Human Rights Day: We Remain Committed to the Defense of Human Rights in Latin America

Dominican Republic

Washington, D.C. December 10, 2019. The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights today joins the celebration of International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. Seventy-one years after the approval of the document that marked a milestone in the recognition […]

Washington, D.C. December 10, 2019. The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights today joins the celebration of International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. Seventy-one years after the approval of the document that marked a milestone in the recognition of the inherent rights of all human beings, establishing that they should be respected without distinction as to race, color, religion, sex, language, political opinions, origin, or any other condition, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality)continues to advocate for the compliance with and defense of said Declaration.

On this day, we remember that the human rights situation in Latin America is critical, and therefore, urgent action by the States is needed to effectively monitor and guarantee the rights of its citizens, especially those populations that have historically been marginalized.

In Cuba, we are concerned about the situation of political prisoners and the harassment and repression against independent activists and journalists. The case of political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García, General Coordinator and founder of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba – UNPACU (Patriotic Union of Cuba), is alarming, seeing as three months have passed since his arrest, he is yet to be granted a trial, and he is ill-treated in the cells of the prison in which he is detained. His situation is especially worrisome because he could have the same fate as several other independent activists who have been convicted of common crimes upon expressing their opinions. For example, the Dama de Blanco (Lady in White) Martha Sánchez is currently in prison under a sentence of four and a half years. Similarly, the situation of independent activists and journalists suffering from travel restrictions without any legal justification is alarming.  This violates every Cuban citizen’s right to freedom of circulation. Regarding this situation, we support the proposal for a peaceful and symbolic demonstration in favor of the right to free circulation that will be held this Tuesday at the José Martí International Airport terminal. We recall that any demonstration or peaceful expression of an individual constitutes an inalienable right under international law.

In Nicaragua, the serious political and human rights crisis that the country has been facing for almost 20 months does not seem to improve. Authorities refuse to respect dissenting voices and continue to violate the human rights of Nicaraguans, including the right to protest, to free mobilization, and to freedom of expression and of the press. To date, about 150 prisoners and political prisoners have been counted, who all go through corrupt trials that lack constitutional guarantees. Nor have international organizations such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) been allowed to return to the country, while local organizations face persecution and the permanent siege by police and government-related groups.

In Colombia, the violence that is experienced after the signing of the Peace Agreement prevents us from thinking about true progress over the inequalities, marginalization, and terror that still exist in the Colombian territories. Today, the systematic assassination of social leaders is one phenomenon that lacerates the integrity of human rights defenders. According to official figures, approximately 343 homicides of social leaders were reported between January 2016 and August 2018; however, civil society organizations report more than 400, of which around 40% were against Afro-descendant and indigenous leaders. To this is added the “statistical genocide” that represents the latest results of the population survey: official figures reported 2.9 million people who recognized themselves as Afro-descendants in the 2018 Census, at least one million less than reported in 2005. This month, after two weeks of national strikes and social mobilizations of the Colombian people that call for immediate and urgent responses to serious violations of fundamental rights from the State, the breach in the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement, and the commitments accepted in matters of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition, representatives of civil society organizations continue to support the construction of peace through a peaceful route that makes it possible to come together in the midst of differences.

Part of the Race and Equality team along with human rights defenders from Latin America

During 2019, the persistent violence and discrimination against the Afro-LGBTI population was a problem that was studied more closely by the International Human Rights Protection Systems. This year a hearing was held before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the situation of the Afro-LGBTI population in the Americas, with the presence of representatives from Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Peru. Additionally, the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), Victor Madrigal, met in Colombia with Afro-LGBTI organizations in Cartagena, and Commissioner Margarette Macaulay visited Afro-LGBTI activists from the Favela de Maré in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  

All these activities are framed in a year in which violence against Afro-LGBTI people has persisted. Brazil remains the country with the highest number of murders of trans people in the world. According to current data from the Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais – ANTRA (National Association of Trans People) in Brazil at least 106 transgender people were killed in Brazil until November of 2019.  Many of these victims are Afro-descendant trans women. In other countries such as Colombia and the Dominican Republic, violence against the Afro-LGBTI population still persists, with the reoccurrence of many homicide cases. Other expressions of violence, as in the case of Nicaragua, are strongly associated with a repressive political and religious context that impacts the lives of LGBTI activists, even reaching measures such as exile, to avoid arbitrary detentions and torture.

In Mexico, Panama, and Peru, the incorporation of racial and ethnic self-identification questions in population and housing censuses remains a great challenge in the collection of real and permanent statistical data that reflects the characteristics of the Afro-descendant and indigenous populations of those States. Civil society organizations have repeatedly denounced the lack of statistical information on ethnic peoples, stating that it is due, among other things, to a lack of dialogue and participatory work, seeking to develop questions of racial self-identification in conjunction with ethnic communities. On the contrary, the censuses contain questions that lack context, which means that they are difficult to understand, and this results in erroneous, incomplete, or not addressed statistical data in them. For this reason, the creation of government plans, programs, or policies for the benefit of overcoming this population’s reality of inequality and social injustice are complex to implement and materialize.

After five years of the founding of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, we remain committed to the defense of human rights in the region, especially in the countries where we work: Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru. We continue to work to promote and protect the human rights of marginalized populations, especially those due to national or ethnic origin and sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to those who think and show distinct opinions. This December 10, we reaffirm our desire to contribute to the construction of an equitable society for all based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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