Afro-Colombians and Human Rights: What the Incoming President and the Opposition Must Guarantee!

The results of the May 17 presidential election will have a big impact on the political, social and institutional conditions that determine the protection of Afro-Colombian communities’ human rights – in particular, those who have been victims of the armed conflict, racial discrimination, and have been historically excluded.

The election of Ivan Duque as the new President of Colombia for 2018-2022 with 53.98% of the votes (10,372,730) and the votes of 8,034,089 citizens (41.8%) for Gustavo Petro, establish a political scenario with significant implications for these communities. As the new head of the executive branch, Duque will have a strict responsibility to uphold Afro-Colombian rights, which stem from the Constitution, the country’s internal laws, and from the chapters of the Peace Accords. He must also abide by international human rights treaties that have been ratified by the State. Gustavo Petro, as the representative of the opposition, and with a seat in the Senate, should lead the legislative and politically-controlled processes that protect the rights of Afro-Colombian communities. This role bestows upon him an ethical obligation to continue pushing for Afro-Colombian rights, given the support he received from Afro-descendant communities in the Pacific region, where they voted overwhelmingly in his favor.

Duque’s election as president has been received with both frustration and fear by Afro-Colombian communities affected by the armed conflict. Many have been left feeling hopeless after the candidate they supported, and who incorporated their vision and proposals into his platform, lost the election, and also because the results of the election are a clear indication of the persistence of a lack of commitment to protect the victims of the armed conflict. The communities are expecting an increase in violence against social leaders and communities, both in rural areas and in major cities, as well as the continued forced displacement of communities to areas that continue to be affected by the violence, even after FARC demobilization.

These fears are not without basis. The president-elect’s campaign was supported by politicians and sectors that demand substantial changes to the Peace Accords. Afro-Colombian communities, broad sectors of society, and the international community have all declared their support for the Accords and have praised them as a way to guarantee the rights of Afro-Colombian communities, and as a path to achieve sustainable peace. Should the incoming president assume positions and make decisions that breach what was agreed upon in the Accords, this would impede their implementation. Many are asking to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. However, the first signs are not positive: on June 19, a congressional caucus from Duque’s political party, together with legislators from other supporting parties, approved the suspension of proceeding with the legislative regulation of the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) – a fundamental mechanism of the Accords.

The president-elect must respect the Accords’ agreements, which were consolidated as a constitutional mandate and State policy. However, it seems as if he will not follow this path. The repercussions of a policy reversal for Afro-Colombian communities will be negative – not only will the demands found in the Peace Accords’ Ethnic Chapter be at risk of not being met, but also drastic changes could be expected for the various mechanisms of peace, such as the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Prevention, and the Comprehensive Rural Reform, which will signify obstacles for the restitution of rights for Afro-Colombian communities.

However, the decision to ignore, modify or not guarantee the conditions of the Accords’ implementation does not exempt the incoming administration of the responsibility and duty to address the precarious situation of Afro-Colombian human rights. We must remember that the Accords incorporated demands and rights already guaranteed by constitutional and legislative norms, as well as international commitments still binding in nature. These include the completion of regulation of Law 70 of 1993, various constitutional rulings and decrees, Precautionary Measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the recommendations of international mechanisms of human rights monitoring, such as the CERD Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; all of which must be obligations for the President-elect to complete.

Any decisions that the incoming administration & Congress take must also guarantee Afro-Colombian communities’ right to prior consultation, and to free, prior, and informed consent. Guaranteeing this right within the framework of the upcoming National Development Plan for 2018-2022 must be a priority for the new administration and will be the focus of advocacy by the local and international communities. President-elect Duque’s proposed development plan presented during his campaign does not adequately recognize the rights of Afro-Colombian communities and promotes the continuity of economic policies that limit ethno-cultural rights and promote exclusion. Despite having the right to choose his own vision for the plan, Duque would do well to consult with the communities and not ignore rights already acknowledged. Prior administrations have not guaranteed the right to prior consultation in the elaboration of their National Development Plans, so the new president has the obligation to correct this practice.

Congress is also obligated to pass laws that guarantee the rights of Afro-Colombian communities, as well as to exert political control over the new administration. History has also shown the legislative branch to be weak in this respect. However, it will be important to make use of the role that Gustavo Petro and his supporting congressmen have, as promoters of Afro-Colombian communities’ rights, in correcting the current situation of structural exclusion of Afro-Colombians from the legislative process.  The mood and expectations of communities after the results of the election must therefore follow this perspective, accordingly.

The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights will continue to support and defend the fundamental rights of Afro-Colombian communities in this new stage of political and institutional processes. We are particularly committed to support initiatives that lead to the Colombian state’s implementation of its international commitments towards these communities. In this perspective, we offer the following specific recommendations:

  • The new administration must prioritize the adoption of measures to protect the life and personal integrity of all Afro-Colombian leaders at risk.
  • The President-elect must urgently express his support for Congress to expedite the passage of the Special Justice for Peace procedure law.
  • In the formulation of the 2018-2022 Development Plan, the new administration must include a guarantee to the right to prior consultation, and to free, prior, and informed consent for Afro-Colombian communities who are victims of the armed conflict.
  • In the new Development Plan, prioritize the inclusion and financing of public policies to comply with that stipulated by the Constitutional Court in Auto 05 of 2009, Auto 092 of 2008, and Decree 4635 of 2011.
  • The new administration, together with Congress, must prioritize the completion of regulations found in Law 70 of 1993.
  • The Colombian state must abide by recommendations from international human rights organizations, especially with relation to the rights of Afro-Colombian communities.

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