Afro-Colombian Day: The Importance of Adopting the International Mechanisms and Instruments of Human Rights Protection


Colombia, May 23,  2023, Every May 21st, Colombia proudly celebrates Afro-Colombian Day ,[1] in commemoration of the Afro-descendent community’s historic fight for the abolition of slavery within the country. [2] This date serves as a platform to acknowledge and honor the cultural and ethnic richness of the Afro-Colombian population. While notable progress has been made in terms of […]

Colombia, May 23,  2023, Every May 21st, Colombia proudly celebrates Afro-Colombian Day ,[1] in commemoration of the Afro-descendent community’s historic fight for the abolition of slavery within the country. [2] This date serves as a platform to acknowledge and honor the cultural and ethnic richness of the Afro-Colombian population. While notable progress has been made in terms of rights and recognition, significant challenges persist in ensuring true equality and safeguarding the rights of black people, Afro-Colombians, as well as Raizal and Palenquero communities in Colombia. In the framework of this commemoration, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (hereafter, Race and Equality) proudly showcases its active involvement in international mechanisms and international instruments dedicated to protecting human rights. We urge the Colombian State to take decisive and comprehensive actions to implement these measures.

Racial discrimination, social exclusion, and racist police violence by security forces pose significant obstacles for Afro-Colombians. Despite the recognition of Colombia’s ethnic and cultural diversity in the Political Constitution, many Afro-descendant individuals continue to face prejudice and negative stereotypes that impede their opportunities and access to essential rights such as education, healthcare, and employment. In addition, the Afro-Colombian population has been affected and differentially impacted in the context of the armed conflict. For example, the Unit for the Search for Missing Persons (UBPD) has identified that 2,752 persons reported missing belong to Afro-descendant, Black, Raizal and Palenquero communities.[3] Moreover, Afro-Colombian communities have endured a troubling phenomenon of being rendered invisible by state censuses, resulting in official figures that fail to accurately represent the true size of the population. Thus, the last census conducted in 2018 ignored 30% of Afro-Colombian people, in what was considered an “irreversible damage” by the Constitutional Court, exacerbating the statistical invisibility faced by this population. Importantly, the decrease in the recorded Afro-descendant population figure cannot be attributed to changes in birth rates or mortality. Rather, it stemmed from various systemic issues present during the State-conducted census, such as security problems in certain territories and inadequate training of the personnel responsible for conducting interviews, among other factors.[4] These concerning outcomes can be attributed to a notable disregard by institutions for the persistent warnings voiced by Afro-descendent and indigenous ethnic organizations. The phenomenon of statistical invisibility significantly impacts the Afro-descendant population, representing an indirect manifestation of discrimination. Throughout the centuries, this population has had to demand their recognition in order to identify the inequalities they face and access their fundamental rights.[5] When faced with the reduction of the Afro-descendant population in Colombia in 2018, the Colombian State overlooked a critical opportunity to consider and adopt public policies designed to support Afro-descendant groups.

In light of this situation, it is imperative that the Colombian State embraces the adoption of International Conventions and Instruments aimed at safeguarding the rights of the Afro-Colombian population and combatting systemic racism and racial discrimination. Notably, the role of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1965 and entered into force in 1969, is of great significance. Colombia ratified ICERD in 1981, committing itself to take measures to prevent and eradicate racial discrimination in all its forms in the country.[6] Among ICERD’s main recommendations are the need to adopt effective measures to prevent, investigate, and punish racism and racial discrimination in all its forms. It also emphasizes the importance of strengthening the institutions responsible for guaranteeing equality and non-discrimination, as well as promoting education and awareness regarding the cultural and ethnic diversity present in the country.

Universal Period Review (UPR)

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process that takes place every four and a half years and involves the evaluation of the human rights records of all United Nations Member States. It is a process sponsored by the Human Rights Council, which gives each State the opportunity to report on the measures it has taken to improve the human rights situation in its country and to fulfill its human rights obligations. The process involves the State, which may submit a national report, experts, and independent groups,[7] as well as national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations. In the fourth cycle of the UPR, Colombia presented contributions on actions implemented to guarantee human rights at the national level. Race and Equality also participated with a report on the human rights situation of Afro-descendants in Colombia, which describes the recommendations implemented and establishes new recommendations to ensure compliance on issues such as the armed conflict, the implementation of the Peace Agreement, the situation of Afro-descendant human rights defenders and actions against racism and racial discrimination.

The Institute’s report highlights several key recommendations, including the following:

  • Establish an effective follow-up mechanism for the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement that promotes dialogue between state institutions andAfro-descendant communities.
  • Implement a risk assessment that guarantees the incorporation of the ethnic-racial, gender, and territorial approach, from an intersectional perspective, in the discussions of the Committee for Risk Assessment and Recommendation of Measures (CERREM).
  • Strengthen and promote the participation of black, Afro-descendant, as well as Raizal and Palenquero communities in the risk analysis process in order to adopt protection measures that respond to the needs of protected persons.
  • Develop permanent participatory spaces from a territorial approach with Afro-descendant communities for accountability on the implementation of the Peace Agreement and the Ethnic Chapter to promote monitoring and direct dialogue with State institutions.
  • Design and implement a protocol to establish monitoring mechanisms for the implementation of Law 1482 of 2011.
  • Ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI) and the Inter-American Convention against all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance (CIDI).

The International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement – EMLER

The International Independent Expert Mechanism is an initiative to promote racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement. It aims to ensure that police practices are fair and impartial, and that human rights are respected at all times. The mechanism is composed of independent experts from around the world, working closely with national and local authorities, as well as civil society and human rights organizations. Its task is to conduct impartial and objective investigations into allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement, and to make recommendations to improve police practices and prevent future violations.

This year, Race and Equality and the National Conference of Afro-Colombian Organizations (C.N.O.A.) submitted a joint written contribution to the Mechanism, with the objective of collaborating in the creation of the second report, as established in paragraph 15 of Human Rights Council resolution 47/21. The report describes and analyzes promising initiatives and good practices being adopted in Colombia to address systemic racism within law enforcement.

Promising strides have been taken to confront systemic racism within law enforcement, encompassing transformative measures that challenge the long-standing paradigm of perceiving and eradicating an internal enemy. Noteworthy initiatives include the comprehensive reform of the police force, facilitating the reconstruction of citizen security. Additionally, the establishment of the Dialogue and Maintenance of Order Unit represents an important step towards reforming the ESMAD. Furthermore, the inclusion of a human security approach in the protection of social leaders, with a focus on individual and collective differential perspectives, signifies a significant advancement. Lastly, the creation of a dedicated Ministry for Peace underscores the commitment to fostering a more equitable and just society.

Likewise, civil society organizations have carried out initiatives to denounce systemic racism within law enforcement agencies, among which we highlight: The GRITA Platform[8] and Policarpa[9] de Temblores NGO and the Statement of Proposals on Police Reform addressed to the State, [10] prepared by Mesa por la Reforma Policial, of which Race and Equality is a member.

Some recommendations included in the contribution to the Mechanism made by Race and Equality and the C.N.O.A are:

  • Inclusion and implementation of differential approaches, from an intersectional perspective, in the policies and structures of the Public Force
  • Implementation of human rights training for the police force
  • Guarantee the right to protest through the existence of differentiated protocols in contexts of social demonstrations
  • Transform the doctrine of the National Police
  • Establish accountability mechanisms and citizen oversight mechanisms.
  • Guarantee access to justice for victims of police violence and racist police violence

Ratification of the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI)

The Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI) was adopted by the OAS in 2013 to protect and promote the human rights of all persons regardless of race, color, ancestry, or ethnic origin. The Colombian government signed this convention in 2014 but it has not yet been ratified. A bill was filed in Congress in 2021 to ratify the Convention and promote its effective implementation in the Americas. The convention seeks to prevent and eliminate racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance, promote equality and combat racism in all its forms.

The ratification of CIRDI is a fundamental step to consolidate the Colombian government’s commitment to promote and guarantee human rights and the fight against structural racism and racial discrimination.

On the occasion of Afro-Colombian Day, the Institute on Race and Equality emphatically calls upon the Colombian State to adopt a comprehensive approach to tackle the various forms of discrimination and exclusion faced by the Afro-Colombian population. This entails not only implementing specific measures to ensure their protection and foster their social inclusion, but also recognizing and appreciating their invaluable historical legacy within the country.

In essence, Afro-Colombian Day serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of acknowledging and valuing the nation’s ethnic and cultural diversity, while simultaneously implementing effective measures to guarantee equality and protect the rights of all individuals. Consequently, it is crucial for the Colombian State to embrace international mechanisms for rights protection, alongside concrete actions to combat racism and racial discrimination, and to promote the social inclusion of the Afro-Colombian population.


[2] Consagrada en la Ley 21 de mayo 21 de 1851





[7] Procedimientos especiales, organismos de tratados, de derechos humanos, y otras entidades de las Naciones unidas





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