Press release, April 23, 2012.
FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO HUMAN RIGHTS AND SELF-DETERMINATION?
IHRAAM CHICAGO CONFERENCE
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 Victories: 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 PANEL TWO: Internal Self-determination for Historically Oppressed Peoples, Daniel Turp
outlined the centuries-long struggle of the Quebecois people for self-determination, how that effort
proceeded through repeated referenda until the French-speaking people of Canada were at last
recognized as a Founding Nation of the multinational Canadian state, and how it was not yet achieved, were
moving it closer to that goal. Ava Muhammad, recalling the longstanding commitment of the Nation of Islam
to achieving African American self-determination, stressed the need for self-organization on a land base,
such as was achieved by the Mormons in Utah and by the Amish, whereby the African American people
might similarly be able to lay down their own structures and institutions for conducting their affairs. Carla D.
Pratt pointed out how the US government’s historical record of racializing group identity rather than
politically determining it negatively impacted the relationship of Africans to Indians in North America, tying
identity to physical characteristics and thereby setting the groundwork for both the expulsion of those
Africans who had self-identified and been accepted as Indians, and for the “one-drop” blood notion of
determining ethnic identity rather than the international norm of self-identification and community
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
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.
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IHRAAM sought to introduce African Americans to the full
range of their human rights protection under international law.
It intends to open these politico-legal options up for discussion
with a view to weighing their possible utility in addressing the
historical and ongoing needs and grievances of African
Americans in the United States.
Authoritative African American and international legal scholars
of stature as well as primary actors from the African American
community who are actively engaged with African American
organizations and institutions.