed in 2016 and 2017, and in keeping with the goal of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent to recognize the important contributions made by people of African descent to our societies, the Office of the Assistant Secretary General continues to spearhead avenues for highlighting, not only the rich cultural diversity of the Americas, but also to underscore how significantly this contributes to our cumulative potential, vibrancy and latent and accumulated knowledge in this hemisphere, drawn from the soul of our various points of origin.

From Africa to the Americas: Traditional Herbal Remedies of Afro-descendants, the selected theme, is comprehensive in scope, encompassing the traditional, inter-generational remedial methods employed by people of African-descent for everyday wellness and in health care, and which have been honed and retained through practice as handed down through the ages. Among these, we list topical cures, restorative and cleansing or curative herbal baths and immersions for stress relief, herbal teas and infusions, specially prepared drinks and foods deemed to have extraordinary restorative properties, and traditional herbal remedies geared towards physical and mental health and wellbeing. The list is clearly not exhaustive, since some traditional herbal remedies are also fused into religious and other practices in a multiplicity of ways, extending into healing realms such as enlightenment of the mind, and purification of body and spirit, among others.

Today’s forum is intended to highlight and to register the connection between people of African descent in the Americas and their ancestors who, despite their condition of enslavement, and perhaps because of their desolation and separation from all that they held dear, still managed to preserve the innate knowledge of restorative care through their herbal remedies. From an age marked by the tumult of slavery in which they could lay claim to nothing but life itself, their most cherished possessions were by far the intangibles of mental fortitude and the priceless value of acquired tradition and knowledge of self. Yet, the Africans in all their misery managed to preserve that which could not be taken from them: the healing knowledge of herbs!

A Swahili proverb instructs us that ‘Wisdom is wealth’, and to underscore this truth, from generation to generation, African ancestors bequeathed all they could ever possess to their progeny whom their eyes would never behold…the richness of their innate knowledge which crossed the channels buried in their souls. As we pay homage to the ingenuity of the enslaved Africans, we recognize that their contribution in this arena remains an eternally bountiful legacy, and a perpetually yielding inheritance handed down to today’s generation and to future generations of Afro-descendants.

There is a clear role for governments, international organizations, civil society, and individual citizens in the shaping of a fair and just hemisphere in which all peoples can work towards equitable access to human rights and liberties. In doing so, we must appreciate not only where we have come from and the implications of legacies tied to our individual and collective past, but more importantly, learn the lessons which only the past can teach, and value the richness of the diversity which has emerged from a crucible of woe.

The OAS has been most proactive in this endeavour. Just this past February 21, the Permanent Council of the OAS adopted Resolution CP/RES 1093 which establishes for the first time one week of each year as the Inter-American Week for People of African Descent in the Americas, acknowledging the contribution of people of African descent in the shaping of a hemisphere in which today we live, work, and thrive and aspire to sustained peace as People of the Americas.

The Resolution does not stand on its own. It asserts the significance of preceding instruments which strengthen the basis of its coming into force, including the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Protocol of San Salvador on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Social Charter of the Americas, the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance, and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. It builds on the General Assembly resolutions AG/RES. 2824 which recognizes the International Decade for People of African Descent, and the ensuing resolution which adopts the Plan of Action for the Decade for People of African Descent in the Americas (2016–2025).

I wish to place on record the appreciation of the General Secretariat of the OAS, and certainly of the Office of the Assistant Secretary General to all of the Member States which have generously supported the planning efforts that have culminated in today’s forum, and towards the hosting of the reception which follows. I commend the presenters who have accepted the invitation of the OAS to share their expertise, to feed the interest of all of us gathered here today, and to educate us as we forage for a deeper understanding of traditional knowledge about herbal remedies and the context in which they continue in practice today.

Committed to ensuring More Rights for More People as an Organization, we arrive at today’s inaugural activity of our own Inter-American Week for People of African Descent. The OAS endorses and responds to the call to foster greater awareness and respect for the diversity of the heritage and culture of people of African descent, and we seek to ensure that the lessons learnt will inspire us to place even greater value on the holistic and comprehensive contributions of all peoples of the Americas, even as we nurture our distinctive traditions and build on the legacies bequeathed to us by our ancestors.

Thank you.