Washington, D.C.; September 4, 2021.- On September 2, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) launched its new campaign Toward a Region Free From Racial Discrimination, which will last until 2024 and seeks to promote the universal ratification and implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance (known by its Spanish acronym CIRDI).
The campaign, which takes place in the context of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), was launched in a virtual event that featured Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur for the Rights of Afro-descendants and Against Racial Discrimination at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); Gay McDougall, who was recently re-elected to serve a third term on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD); and Vice President of Costa Rica Epsy Campbell.
Representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, and Mexico, all State Parties to the Convention, also participated. Carlos Quesada, Race and Equality’s Executive Director, introduced the campaign while Latin America Program Officer Elvia Duque served as the moderator.
“This campaign is necessary, especially during the International Decade for People of African Descent, for the majority of countries in the Americas to ratify and implement this important Convention,” remarked Quesada in his introduction to the event.
Race and Equality considers the ratification and implementation of CIRDI a necessary step to make the systemic forms of racism and discrimination against Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, and other minorities in the region more visible. Race and Equality also emphasizes that the Convention is a key step for states to fulfill their international obligations to promote equitable conditions, ensure equality of opportunity, and combat racial discrimination in all individual, structural, and institutional forms.
The ultimate goal of the campaign is for all 35 members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to sign, ratify, and implement CIRDI by the end of 2024.
To that end, the campaign will consist of bilateral and multilateral initiatives across the region. These activities will offer accompaniment and resources to states as they move towards ratifying and implementing the Convention. Civil society organizations will also play an important role in the campaign, receiving training and tools to monitor the ratification and implementation processes.
The importance of CIRDI
Although the OAS General Assembly approved the Inter-American Convention against Racism in 2013 and it entered into force in 2017, only 6 of the 35 OAS Member States have ratified it: Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay. During the event, Costa Rican Vice President Epsy Campbell explained that improving the rate of ratification had become all the more important after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a report on global systemic racism in 2020.
Bachelet’s report stemmed from UN Human Rights Council Resolution 43/1 (Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers), which was passed in the context of worldwide protests against the killing of George Floyd. The Resolution calls on all states to take an active role in achieving racial justice, using all available human rights instruments to combat racism and discrimination.
Joy-Dee Davis Lake, the Alternative Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the OAS, stated that CIRDI was passed by the OAS General Assembly in a moment of international attention on the need to build upon the human rights protections enshrined in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Together, said Davis Lake, the CERD and CIRDI “represent the most ambitious efforts to prohibit discrimination under international law, be it on the grounds of race, color, national or ethnic origin, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, language, religion, cultural identity, opinions of any kind, social origin, socio-economic states, level of education, refugee or migrant status, or disability.”
Paulo Roberto, Brazil’s National Secretary for Policies to Promote Racial Equality, celebrated his country’s ratification of the Convention and called on other states to do the same: “We ratified the Convention on May 13 of this year, which is also the date of the Áurea Law [which abolished slavery in Brazil], a great step forward for Brazilian society. The Convention is an instrument to fight racism and the cultural impacts of colonialism.”
Christopher Ballinas, General Director for Human Rights and Democracy at the Secretariat of Foreign Relations of Mexico, stated that “racism and discrimination is a theme of vital importance in our region because it allows us to integrate our multicultural societies, and also because failing to fight racism and discrimination in multicultural societies leads to hateful discourses and hate crimes.”
Ballinas explained that Mexico was motivated to ratify CIRDI by a hate crime committed in August 2019, when 23 people, including 9 Mexican nationals, were murdered in El Paso, Texas.
Commissioner Macaulay pointed out that CIRDI calls for the creation of an Inter-American Committee to Prevent and Eliminate Racism, Racial Discrimination, and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, an independent body that will consist of one representative from each State Party and will monitor the State Parties’ commitments under the Convention.
“I strongly recommend that all Member States ratify and implement the Convention. The structural discrimination against Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, and other groups demands a strong and serious commitment to combatting discrimination and all forms of intolerance in our hemisphere,” said Macaulay.
Gay McDougall of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) emphasized that the entire international community has a responsibility to combat racism and racial discrimination, saying, “the killing of George Floyd created a new level of urgency to speed up our response.”
Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader who serves as the Executive Coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), celebrated Brazil’s ratification of CIRDI, but also denounced ongoing structural, institutional, and environmental racism in the country, challenging the audience to ask themselves, “racial harmony for who?” when considering these issues. Guajajara discussed the experiences of the Lucha por la vida (Fight for Life) protest movement, in which 6,000 people have assembled to oppose the Hito Temporal court decision that puts indigenous territories protected under Brazil’s Constitution at risk.
“In Brazil, there is a tendency to deny the existence of racism or only acknowledge it in cases of extreme hate crimes. Indigenous people have fought for respect for our ways of life around the world, and in the Americas it is no different. We have seen our leaders killed, our women raped, our territorial rights violated, and our young people dying of suicide,” she said.
Paola Yáñez, Regional Coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latina, Afro-Caribbean, and Diaspora Women, discussed the work of women’s organizations in the region to bring issues of racism to the foreground across the region, saying, “the adoption of the Convention is an important milestone for the Afro-descendant movement that will allow us to move forward in recognizing racism and the need to act against it across the region.”
According to Noelia Maciel, a member of the National Afro-Uruguayan Coordination, “It is important for all states to ratify this Convention because it represents the culmination of three decades of struggle against racism and racial discrimination, and it is necessary to integrate this into our national frameworks so that we can protect the rights of Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, and other ethnic or racial minorities.”
More information about the campaign’s goals, strategies, and activities can be found at Cirdi2024.org. The website also includes more information about CIRDI and the region’s progress towards signing and ratifying it, along with the tools needed to advance this process. The website is available in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. The campaign will also be active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.