Washington D.C., August 31, 2022. This August 31, the International Day for People of African Descent celebrates its second year, promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent. In the Americas, there are 134 million people of African descent, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). This population continues to face human rights challenges and is victim to different manifestations of discrimination and violence.
For this reason, as the International Day for People of African Descent is commemorated once again, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) encourages States to assume and implement actions for the promotion and protection of this vulnerable population, using the frameworks of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and other existing mechanisms within the Inter-American System and the United Nations.
About August 31 and Other International Mechanisms
On December 16, 2020, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 75/170 proclaiming August 31 as the International Day for People of African Descent. “To promote greater recognition and respect for the diversity of the legacy, culture, and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies, as well as to promote respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent,” reads the Resolution.
The plan of activities for the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) has been the driving force behind this type of action. One of its main objectives is to adopt and strengthen national legal frameworks in accordance with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ensuring their full and effective implementation.
Additionally, the record of acts of discrimination and violence against people of African descent—such as the murder of the African-American citizen George Floyd in May 2020 in the United States—has impacted the vigilance and adoption of international mechanisms for the human rights of Afro-descendant populations and racial justice.
For example, a month after Floyd’s death, the UN Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 43/1, “Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and people of African descent from excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials,” which calls for widespread attention to racism and implores States to take an active role in meeting their objective of racial justice.
In 2021, the United Nations adopted two important mechanisms. One of them is the Permanent Forum of Afro-descendants, which was approved in August through Resolution 75/314 of the United Nations General Assembly, with the mission of being an advisory body of the Human Rights Council. Among its mandates is that of, “contributing to the full political, economic, and social inclusion of Afro-descendants in the societies in which they live, with an equal footing to other citizens and without discrimination of any kind and contribute to ensuring the equal enjoyment of all human rights.”
Moreover, in a resolution adopted on July 13, 2021, the Human Rights Council decided to establish an international mechanism of independent experts, composed of three experts with experience in law enforcement and human rights, and appointed by the chairman. Its mandate is to examine systemic racism and the excessive use of force and other violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement officials around the world.
What are we doing?
To contribute to living in a more just and equitable society, Race and Equality works with partner organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean in the defense and protection of the rights of people of African descent and Afro-LGBTI+ populations, using capacity building to promote visibility, documentation, and strategic litigation before the Inter-American System and the United Nations.
In July, in Brazil, Race and Equality organized a visit by Margarette May Macaulay, the Rapporteur for People of African Descent of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Commissioner had the opportunity to hear complaints from the black population, especially those related to police brutality and religious racism. In addition, in May Race and Equality launched the ‘Kátia Tapety Political Training School’ for Afro-BLTI women, with the aim of strengthening civil participation in collective decision-making spaces, with particular emphasis placed on reducing gender and race gaps in political participation at the regional, national, and global level.
Additionally in Brazil, Race and Equality has been working on projects that denounce the closure of civic spaces for black and indigenous movements; the fight against religious racism; the protection and defense of the Afro-LGBTI+ populations; the political strengthening of black, indigenous LBTI women; and the fight against police violence. It also monitors the implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI), which was ratified at the end of 2021 in Brazil.
In Colombia, Race and Equality carried out, in conjunction with organizations in Cali, documentation activities and the preparation of a report on the effects and differential impacts of violence against people of African descent in Cali within the framework of the 2021 National Strike. In the coming days, together with the organizations Ilex-Acción Jurídica, Temblores NGOs, and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), Race and Equality will publish a national report on police brutality and racial bias.
In relation to advocacy processes before the United Nations on the disproportionate use of force against people of African descent, Race and Equality recently presented a report for the Mechanism of Experts to Promote Justice and Racial Equality in Law Enforcement. It also submitted a report on inputs for the preparation of the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 47/21- this in coalition with Ilex-Acción Jurídica, CODHES, Black Communities Process (PCN), and the Center for Afrodiasporic Studies (CEAF) of the ICESI University of Cali.
In Mexico, within the framework of the International Day of Afro-Latin, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, Race and Equality launched on July 25 the project, “Promotion of an anti-racist agenda to strengthen the work of civil society organizations in the fight against racism and racial discrimination in Mexico,” which is being implemented thanks to the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
One of the first activities of this project consisted of a cycle of conferences given between August 25 and 26 by Dr. Pastor Murillo, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. The conferences, which were held both in Mexico City and in Mérida, Yucatán State, revolved around international tools to combat racism and racial discrimination, and the role of universities.
At the regional level, Race and Equality maintains the CIRDI 2024 campaign, “towards a region free of racial discrimination,” for the promotion of the signature, ratification, and implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance (CIRDI). Within the framework of this campaign, Race and Equality has considered working hand in hand with local organizations to strengthen their monitoring capacities in countries where this Convention has been ratified, as well as advocate in other countries where it has only been signed.
Race and Equality continues to make racial discrimination visible utilizing an intersectional perspective, through the Inter-American Forum against Discrimination, an event held each year with the participation of international experts and activists from the region. Its main objectives are to promote the effective participation of non-governmental organizations in the framework of the OAS General Assemblies and Summits of the Americas, to improve their impact within the system, and to make visible both the different discriminations faced in the Americas and the main demands of the different sectors of the population that are victims of discrimination, especially Afro-descendants and LGBTI population.
For Race and Equality, it is important to emphasize the promotion and protection tools offered by international mechanisms, such as CIRDI, for the benefit of people of African descent. We firmly believe that it is through these instruments States can adopt and implement clear and effective policies to guarantee the human rights and social welfare of people of African descent. To this end, it is essential to work with civil society organizations that protect the rights of this population, since they guarantee the visibility of their realities, and follow up on national and international commitments.
On August 31, Race and Equality reaffirms its commitment to defend and protect the rights of people of African descent in the Americas and calls on States to adopt measures and strengthen those already in place, based on the recognition of the historical inequalities that this ethnic group has faced. Two years before the end of the International Decade for People of African Descent, this task is not only urgent, but represents a true commitment to democracy and social inclusion.