On May 21, on the occasion of “Afro-Colombian Day 2016”, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights wishes to express its appreciation and admiration to Afro-Colombian communities that despite facing exclusion, racial discrimination and violence, are able to maintain their collective historical endeavor to defend lives and the autonomy. Today, both in remote rural areas and urban contexts, these communities continue offering society as a whole the best of their productive, cultural and political efforts.

Unfortunately, the battle to protect the rights of ethnic territories which they’ve won, and were formally recognized in the 1991 Constitution, has proven to be very costly. On this Afro-Colombian Day 2016, we must pay tribute to the thousands of Afro-Colombians who have been killed for defending these rights; to the more than one million victims that have been expelled from their ancestral homelands, and pushed onto marginalized conditions of urban context; to the thousands of Afro-Colombian women victims of sexual violence, and to all Afro-Colombians who have been deeply excluded from society as a result of the impact of the Colombian armed conflict.

This Afro-Colombian Day 2016 should have coincided with institutional changes that ensure the effective participation of communities and organizations in the historical process of the end of the armed conflict and the beginning of building a sustainable peace. But the manner in which these communities have been excluded from negotiations of a conflict in which they, alongside indigenous communities, have been the biggest victims and that will affect their ancestral rights, is keeping those mechanisms of marginalization and exclusion in place. These mechanisms of marginalization and exclusion began precisely with the very historical act with which we officially celebrate.

The law issued on May 21, 1851 which abolished slavery, essentially provided financial compensation to slave owners without offering any measure of reparation or adequate condition for slaves “freed” to exercise their citizenship. The legislative path that reinforced this exclusion for more than a century seemed to have changed with the 1991 Constitution and Law #70 of 1993; as a result of community mobilization, the laws forced the Colombian government to formally recognize ethnic and territorial rights. But today on Afro-Colombian Day 2016, instead of celebrating the full implementation of these laws, we are reiterating our frustration that in 23 years the Colombian government has not regulated key aspects of the law that are critical to the full implementation of recognized rights. These aspects also relate to environmental rights, mining, and an autonomy to plan their own development, could be adversely affected by the implementation of the Peace Accords between the government and the The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FACR-EP).

Afro-Colombia Day 2016 should be celebrating the inclusion of a differential ethnic focus on the Peace Accords texts, and should also respond to the failure of the Negotiating Table guaranteeing spaces of dialogue to the representatives of the communities most affected by the armed conflict. To date, however, many requests from organizations to do so have received no formal response from the Table. Afro-Colombian communities, which have supported the negotiation process since its inception have been ignored despite analysis and proposals which offer specific alternatives, not only to guarantee their rights acquired in the post-agreement but to strengthen the conditions for sustainable peace for the whole country.

What we can celebrate with certainty is that Afro-Colombian Day 2016 is that the libertarian spirit of Afro-Colombian communities will continue to guide Colombian society for the foreseeable future.