Geneva, Switzerland. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) opened its ninety-first session on November 21, 2016, with an address by Paulo David, Chief of the Capacity Building and Harmonization Section of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. During the Committee’s session, which lasted until December 9, it reviewed anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by Argentina and Uruguay, among other countries.
The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights supported Lourdes Martinez, who represented COLECTIVA MUJERES, CLADEM, ATABAQUE, and AFROGAMA; Vicenta Camusso, who represented the Red de Mujeres Afrolatinas, Afrocaribeñas y de la Diáspora; and Miriam Gomes, who represented the Sociedad Caboverdana of Argentina.
The three made remarks during the informal meeting for civil society organizations held on November 22, where Ms. Gomes stated that in Argentina, Afro-descendants are not actively included in budgetary and policy decisions; that existing laws aimed at protecting against racial discrimination have not been successfully implemented; and that there is a lot of discrimination against African and Haitian immigrants in the country, including a consistent lack of investigations for high profile crimes committed against African migrants. Committee Members asked questions about data collection and specific public policies favoring Afro-descendants; they also asked if race-based discrimination is criminalized. In response, Ms. Gomes mentioned that during Argentina’s last census, a lot of people were not asked whether they self-identify as Afro-descendant. She also mentioned that the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI) does not have specific policies for Afro-descendants and that Afro-Argentineans generally do not trust the organization. In closing, she confirmed that race-based discrimination is not criminalized.
Turning to Uruguay, Lourdes Martínez and Vicenta Camusso explained to the Committee Members that the country does not have national legislation which complies with Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Furthermore, the scarce amount of progress that Uruguay has made in terms of internal legal norms is focused on Montevideo, the country’s capital; there are no country-wide specialized services to address racism and racial discrimination. Finally, although the 2011 national census made progress with disaggregating data, more needs to be done with regard to Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples.
Ms. Martínez and Ms. Camusso stated that the most visible manifestation of inequality is in education: Afro-descendants in Uruguay are much more likely to drop out of school than their non-Afro-descendant peers. They also mentioned that there are concerning indicators about sexual minorities of African descent, as discrimination against them is intersectional, as well as about the situation of migrants, especially those from Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia. Overall, the daily experience of racism towards Afro-descendants is still deeply rooted in Uruguay.
On November 23, during the CERD Committee’s country review of Argentina, Claudio Avruj, Secretary for Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism of the Nation, stated that the Secretariat drafted and promoted policies on cultural pluralism, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation, and gender identity. He also informed the Committee that November 8 has been proclaimed the National Day for Afro-Argentines, with the purpose of promoting their culture.
The National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) has worked on combating the three problems in its purview, in cooperation with civil society and other stakeholders. Also, INADI now has the ability to receive complaints and provide guidance to concerned citizens, as well as to play an important role in promoting its agenda through audio-visual materials, brochures, and educational pamphlets. Finally, in 2016, the authorities began designing the National Human Rights Plan for 2017-2020.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts praised numerous legislative achievements that Argentina has made in recent years, but wanted to know more about the implementation of those norms in practice. They inquired about the status of Afro-Argentine and indigenous communities, in particular on their access to justice, education, healthcare and their overall visibility in society at large. The issues of land ownership, prior consultation, and forced evictions with indigenous communities were also discussed. Committee Experts asked questions about the treatment of migrants and inquired about the existence of a migrant detention center. Particular attention was paid to the issue of the implementation of international treaties, including the Convention, at federal, provincial, and local levels. The Committee asked for further details and disaggregated data on a number of questions, particularly related to the status of minority communities.
Pastor Murillo, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Argentina, concluded that the dialogue was very educational in numerous aspects. He expressed his hope that the practice of evictions would be completely eradicated, and suggested that the State Party reconsider laws related to minority quotas.
On November 26, CERD completed its consideration of the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of Uruguay. In introducing the State’s report, Alejandra Costa, Director for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that Uruguay’s steadfast commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights required it to regularly present and explain its progress and that interaction with the treaty bodies allowed for a direct dialogue with the United Nations human rights system.
In the interactive dialogue which followed, Committee Experts praised progressive policies and the leadership of Uruguay in many social areas. They acknowledged adopted legislation, including the Affirmative Action Act, but wanted to hear more about its implementation. They sought information about the definition of the crimes of racism and racial discrimination, and a number of court cases in that regard. Experts wanted to know about the situation of refugees and migrants in Uruguay, as well as domestic workers, who are disproportionately migrants or women of African descent. They asked questions about concrete steps taken to combat structural discrimination, and about promoting and integrating Afro-Uruguayan and indigenous peoples’ cultures in educational curricula. Other issues raised by Committee Experts included the status of indigenous people’s ancestral lands, the use of prior consultation, the provision of free legal aid, and the representation of racial minorities in public and private sectors.
Alexei Avtonomov, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Uruguay, remarked in closing that for the first time in Uruguay’s history, people of indigenous or African descent appeared in statistics and were recognized as such. According to Mr. Avtonomov, it was encouraging that the State party was ready to respond to its historical challenges.
On December 9, CERD published the concluding observations for Argentina and Uruguay in Spanish.
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