Washington D.C., June 20, 2023 – The Inter-American Forum against Discrimination, an annual event organized by the International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race and Equality), took place during the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). It brought together representatives from the governments of the United States and Brazil, as well as experts and Afro-descendant, indigenous, and LGBTI+ leaders from the region, for an effective dialogue on racial discrimination in the Americas.
This year, the Forum’s theme was the “Tenth Anniversary of the Adoption of 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),” which was held at the iconic National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C.
Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of Race and Equality, highlighted in his welcome speech that the CIRDI is a Convention that broadly addresses racial discrimination, serving not only Afro-descendant peoples but also indigenous peoples and Romani communities.
The first panel, “The Historical Debt: State Responsibility towards the CIRDI and the CIDI,” featured the participation of Joy-Dee Davis Lake, Counselor Minister of the OAS Embassy and Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda. In her remarks, the Minister emphasized the importance of building a better world for diversity, free from discrimination, where every individual can fulfill their full potential. This panel also included Luz Elena Baños Rivas, Ambassador of the OAS Permanent Mission in Mexico, who could not attend in person but sent her message calling for commitment and strengthening of the CIRDI to OAS Member States.
Moderated by Carlos Quesada, the second panel, “International Efforts to Combat Racial and Ethnic Discrimination,” featured the contributions of Margarette May Macaulay, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH); Desirée Cormier-Smith, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice (SRREJ) of the U.S. Department of State, and Symmy Larrat, National Secretary for LGBTQIA+ Rights of the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship of Brazil.
“It is necessary to pay attention to racial representation in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and in the United Nations Secretariat. Additionally, I call on government ministers and political parties to reflect on their resistance and inaction regarding the approval of the CIRDI by OAS Member States,” stated Margarette May Macaulay.
“We must commit to keeping the window of racial and social justice open. It is our responsibility to prevent this window from closing,” emphasized Desirée Cormier-Smith, urging all Afro-descendant individuals to empower themselves and influence their governments to build an antiracist democracy.
In her speech, Symmy Larrat celebrated the reestablishment of the LGBTI Popular Participation Council and announced the creation of a Working Group on ‘Memory and Truth,’ which will include experts and members of civil society to implement public policies addressing the historical reparation of the LGBTI population. “It is a challenge to strengthen LGBTI social movements with such a conservative congress. We won the elections, but we didn’t win the fascist wave,” she said.
Afro-descendant and indigenous leaders from civil society in Latin America shared their experiences in the panel titled “Regional Experiences: Inclusion as a Tool to Strengthen Diverse Voices.” Moderated by Cecilia Ramírez, Executive Director of the Center for the Development of Afro-Peruvian Women (CEDEMUNEP), the dialogue included participants such as Maurício Yek’uana, Director of Hutukara Yanomami Association, who drew attention to the advance of drug trafficking in the countries bordering Yanomami indigenous lands in Brazil. “In addition to the miners we have been denouncing for years, criminal factions are arriving, and the government’s action is still insufficient to contain the invaders in the region,” stated Maurício Yek’uana. Adailton Moreira, Babalorixá Ilê Axé Omiojuarô, denounced religious racism and the State’s consent due to the lack of public policies that could curb violence against African-origin religions.
Representing the LGBTI agenda, the panel included Sandra Milena Arizabaleta, Legal Representative of the Afro-descendant Foundation for Social and Sexual Diversity (SOMOS IDENTIDAD) from Colombia, and Yader de los Ángeles Parajón Gutiérrez, an LGBT activist and member of the Mothers of April Association and the Unamos Party from Nicaragua.
“Education and political will for anti-fascism are necessary for real inclusion. Authorities must bridge the gap between activism and the government,” expressed Sandra Milena Arizabaleta.
Yader de los Ángeles Parajón concluded, “Nicaragua owes a debt to gender identity. The violence generated by the dictatorship permeates all levels and remains silent. Many activists are persecuted. In this system, they no longer live, but they survive.” The panel also featured Wendy Geraldina López Rosales, an indigenous Guatemalan member and lawyer of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), and Cuban activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, who called for an effective alliance for the rights of their peoples.
“The Guatemalan state issues arrest warrants against indigenous peoples, criminalizing them and subjecting them to inhumane treatment. They treat us as invaders, but no one can be an invader of land that historically belongs to them,” warned Wendy López.
“I am a former political prisoner of Castro’s regime. My family is also a victim of fierce persecution because we are Black, because we are opponents. The dictatorship does not tolerate any form of faith either,” said Jorge Luis García Pérez, pointing out that religious persecution based on racial discrimination also exists in Cuba.
The last panel, “Coalition of Afro-descendants of the Americas and the 53rd Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly,” moderated by Elvia Duque, Senior Officer of the Race and Equality Program on Race and Ethnicity, provided the audience with a deeper understanding of the 53rd OAS General Assembly. It featured Paulina Corominas, Director of the Office of Civil Society of the Department of International Relations of the OAS, and Rosa Castro from the Association of Women of the Oaxaca Coast and Coordinator of the Afro-descendant Coalition of the Americas at the 53rd OAS General Assembly.
Paulina Corominas explained that there are 34 thematic coalitions formed within the 53rd OAS General Assembly, and on June 21, a dialogue would take place between OAS representatives and civil society. Rosa Castro highlighted some of the demands of the Afro-descendant Coalition of the Americas, which include a high-level meeting for the 10th anniversary of the CIRDI and an agenda that considers a fund for Afro-descendants.
Based on the diverse voices that resonated with the different realities and contexts of Afro-descendant, indigenous, and LGBTI peoples in Latin America, Race and Equality issued a call for unity in the Americas in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. With the CIRDI as the motto for an effective plan for its implementation by all OAS Member States by 2024, the alliance continues to support and empower civil society organizations to occupy these strategic spaces such as the Inter-American Forum against Discrimination.
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