Washington D.C., March 21, 2023.- The fight against racism and racial discrimination must be formulated and executed at the level of the manifestations and impacts of these human rights violations. On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wishes to highlight the work we have been doing to promote and protect the rights of Afro-descendant and indigenous populations in the region.
In order to carry out this work, we understand that to the extent that the different factors that expose a person or a population to racism and racial discrimination are recognized, comprehensive protection and reparation measures can be applied. For this reason, intersectionality is a constant feature in the projects we formulate and implement together with partner organizations in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico.
It is appropriate that this year, 2023, the United Nations dedicates this date to the urgency of combating racism and racial discrimination. This urgency is supported by events ranging from the police response in 1960 that left 69 people dead for demonstrating against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa – which is why the United Nations proclaimed March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – to the police killings of people of African descent such as George Floyd (2020) and Tyre Nichols (2023), and the precarious situation of the indigenous Yanomami population in Brazil.
The consolidation of Race and Equality’s work on racial justice has been driven by the adoption – both at the level of the Universal and Inter-American Human Rights Systems – of special protection mechanisms, such as the International Mechanism of Independent Experts to Promote Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement (EMLER), and the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance (CIRDI), which, despite having been adopted almost a decade ago, represents a key and effective tool in this area.
Adequate Statistical Data Collection, a Key Step
Race and Equality has positioned itself as a reference partner organization for the inclusion of the Afro-descendant self-recognition question in national censuses. Together with local counterparts and through work that includes awareness-raising and training of key actors and the development of educational campaigns, post-census results show an increase in the Afro-descendant data collected. For example, in Peru, it increased from 1% (ENAHO – 2000) to 3.6% (CPV – 2017) and in Mexico, it increased from 1.2% (EIC – 2015) to 2% (CPV – 2020).
Race and Equality is the only regional campaign promoting the signature, ratification and effective implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance. In this process, we have raised awareness of the potential of this Convention and its importance among ethnic populations, providing technical support to civil society organizations and States. Through this campaign, we have brought authorities and representatives of ethnic groups in the region to the table to contribute to the generation of strategies in favor of Afro-descendant, indigenous and Rrom (also known as Roma or Gypsy) populations, allowing for the exchange of experiences and efforts for the common good.
Litigating before the Inter-American System
In 2022 alone, at the request of Race and Equality, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted three precautionary measures to Afro-descendants, in whose cases the respective States were requested to implement them with an ethnic-racial and gender focus. Of these precautionary measures, two correspond to Colombia (in favor of Silvia Gelen Rodríguez and her nuclear family, and in favor of A.A.V.B. and her nuclear family), and one to Brazil (Benny Briolly and others).
Together with Colombian and regional organizations that litigate before the Inter-American Human Rights System, we were able to get the IACHR to grant a hearing on the implementation of precautionary measures in Colombia, in which we made a presentation on the lack of implementation of precautionary measures with an ethnic-racial and gender focus, and made requests on the need for a protocol for the implementation of the measures that guarantees the incorporation of such a focus.
We were also able to document and present to the IACHR two petitions denouncing the State of Colombia. One concerning the murder of an Afro-Colombian leader after his protection measures were withdrawn by the National Protection Unit (UNP); and another for the Colombian State’s refusal to provide reparations and protection to an organization of Afro-Colombian women displaced by the armed conflict and who continue to live at latent risk.
Within the framework of the Latin American Human Rights Consortium, Race and Equality has four partners in Brazil that develop programs aimed at documenting the closure of spaces for participation with a racial perspective. Through agreements with CRIOLA and GELEDES, the closing of spaces has been documented and actions and advocacy have been developed to draw attention to the discrimination and lack of spaces for black, cis and trans women to participate in the political space. With the Marielle Franco Institute, actions are being developed to monitor the impact of the legal framework on racial equality. Finally, through the work with the Institute for Indigenous Research and Training (IEPE), actions are being developed to strengthen the knowledge of indigenous leaders on the universal and regional mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
In Nicaragua, the Consortium works with organizations that promote the defense and protection of indigenous communities whose livelihoods have been threatened as a result of land usurpation and depredation of their natural resources. The work, which focuses on the northern Caribbean coast, seeks to strengthen capacity building for women and young women defenders who are part of 15 communities.
In this country, in 2022, we accompanied several indigenous organizations and defenders of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants rights of the southern Caribbean Coast to present information to CERD. Representatives of these organizations participated in an advocacy tour in Geneva last August during the review of the State of Nicaragua, which was absent. In its concluding observations, the Committee expressed concern about racial discrimination in the country and recommended, inter alia, that appropriate measures be taken to combat racial prejudice, as well as to advance the process of demarcation and titling of communal lands.
We would also like to highlight our commitment to the Haitian and Haitian-Dominican population in the Dominican Republic, where we have been accompanying our counterparts, the Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers (MOSCTHA) and the Jacques View Network, in different thematic hearings, including in their March 2022 hearing, contributing to visualize the reality faced by this population in this country.
A Pillar in Brazil
In Brazil, racial justice is a pillar of all our projects. In the last year, we developed national and international advocacy activities, as well as strategic projects and litigation to promote democracy and protect human rights in the country. Among these actions we can highlight the promotional visit of Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur on People of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination, who in 2022 was in Brazil to address issues such as political violence, LGBT rights, police violence and religious racism.
In terms of international advocacy, we worked intensively in the pre-sessions of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), where we promoted a series of meetings, in July and August, between civil society organizations working on the issue of race, gender and sexual orientation in Brazil, with Embassies in Brasilia and their respective Permanent Missions in Geneva, Switzerland. We also developed the Afro-Latina Advocacy Week in which we took human rights organizations from Brazil and Colombia to Washington, DC to promote the rights of black and LGBTI+ people with congressmen, state departments and international organizations. It is worth mentioning that we participated in the 108th review session of Brazil’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), where we technically supported 10 of the 15 reports submitted, and all recommendations made by our partners were included in the final CERD report.
The fight against discrimination based on race has been one of the main lines of work in Cuba due to the persistent institutional racism on the island. One of the central objectives has been to highlight this reality before the international human rights protection bodies. To this end, we have promoted advocacy meetings with the special procedures and treaty bodies of the United Nations, with the European Union, and with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
In addition, we have provided legal assistance and representation to victims of human rights violations, specifically we have sent a petition and requests for precautionary measures highlighting how being Afro-Cuban has differentially affected the victims. We have also submitted a letter of allegation on behalf of a leader of a religion of African origin in Cuba, and his wife, who are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.
We have also shared information with the United Nations system in response to requests for information in connection with the study conducted by the Human Rights Council at its 54th session on systematic, structural and institutional racism and racial justice. We also provide training and ongoing technical assistance to counterparts on human rights, equality and non-discrimination issues, and we are following up on the issue of the census in Cuba.
As part of this assistance, we have supported the preparation of advocacy reports that have analyzed the situation of Afro-descendants and the exercise of their human rights in Cuba; we have also guided the preparation of alternative reports for the IV cycle of the UPR, highlighting the outstanding debt that Cuba has with Afro-Cubans.
On the New Mechanisms
We have participated in requests for inputs for the preparation of the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights under Human Rights Council Resolution 47/21; of the International Mechanism of Independent Experts to promote racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement; and the follow-up questionnaire within the framework of the June 2021 IACHR Visit to Colombia in the context of the National Strike. We also participated in person in the first consultation in South America held in Chile of the Expert Mechanism and in the OHCHR Follow-up Session on civic space and the situation of Afro-descendant human rights defenders in South America.
Based on these new tools at the international level, we have taken on the task of sensitizing and training counterparts to include them in their institutional agendas as essential issues to raise their demands and recommendations for the fight against racism and racial discrimination.
Racial justice in Mexico
In Mexico, we promote various processes of professionalization and accompaniment of Afro-descendant, indigenous, migrant, and human rights organizations that contribute to advocacy and advocacy actions with governmental institutions and international organizations. We also promote comprehensive strategies in the fight against structural racism, racial discrimination, and related forms of intolerance, which continue to be naturalized in Mexican society.
We are currently implementing the project “Promotion of an Anti-Racist Agenda to Strengthen the Work of CSOs in the Fight against Racism and Racial Discrimination in Mexico”. The activity is part of a comprehensive strategy focused on improving and promoting actions against structural racism and the promotion of international tools such as the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI), with our partners and educational institutions.
Evidence gathering is a key focus of Race and Equality’s work. In this sense, we published the reports “Traces of Racism: Voices of Excluded People and Structural Violence Inside and Outside the Social Unrest in Cali” and “Silence and Impunity: Systemic Racism and Police Violence Against Afro-descendants in Colombia”, which we developed with allied organizations.
In this way, Race and Equality hopes to contribute to a more just and equitable society, especially in terms of combating the racism and racial discrimination that generate so much violence and inequality in the region. At the same time that we listen to the needs of Afro-descendant, indigenous and Roma populations, we advocate with the States so that, in accordance with their international obligations, they guarantee the rights of these people. For this reason, our international litigation work is a key element, which we continue to strengthen.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we raise our voices for those who are defenseless and call on States to urgently take up the fight against racism and racial discrimination. The evidence and the tools are there.