UN is NOT investigating Zwarte Piet for racism

25 October 2013, by

[Update] The United Nations has stated it takes no responsibility for a letter purported to be on its behalf that asked the Dutch government to respond to complaints that Zwarte Piet was racist.

The letter was sent by the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent, the Chief Rapporteur of which is Verene Shepherd, a professor of Social History in Jamaica.

According to UN spokesperson Xabier Celaya, she and her fellow rapporteurs are unpaid volunteers to the UN and were speaking only on behalf of themselves, not the UN.

UNESCO's response

The Belgian representative for UNESCO, Marc Jacobs, wrote yesterday in an opinion piece on a Belgian website that Shepherd’s group does not represent UNESCO in their criticism of Zwarte Piet.

"She's just a consultant who abused the name of the UN to get her own agenda into the media…[it is] nothing more than a bad move in a game by pressure groups in the Netherlands.

"The four signatories of that letter do not belong to a competent organ of UNESCO, but just used paper with a United Nations letterhead, actually from the High Commissioner of Human Rights."

He added that it is action and lobby groups are increasingly finding detours away from competent bodies, rules and procedures to exploit the new UNESCO instrument not to secure heritage practices, but to bring their own agenda to the media.

UN not investigating Zwarte Piet
Photo by Flickr user florisje

The working group

According to the UN, the rapporteurs are a group of independent experts making independent assessments of certain situations in certain countries.

Shepherd is the head of a four-member volunteer working group of the UN in the field of human rights abuses.

The Working Group on people of African descent was established in 2008 and its mandate was extended for three years by the UN's Human Rights Council in 2011.

Sources: Volkskrant, ADL, De Redactie

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