Bogotá, December 7, 2016. The Vice-President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), Erlendy Cuero, participated in the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues, held in Geneva, Switzerland, November 22-24, 2016. Specifically, Erlendy participated in two of the Forum’s sessions: she was part of a meeting of experts who reviewed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, which will be published in 2017, and she was a panelist for the session on “Protecting Minority Rights as a Means of Preventing and Mitigating the Impact of Humanitarian Crises on Minorities.” The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights provided Erlendy technical assistance during her participation. At the conclusion of the Forum, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues recognized Erlendy for her contributions.
The topic of this year’s Forum was “Minorities in Situations of Humanitarian Crises.” Experts from the world over participated, as well as numerous non-governmental organizations from countries in which ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities have experienced violence and exclusion as a result of humanitarian crises. Diplomatic representatives from the Permanent Missions of UN Member States were also present.
Erlendy’s participation in this global event was especially significant, as she was the only expert panelist who was also a direct victim of an armed conflict, which has produced one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world. Through this experience, Erlendy was able to offer a unique perspective to the Forum and make relevant contributions for the overall outcome of the event. In her remarks as a panelist, Erlendy offered key lessons derived from her personal experience both as a victim and as a community leader of a minority group profoundly affected by a humanitarian crisis. Among those lessons, it’s worth highlighting:
The importance of strengthening the organizational autonomy of minority groups in order to prevent and mitigate the impacts of a humanitarian crisis. Based on the Colombian experience, Erlendy presented a critical assessment of the insufficient emphasis that States and international organizations have placed on strengthening grassroots organizations. Their current approach does not necessarily guarantee the protection of minority rights. The Colombian example is emblematic in this sense: it has an extremely robust normative and institutional framework aimed at protecting ethnic minorities, but the implementation of this framework has not led to the protection and restauration of the country’s minorities’ rights in practice.
The lack of effective implementation of a differential approach for minorities, both before and during the humanitarian crisis caused by the Colombian armed conflict, has led to the profound deterioration of victimized Afro-Colombian communities. The rhetorical adoption of differential approaches sensitive to the needs of minorities – and the impact the armed conflict has had on them – is not sufficient. Adequate and appropriate resources designated for the implementation of these approaches must be earmarked.
The protection of minority women, especially in the face of sexual violence, must be the number one priority when addressing humanitarian crises associated with armed conflicts. In the case of Colombia, what had already been widely observed has been verified: sexual violence against women is used strategically as a weapon of war by all armed actors. In the Colombian case, and despite progress in adopting general measures, protective protocols and services that take into account the specific needs of Afro-Colombian and indigenous women who have been victims of sexual violence are still lacking.
Exclusionary economic and political development models have been at the root of the conflicts that have produced humanitarian crises which most impact minorities. As in the Colombian case, exclusionary economic models, designed to exploit the resources of the territories in which minority groups live, have in turn marginalized those groups, without addressing difficult living conditions. Humanitarian crises deepen this marginalization. It is therefore necessary to transform these economic models to ensure the sustainable restoration of rights that have been violated.
In her conclusion, Erlendy shared the expectations and proposals that Afro-Colombian communities have regarding a possible end to the armed conflict in Colombia. She reiterated that strengthening institutions, guided by international standards such as those in the recommendations of the Forum, will be effective only to the degree that these institutions help communities achieve effective participation in all aspects of public policies aimed at restoring rights.
The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights fully supports the analysis and recommendations made by Erlendy in the Forum. We will continue to support the activities that AFRODES is developing to strengthen its capacity to participate in advocacy processes at the national and international levels. We will follow up on the incorporation of Erlendy’s contributions in the final recommendations that the Special Rapporteur on minority issues will present to the United Nations General Assembly.