The Descendants Project travels to Geneva to testify at the United Nations

Published 11:43 pm Saturday, August 6, 2022

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WALLACE — The Descendants Project—a grassroots organization committed to the intergenerational healing and flourishing of the Black descendant community in the Louisiana river parishes—will testify at the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) about the disparate negative impacts to the environment, quality of life, and Black historical and cultural artifacts, especially unmarked burial grounds throughout the River Parishes, in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, August 10. The cohort will testify to controversial development plans, permitting decisions made by various agencies, and the potential effects to health and way of life from existing and proposed Louisiana developments like the Greenfield grain terminal in Wallace, the Nucor plant in Convent, and the Denka/Dupont plant in Reserve.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1966 (CERD) was one of the first human rights treaties to be adopted by the United Nations (UN) and was created to take action on eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms. Despite progress in some areas, members of The Descendant’s Project say exclusions and restrictions based on race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin continue to cause conflict, suffering and loss of life. CERD works to take action against the injustice of racial discrimination, and the dangers it represents. 

As part of the CERD, member countries undertake to submit a report detailing the legislative, administrative, and other measures to address issues of racial discrimination in their respective countries and report to a CERD committee. The Center for Constitutional Rights, the non-profit legal and educational organization representing The Descendants Project, submitted a shadow report alleging the systemic racism inherent in US federal regulatory policies, environmental permitting, access and transparency. 

“Cancer Alley” is already on the UN’s radar. In March 2021, the United Nations human rights officials issued a report condemning environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where the mostly Black population breathes air heavily polluted by an ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants. “According to experts, Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley’,” according to the report.

Only days before the report was issued, The Descendants Project founders learned of plans to develop a grain terminal in Wallace. The Corps of Engineers, The Louisiana Department of Archaeology and other agencies have not prevented construction on the site. 

“We are encouraged to have the UN as an audience who will hear directly from the residents on the frontlines about our efforts to protect our communities and the positive momentum we have built,” says Dr. Joy Banner, co-founder and co-director of The Descendants Project. “However, our federal, state and local agencies have to be held accountable for their continued role in destroying the physical and emotional well-being of Black citizens by robbing us of our environmental rights.”

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