Human Rights Day: Continuing on the path towards human rights for all

Human Rights Day: Continuing on the path towards human rights for all

Washington, D.C.; December 10, 2020.- 72 years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world has not yet achieved the full guarantee and enjoyment of each person’s inherent rights. In Latin America and the Caribbean, structures that contribute to human rights violations, particularly violations against historically marginalized populations, remain persistent and in some cases are worsening.

This December 10th, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) joins the international celebration of Human Rights Day by reviewing the human rights situation across the region, particularly the countries where we partner with civil society: Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

The killing of George Floyd

Race and Equality added our voice to the global outrage sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black U.S. citizen, at the hands four white police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25th. Video of the tragedy on social media sparked indignation and a re-examination of the realities of racism and police brutality in the U.S.

We were heartened by the rapid and forceful response of the international human rights protection system to this travesty, including the June 17th Urgent Debate of the United Nations Human Rights Council on “the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protest” and the adoption of Human Rights Council Resolution 43/1. We are concerned, however, at the lack of follow-up effort to strengthen the various international human rights mechanisms’ ability to monitor States’ compliance with their obligations in this regard.

COVID-19: a multiplier of inequality

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that economic inequality and inequality in access to health and education have deadly consequences across the region. It has also made clear that when States fail to design public policies with an intersectional approach, indigenous, Afro-descendant, and LGBTI populations who have suffered historical marginalization and discrimination are the hardest-hit.

In Brazil, for example, the Afro-Brazilian population has seen its most fundamental right to life threatened by the denialism of President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. Afro-Brazilians have been the population most negatively impacted by the current government’s refusal to implement proper public health measures. During the most critical months of the pandemic, Brazilian women were murdered at a rate of one every nine hours. Of these victims, 73% were Afro-descendant women.

Discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity has also manifested itself in the context of COVID-19. In Colombia, a trans woman and sex worker named Alejandra Monocuco died in late May after medical personnel refused to give her emergency care. The personnel, who had been called by Alejandra’s companions when she suddenly became unable to breathe, refused to approach her when they learned that she was HIV-positive and told her companions that she must have been suffering an “overdose.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with the 2020 Census in Mexico, a situation that Afro-Mexican activists fear has affected census-takers’ ability to collect trustworthy data on the Afro-descendant population. Particularly in parts of Mexico not normally thought of as Afro-Mexican population centers, low rates of self-identification among Afro-descendants can lead to undercounting.

Anti-LGBTI violence and hatred

Latin America continues to be the region with the most murders of trans people. In Brazil, where the current government continues to tolerate and encourage LGBTI-phobia, 151 trans people have been murdered this year. In Colombia, Race and Equality has worked with our grassroots partners to record 65 incidents of discrimination, harassment, assault, and murder against people with diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities.

The refusal to recognize LGBTI people’s rights and respond to their demands for justice is concerning across the region. In Peru, for example, the Constitutional Court rejected Óscar Ugarteche’s effort to have his marriage to his husband Fidel Aroche, celebrated in Mexico in 2010, inscribed in the National Civil Registry. Peru also failed to account for the rights of trans and non-binary people when it implemented its quarantine policy known as pico y género,[1] leading to acts of discrimination against this population.

In Panama, civil society continues to demand that the government introduce a law legalizing marriage equality for legislative debate, while LGBTI organizations in the Dominican Republic are leading a campaign for a Law on Equality and Non-Discrimination to protect the rights of Afro-descendant and LGBTI people.

Human rights defenders continue to be murdered

Four years after the historic Final Peace Accords ended more than 50 years of armed conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels, the country is suffering one of the worst periods of violence in recent memory. The rise in violence is attributable to attacks against social leaders, human rights defenders, and ex-combatants participating in the peace program and to violent murders of civilians, such as the August 11th murder of five Young Afro-Colombian men in the Llano Verde neighborhood of Cali.

According to the Ideas for Peace Foundation (Indepaz), 287 murders of rights defenders have taken place this year as of December 7th. Indepaz reports that 688 such murders have taken place during the current administration of President Ivan Duque and a total of 1,086 have occurred since the signing of the Peace Accords. Colombian civil society continues to call for an urgent response on the part of the State, but President Duque’s government persists in prioritizing its own policy of “Peace with Legality” above the implementation of the Accords. This policy neglects vital elements of building sustainable peace, particularly women’s rights and the rights of ethnic minorities, which had been enshrined in the Accords’ groundbreaking “Ethnic Chapter.”

Repression of civil society

In Cuba, repression of activists, journalists, artists, and human rights defenders has increased as the government uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for restricting the activities of independent civil society. Short-term detentions, raids and searches, confiscations of property, summary trials, and arbitrary criminal charges such as “contempt” or “public disorder” are all wielded against civil society leaders.

In Nicaragua, where the human rights crisis of April 2018 has not yet abated, authorities continue to persecute those who dissent from the current government. In the context of a public health and economic crisis sparked by COVID-19, this repression severely harms Nicaraguans’ fundamental rights. Currently, 109 people remain behind bars as political prisoners stemming from protests. Two recent laws (the Law on Foreign Agents and the Special La won Cybercrime) and the recent effort to punish “hate crimes” with life imprisonment pose acute threats to the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.

Nicaraguan authorities continue to wield repression against those who demand accountability and respect for human rights. Along with their families, these rights defenders are threatened, monitored, and at times prevented from moving freely by the police. Meanwhile, an average of 40 violations of freedom of the press, including both physical attacks and persecution in the courts, are recorded each month.

On International Human Rights Day, Race and Equality reaffirms our commitment to building the capacities of in-country organizations to document human rights violations, defend their rights before the Inter-American and United Nations human rights systems, and advocate for reforms that will lead to the full enjoyment of human rights for all, without discrimination. We call upon all States to comply with their obligations to protect and promote human rights, obligations that are more pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic than ever.

We commit to continue our work advancing human rights for all people in the countries where we work, regardless of their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political beliefs. We salute the efforts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN treaty bodies, and the special procedures of the UN human rights system, and express our hope that they will remain steadfast in their work.


[1] Pico y género, which was also implemented in other parts of the region, called for women and men to leave the house on alternating days

No more silence: Reclaiming our voice on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

Washington D.C., May 17. This May 17 marks 30 years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, a global milestone that accelerated progress in the recognition of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI). On this date, we commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a day to draw attention to the violence and discrimination that LGBTI people still suffer in our societies.

This year the promoted theme is “breaking the silence,” inviting people from the LGBTI community to no longer be afraid to express their sexual orientation or gender identity to their family or to others in their social circles. The commemoration this year is also framed within a global health crisis generated by COVID-19, which has intensified structural discrimination and evidenced the prejudices that persist in our society.

Historically, the LGBTI population has been stigmatized by a heteronormative society that has not allowed their participation in public spaces. The commemoration of this day is vital to bring to light all the acts of discrimination that endure in our societies and to denounce violence against people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.


“To break the silence is to give a voice to those who have had theirs silenced by stigma, discrimination, social exclusion, and the constant violations of rights that remain in impunity because of States’ lack of political will. To break the silence is to shout with evidence a truth that our States, in most cases, do not want to show or do not take into account. Breaking the silence is saying we are, we exist, and we have rights.”

The fight for equality and justice is a daily job for many people.  It is not just about commemorating this day, but rather it is a fight that persists throughout every day of the year.


Santiago Balvín Gutiérrez, explains to us the importance of being able to raise his voice as a trans person: “Breaking the silence has enabled my body to speak, my insides to speak, and my experiences speak. They do not remain silent because my life, and the lives of my trans sisters and brothers, do not deserve to be silence because they are different. Breaking the silence means to me that every feeling of oppression is also broken and seeks freedom for everyone, the same freedom that I began to feel when I chose to be myself.”

In recent weeks, we have witnessed latent and structural discrimination in the implementation of public policies by States and their institutions in response to COVID-19 that have exacerbated inequalities. The absence of public policies with a gender focus and the lack of training and awareness of public authorities has reproduced patterns of violence and acts of discrimination against LGBTI people. In many cases, the social distancing policies adopted by States did not consider the poverty, marginalization, and violence that people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identity face on a daily basis. By failing to do so, they exposed this group to harm.

The enactment of “pico y género” in different countries caused serious human rights violations, especially for the trans population. Their vulnerability is on the rise, as they face not only abuse of power by law enforcement, but also unemployment and domestic violence. Many have had to post pone name change trials, postponing a necessary step to protecting their gender identity, and others lack access to medical centers to receive hormone treatment or other medical necessities due to the pandemic.


Today more than ever, it is necessary to take differentiated and specific actions for the LGBTI population, with forceful strategies to stop cases of abuse and systematic human rights violations of all diverse people. Franklin Quiñones, from the Fundación Arcoíris de Tumaco, believes that breaking the silence implies “making visible and / or denouncing any act of discrimination and / or violence against people with diverse sexual orientations such as the LGBTI population,” which can be achieved “by supporting us in the use of all existing legal human rights protection and communication tools.”


Likewise, Sandra Arizabaleta, from the organization Somos Identidad in Cali in Colombia, explains that: “it is urgent to break the silence so that we use all community and legal mechanisms in order to enable the free development of the lives of LGBTI people. You can (and should) love beyond a role assignment and genitality.”

The violation of the fundamental rights of LGBTI people is heightened when the effects are combined with other scenarios and realities of the same or worse condition.

The violation of the fundamental rights of LGBTI people is heightened when the effects are combined with other scenarios and realities of the same or worse condition.

LGBTI people who are also members of other marginalized populations experience a different form of discrimination and rights violations. Examples of this are people of African descent with diverse gender identities and expressions who live with extreme violence, without support from the State, in poverty, and without access to basic health services, education, and employment. “Regions such as the Colombian Pacific, where a greater number of Afro-descendants live, are far from being protected with measures that use an intersectional approach,” adds Sandra of Somos Identidad.

The health crisis caused by COVID-19 has shown that despite advances in human rights for the LGBTI population, there are still great gaps and challenges that can only be overcome with the political action of States to guarantee human rights with a differential focus. “In times of crisis, it becomes clear who are leaders and who are not, and bad leadership will tend to exacerbate difficulties for the most vulnerable populations,” says Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of Race and Equality.

“For thousands of people around the world, breaking the silence often means remaining silent. Shouts occur when small gestures can go unnoticed, simple looks demand light or even a weak voice hesitates to echo in certain spaces. To be heard, sometimes we need to be vigilant because there is no point in breaking the silence if there is no one to listen to us, if there are no spaces with sharp ears to capture sounds, but rather gestures, looks. The power to break the silence is only effective when there is the power to listen. Otherwise, we will spend a lifetime wanting to have ‘meaning’,” explains Mariah Rafaela, Research Coordinator at the Conexão G Group of LGBT Citizenship in Favelas in Brazil.

Race and Equality, along with the LGBTI civil society organizations with which we work, urges Latin American States to:

– Take measures to prevent violence, with a differentiated perspective that considers the historical discrimination suffered by Afro-LGBI and trans people.

– Open a dialogue for monitoring the context of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity together with civil society.

– Provide trainings to State officials on these issues.

– Include LGBTI people in emergency health planning. LGBTI representatives and voices need to be included, as well as sex workers, in all social protection plans, especially in access to emergency income.

Finally, it is an obligation of States to join us in breaking the silence against discrimination, violence, and indifference through affirmative actions that guarantee the recognition of the rights of LGBTI people.

Race and Equality launches practical guide for requesting precautionary measures at the IACHR

Washington, DC.  May 8, 2020.  The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) has released “Precautionary Measures at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Function and Process,” a manual to assist activists and human rights defenders with the process of soliciting precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

“This educational tool can provide support to civil society organizations who face the risk of serious human rights violations when they prepare requests,” remarked Carlos Quesada, Race and Equality’s Executive Director.

The guide consists of two documents: one aimed at attorneys and legal experts, and an illustrated guide that follows four characters through the process of requesting and receiving precautionary measures, designed to explain the steps of the process to grassroots activists.

“We assembled this guide to ensure that activists who lack experience in the Inter-American legal system can access the precautionary measures process. For each step of the process, the guide provides the reader with a ‘theory review’ where the illustrated characters explain what each step implies and a ‘practical review’ that explains the steps of preparing and filling out each requirement. All the cases used as examples in the guide were created as educational examples; in no way do they correspond to real cases,” explains Christina Fetterhoff, Senior Legal Program Officer.

The guide, now available to download from Race and Equality’s website at, aims to build capacity among users of the Inter-American Human Rights System and in so doing strengthen the System as a whole.

According to Caitlin Kelly, Legal Program Officer for Latin America, “Precautionary measures are a vital tool for protecting human rights and for taking concrete steps to protect people at risk of fundamental rights violations. Race and Equality strives to make this tool and the Inter-American system as a whole more accessible to grassroots activists in the region, as part of our broader efforts to allow these activists to take the lead in demanding their own rights. We hope that it will be very useful to our partners.”

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights is an organization that works with organizations and activists in Latin America to protect and promote the human rights of marginalized populations, particularly people suffering rights violations due to their race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Race and Equality provides capacity-building to grassroots organizations so that they can become effective political actors and promote structural changes in their home countries.

Race and Equality calls on Latin American States for more inclusive measures to be taken for transgender people

Washington D.C., March 31st 2020. Today we commemorate the International Transgender Visibility Day, a day to celebrate transgender lives and raise awareness about the discrimination this population faces. On this day, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), wants to give visibility to the issues transgender people face throughout Latin America.

All over the world, racism and other forms of discrimination marginalize and ostracize the trans population. This makes access to health services, education, work, and housing extremely difficult.  Unfortunately, States limited disaggregated data on the situation of trans people rendering them invisible from groups targeted for public policies designated to support vulnerable situations, especially in Latin America. Combined, these factors place them in vulnerable situations where they are more susceptible to different illnesses, addictions, and violence.

Violence against the trans community in Latin America

The trans community continues to face severe incidents of violence. For example, Brazil remains the leading country in trans homicides around the world with 127 registered cases[1], closely followed by Colombia who ranks third, with 21 recorded crimes against this population[2].  According to data collected by the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals (ANTRA) in Brazil, there was a 90% increase in the first bimester of this year (38) compared to the same period last year (20).[3] According to these statistics, in some countries, to identify as trans is to sign a death sentence.

In Perú, the trans community continues to face large amounts of violence and discrimination. During the 2020 congressional elections, Gahela Cari, the first transgender candidate to run for Congress in Peru, tried to cast her vote when a member of the National Jury of Elections (JNE) refused to recognize her gender identity. Similarly, members of the polling station in Lambayeque harassed Fiorella Mimbela, an LGBTI+ activist, when her legal name and image were spread around social media networks.[4] These are not isolated acts but part of a wider pattern of rejection and violence the Peruvian trans community faces.

In the Dominican Republic, LGBTI organizations have recorded around 48 transgender homicides since 2006. Out of these 48 only 5 have verdicts, demonstrating the trans community not only faces high levels of violence but also faces barriers in access to justice. A more recent case shows that strangers are not always the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Willianny, a trans woman, had both her hair and breasts cut off by her own family members before her funeral, a repudiation of her identity. One LGBT activist, Yimbert Feliz Telemin, commented that “in the Dominican Republic being trans is worse than being a street dog.”[5]

Continual work must be done in order to combat the discrimination and violence against the trans population. Race and Equality calls on all Latin American and Caribbean States to sign and ratify the Inter-American Convention Against all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance[6] and, for States that have not done so, legally recognize the gender identity of trans and non-binary people in accordance with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Advisory Opinion 24-17[7]. Additionally, we remind States that many members of the trans community are sex workers and depend on their profession to survive. We call on States to safeguard their rights and guarantee they will not be the object of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

Gender Identity

Much of the discrimination against the trans population is also created from the lack of recognition of their identity.  As ANTRA describes it, it is not only the denial of their name, but their identity, “an appropriation by a society that frequently prefers to expose rather than welcome.”[8] Oftentimes, countries such as the Dominican Republic do not allow trans people to legally change their name while other countries place hurdles such as high costs, long bureaucratic processes, or as in Peru, require the process to be through the courts. Having the correct documentation is just the first step of many to demarginalize trans people from different public spaces. 

In countries where name recognition is legal, there continue to be issues with the lack of information regarding the process, both in relation to the necessary procedures and what to do in cases of discrimination. In rural areas all these issues are exacerbated. Bruna Benavides from ANTRA in Brazil notes that there is little investment in training or capacity building programs for trans leaders, so that they can provide the necessary assistance for people to complete the rectification of their documents.

Trans people during the pandemic

In collaboration with our partners we also ask for the inclusion of trans people in all public policies created due to COVID-19, not only at the local and state level, but also at a federal level, especially those developed to aid low-income, self-employed, and unemployed people. During this time, the stigma and discrimination against the trans population has become more visible. We call on States to guarantee their access to health and put in place protocols that will ensure they are treated humanely and not discriminated against because of their gender identity.

[1] Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais do Brasil (ANTRA); Instituto Brasileiro Trans de educação (IBTE). “Dossiê Assassinatos e violência contra travestis e transexuais no Brasil em 2019”. 2020.


[3]Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais do Brasil (ANTRA); Instituto Brasileiro Trans de educação (IBTE). “Dossiê Assassinatos e violência contra travestis e transexuais no Brasil em 2019”. 2020.



[6] To date only Uruguay and Mexico have signed and ratified this Convention. Avaiable at:


[8] Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais do Brasil (ANTRA); Instituto Brasileiro Trans de educação (IBTE). “Dossiê Assassinatos e violência contra travestis e transexuais no Brasil em 2019” 2020.

March 21: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Message from Carlos Quesada, executive director of Race and Equality

Washington DC, 2020, May 21st. Today we commemorate once again the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a day that we at the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), take as an opportunity to remember our universal rights to equality and non-discrimination. This message must be echoed in a context of growing intolerance, hate, and superiority speech that do not contribute to the development and well-being of our society.

We have been commemorating this day since 1966, in memory of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, when police opened fire and killed 69 people who were protesting peacefully against the Apartheid Pass Laws. Since then, racial discrimination has subsided considerably in Africa and also in Latin America.

This year, Mexico ratified the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance, thus joining Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Antigua and Barbuda; and also ratified the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, which entered into force with this ratification.

Also in Mexico, the inclusion of the Afro-descendant self-identification question was achieved for the first time in the 2020 Census. However, it was included late in the process, so Afro-Mexican organizations had to start their awareness campaigns just a few months before the census, which is being carried out this month. Currently, the campaign continues with great force led by the Collective to Eliminate Racism in Mexico (COPERA, for its initials in Spanish) along with Race and Equality and in alliance with some government agencies and Afro-Mexican organizations.

In Panama, we are concerned that the census scheduled for May 2020 was postponed until the first quarter of 2021, due to delays with the bidding process. This implied that all progress made on the 2020 Census was suspended, and adjustments to the next steps represent a great challenge. This is because there are several actions that must be carried out such as updating the budget, cartography, and identifying and hiring personnel, among many other duties. However, this period has allowed for the promotion of self-identification among Afro-descendants in both rural and urban communities.

In Colombia, the number of social leaders assassinated in 2019 was alarming: at least 253, of which 91 were Afro-descendant and indigenous leaders, according to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ, for its initials in Spanish). Patterns of structural racial discrimination continue to prevent Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities from having effective enjoyment of their economic, social, and cultural rights compared to the rest of the Colombian society. It is a matter of concern that given this situation, the Colombian government has not guaranteed an adequate statistical estimate of the Afro-Colombian population. This is reflected in the 2018 Census, where the black, palenquera and raizal population was reduced by 31% compared to the 2005 Census. The Government is also not offering the conditions needed for the implementation of the Peace Agreement with an ethnic-differential approach.

In Brazil, between January and February 2020, 38 trans women were killed, of whom 75% were Afro-Brazilian. This figure is particularly worrisome because it is 90% higher compared to last year’s figures. In general, most LGBT crimes are committed against Afro-descendants, according to data from the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals (ANTRA, for its initials in Portuguese).

In Cuba, there is still no implementation plan for the International Decade for People of African Descent. We have managed to document that the majority of the activists who are victims repression by the Cuban Government are Afro-descendants, such as Juan Antonio Madrazo, Marthadela Tamayo or Nancy Alfaya. From the State’s side, there is no opening to recognize the existence of racial discrimination on the island.

From Race and Equality, we will continue to make visible, fight, and denounce the marginalization and injustices that Afro-descendant populations face in the Americas. We will continue to work, especially in the company of our counterparts in the region, who, from their communities, contribute to tehe construction of a more equal society.

On International Women’s Day, Race and Equality Honors the Work of Women Human Rights Defenders

To mark March 8, International Women’s Day, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wishes to highlight the fundamental role played by women human rights defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a region where rates of sexual and gender-based violence against women are extremely high and multiple forms of discrimination are entrenched, women human rights defenders are key in the fight for the defense of women’s human rights. Likewise, they are at the vanguard of promoting and protecting the rights of others.

Although the vast majority of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),[1] women in the region continue to suffer inequalities that negatively impact their full enjoyment of human rights. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), more than 3,800 women in 33 countries in the region were murdered because of their gender in 2019.[2] This violence stems from structural inequalities which profoundly affect all women, but especially women members of historically marginalized groups like Afro-descendants and the LGBTI community. For example, according to the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean, and Diaspora Women, Afro-descendant women are victims of multiple forms of violence, which is often racialized. Likewise, the current discourse on gender ideology in the region, driven by in large part by conservative religious groups, has led to more discrimination against lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans women, as well as more hate crimes and murders. Finally, poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, as in other regions in the world, has a feminine face, as women are less likely to have access to higher education and work outside of the home than their male counterparts. When women do work outside of the home, they are paid, on average, 17% less than men.[3] All of these factors make the work of women human rights defenders of utmost importance. But, they are also facing some grave challenges.

In Colombia, where the post-Peace Accord reality for human rights defenders is startlingly alarming due to the high rate of murders of defenders and impunity for those murders, women human rights defenders are among the most vulnerable. As the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently documented, the number of women human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2019 increased by 50% over the 2018 number.[4] Afro-descendant and rural women defenders are at generally greater risk, just as they suffer greater vulnerabilities in terms of overall enjoyment of their human rights.

In Cuba, independent women activists are facing an increase in repression and de facto house arrests, as well as reprisals and threats against themselves and their family members. Travel restrictions arbitrarily imposed by the Cuban government routinely prevent independent activists from participating in advocacy activities outside of the island and the application of these against women continues to grow. Furthermore, Cuban women are clamoring for an Integral Law against Gender Violence – a proposal which has been rejected by the National Assembly – and they continue to face difficulties in accessing decent, well-paying jobs.

In Nicaragua, the crisis that began in April 2018 has had a profound impact on women. Women human rights defenders, such as the Mothers of April, have played an important role in the opposition movement, as many have lost their children to the violence of the crisis. There has also been an overall increase in violence against women and femicides, as a result of the crisis. Furthermore, women in Nicaragua also face disproportionate economic consequences due to the crisis, as many have been left as heads of households, with male family members killed, imprisoned, or fired from their jobs because of their political ties.

In Brazil, the situation of violence against women is extremely concerning, especially against Afro-descendant and trans women. Our partners have documented that in the first two months of the year 38 trans women have been killed in the country.[5] This high level of violence makes the work of women human rights defenders – especially those working on behalf of diverse communities of women – all the more difficult and important.

Race and Equality calls on all Latin American and Caribbean States to honor the human rights commitments they have made under CEDAW and other applicable international human rights treaties, to respect and protect the rights of women. We likewise reiterate our support for women human rights defenders, especially those of our partner organizations and in the countries where we work, who so courageously and tirelessly fight to promote and defend the rights of women and others in the region on a daily basis. We thank you and assure you that you are not alone in your work towards a safer, more just, and equitable society for all.

[1] OHCHR. Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard: CEDAW, (last accessed Mar. 4, 2020).

[2] ECLAC. Measuring femicide: challenges and efforts to bolster the process in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nov. 2019, available at:

[3] UN News. More women in Latin America are working, but gender gap persists, new UN figures show, Oct. 28, 2019, available at:

[4] UN News. Colombia: ‘Staggering number’ of human rights defenders killed in 2019, Jan. 14, 2020, available at:

[5] See

VIDEO: For the inclusion of the Afro-Panamanian people in the 2020 Census!

The situation of Afro-descendant peoples in Latin America cannot be understood without reference to structural practices of racism and discrimination that underlie the social, economic and political contexts of most countries in the region. Violence, poverty, unemployment and lack of guarantees of access to health, education and decent housing all affect the lives of Afro-descendant communities. Most of these challenges go unrecognized by regional governments due to a lack of statistical data that could shed light on the cycles of exclusion affecting Afro-descendants. Without this data, there can be no plans, projects or public policies to guarantee the full exercise of Afro-descendants’ fundamental rights.

According to data from Panama’s National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) gathered in recent household survey exercises in preparation for the 2020 census, the Afro-Panamanian population has increased from 9.2% to 24.5% of the country’s total population over the last ten years.

In response to this change, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), along with multiple Afro-Panamanian civil society organizations, has been working for the defense, promotion and recognition of Afro-descendant rights in Panama. We have carried out this work through projects that increase the visibility of Afro-descendant communities, strengthen self- and communal identification and increase the effectiveness of guaranteed rights in Panama. The inclusion of the Afro-descendant population in the upcoming 2020 Population and Housing Census is vital for complete recognition of the Afro-Panamanian community. The census is also a fundamental arena for participation and empowerment, allowing communities to identify the problems that affect them and to demand the attention of the Panamanian State.

To guarantee real and effective participation of Afro-Panamanians in the 2020 census, Afro-Panamanian social organizations, with the support of Race and Equality, have launched an awareness-raising campaign for Afro-descendant people. This campaign encompasses a training strategy that facilitates dialogue and empowerment, helping Afro-Panamanians to understand the importance of their participation and the impact of the census on their human rights.

“Certainly, the 2010 census did not yield accurate and precise data on the reality of Afro-Panamanian peoples: according to the census, that year only 9% of the population recognized themselves as Afro-descendants, a situation that left us deeply concerned because this did not correspond to the reality. After investigating and analyzing the situation, we realized that many people either did not understand the term ‘Afro-Panamanian’ or did not identify with it. We therefore determined that the under-counting was due to a lack of understanding of the ethnic identity question and to the survey designer’s lack of knowledge in writing the question. For that reason, during this census we are explaining that there are many different terms to describe ‘Afro-descendant Panamanian” -Afro-Panamanian leader.

In order to guarantee recognition and inclusion for Afro-Panamanian people by ensuring that they understand the census question on ethnic/racial identity, or the “Afro-descendant question” as some people call it, we have produced an audiovisual material entitled “Afro-Panamanian 2020 Census.” This tool that will be promoted across social networks in order to increase public knowledge of the different ethnic groups and ethnicity categories that will be used during the census.

We invite you to share this video to ensure the inclusion of the Afro-Panamanian people in the results of the 2020 census.

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) will continue to work for the fundamental rights of Afro-Panamanians, seeking to ensure recognition, respect and guarantees for their rights in order to build an inclusive and equitable nation.

UN renews crucial mandate for protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

This is another historic victory, not only for communities of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, but for humanity as a whole.”

(Geneva, July 12, 2019) – In a defining vote, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert focusing on the protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 27  in favor, with 12 voting against and 7 abstentions.

The campaign calling on the Council to renew the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on SOGI was supported by 1,312 non-governmental organizations from 174 States and territories.

This is another historic victory, not only for communities of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, but for humanity as a whole”, said Paula Sebastiao of Arquivo de Identidade Angolano in Angola and Simran Shaikh, Asia coordinator of the Trans Respect v. Transphobia project, on behalf of 60 human rights groups worldwide. “Following the call from a record number of organizations from every region imaginable, the UN Human Rights Council has reaffirmed its commitment to combat discrimination and violence on grounds of SOGI, and has reminded all states of their obligations towards these communities.”

Created in 2016, the UN Independent Expert on SOGI has been supported by an ever-growing number of States from all regions of the world. The resolution to create and renew the mandate was presented by a Core Group of seven Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay.

“The renewal of this mandate demonstrates how United Nations States’ support for tackling violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities has grown tremendously,” said UN Trans Advocacy Week campaigners. “The Independent Expert is crucial in bringing international attention to specific violations and challenges faced by trans and gender-diverse persons in all regions.”

Although the renewal process had to overcome 10 hostile amendments, the core of the resolution in affirming the universal nature of international human rights law stands firm.

“The existence of a specific UN human rights mechanism looking at SOGI issues is crucial for our communities to be heard at the global level,” added Ryan Silverio of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus from the Philippines. “If the world is truly committed to leaving no one behind, it can’t shy away from addressing the violence and discrimination that we face. Laws criminalizing our identities and actions are unjust, and should no longer be tolerated”.

The UN Independent Expert on SOGI is tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, by talking to States, and working collaboratively with other UN and regional mechanisms to address violence and discrimination. Through the work of this mandate since 2016, the impact of criminalization of same-sex relations and lack of legal gender recognition, the importance of data-collection specific to SOGI communities, and examples of good practices to prevent discrimination have been highlighted globally, with visits to Argentina, Georgia, Mozambique and Ukraine.

The International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights celebrates the renewal of this mandate as essential in the protection of human rights for Afro individuals with diverse SOGI. In consequence, it is rewarding to count with an Independent Expert who is bound to face the multiple and intersectional forms of violence and discrimination by SOGI, such as those motivated by racial prejudices.

We hope that all governments cooperate fully with the UN Independent Expert on SOGI in this important work to bring about a world free from violence and discrimination for all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We are very thankful to the seven States in the Core Group who tabled the resolution to renew the mandate” said Andrea Ayala from El Salvador. “Their support comes at a crucial moment in our region, where any sign of progress on inclusion and equality is being countered with violence, persecution and hate speech, a dangerous rhetoric about ‘gender ideology’ and sometimes blatant opposition to the rights of our communities”.

Organisations signing the statement:

42 Degrees
Accountability International
Amnesty International
ARC International
Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN)
Asistencia Legal por los Derechos Humanos A.C. (ASILEGAL)
Asociación OTD Chile
Caribe Afirmativo
CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality
COC Nederland
Colectivo Alejandria
Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA)
Conurbanes por la Diversidad- Argentina
Egale Canada
Equality Australia
ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey
Fundación Afrodescendiente por las Diversiades Sociales y Sexuales – SOMOS IDENTIDAD
Fundacion Arcoiris por el respeto a la diversidad sexual
Fundación Reflejos de Venezuela
Gender DynamiX
Haus of Khameleon
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia
Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum
Human Rights Law Centre
ILGA World
ILGALAC – Asociación Internacional de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales, Trans e Intersex para América Latina y El Caribe
International Family Equality Day
International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
International Service for Human Rights
Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights (KLPH)
Las Reinas Chulas Cabaret y Derechos Humanos AC
LGBTI Support Center
LSVD Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany
Namibia Diverse Women’s Association (NDWA)
ODRI Intersectional rights
OutRight Action International
Pacific Human Rights Initiative
People’s Matrix
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
Planet Ally
Red Latinoamericana GayLatino
REDTRANS Nicaragua
RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights
RWS – India’s Diverse Chamber
Stichting NNID
Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights
The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
the Transgender Liberation Front(abbr. TLF)
Trans Pasefika
TransAction (Aotearoa / New Zealand)
Valientes de Corazón Ecuador
Young Queer Alliance

Race and Equality Recognizing the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Message from Carlos Quesada – Executive Director Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

Today, March 21st, we again commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In observing what is happening in the world and in our continent, I can only think about how discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance are gaining ground. They are highly present in the media, in politics, in our societies and in our daily lives. Fighting for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, xenophobia, homophobia, and intolerance is one of the fundamental pillars to promote social cohesion, the right to live, and diversity.

I want to call attention to the fact that in our continent, only three countries have ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Intolerance: Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Antigua and Barbuda. It is imperative that the rest of the States in the region truly assume the commitment to combat, punish, and eliminate this scourge that eats away at our societies. We urge States to sign and ratify this important Inter-American instrument, especially as a part of the Action Plans they should develop during the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 – 2024).

We cannot allow Afro-descendants in the Americas to continue being the most marginalized populations and the most affected by the structural racism that is reflected in few state investments, high rates of illiteracy, under-representation in decision-making bodies, and under-representation within the system of administration of justice. Young Afro-descendants continue to be victims of racial profiling and police brutality. Afro-descendant women continue to have little access to health and education, which perpetuates high levels of poverty.

States are preparing to begin a new census round (2020) where we hope not only to have quanitifiable data on how many Afro-descendants there are, but also on the socioeconomic conditions of these populations. States must use this data to make a better use of their resources and invest in the most impoverished areas, which coincide with the areas in which Afro-descendants live.

In this second decade of the 21st century, it has become clear that Afro-descendants, thanks to their resilience, expect more than good intentions: they expect real structural changes. More Afro-descendant academics, politicians, professionals, and businesspeople have demonstrated not only the contributions they have made to their countries, but also that they are part of, have built, and will continue to build the identities of the countries where they live, from Canada to Argentina. This is true whether they are called black, African-Americans, Afro-latinos, palenqueros, raizales, o pretos!

From Race and Equality, we will continue to make visible, combat, and denounce the scourge of racial discrimination and other related forms of intolerance together with our partners in the hemisphere, who with their experience and struggle have made progress at both the national and international level.


On March 8, 2019, in commemoration of International Women’s Day, the International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race & Equality) remembers and stands with the struggle of all women throughout the world for recognition and guarantees of their rights.

Despite the many efforts and clear progress made in the area of rights to improve the state of women in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially as regards the closure of gender gaps, and guarantee women’s real and effective access to health, education, employment, and political and economic participation, the huge challenge remains of overcoming the inequities that persist in virtually all spheres, particularly  when dealing with women who are racialized, ethnic, rural, or have diverse gender identities.

According to the data provided by Michelle Bachelet, the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an article entitled The State of Women in Latin America: 25 Years of Light and Shadows, 9,300 women die every year from causes related to pregnancy and their deficient gynecological-obstetric practices.  For every 100 men who live in poverty, 118 women live in a similar state, a figure that accounts for a systematic increase in poverty among women in the region since 1997 and up to the present day.

Despite the fact that women’s participation in the labor market has made notable strides, women continue to be a minority presence, marked by a series of “micro-aggressions” related to gender parity, the reason for which, according to CEPAL, women’s participation in the labor market has stalled at around 53%, and the 78.1% of women who work are in sectors defined by CEPAL as having low productivity, entailing worse remuneration, low social security coverage, and less contact with technology and innovation.

As regards women’s political participation, the challenge remains to increasing the presence of women in spaces of power to thereby transform the patriarchal structures that make it impossible for women to have a presence in governments, the management of public and private businesses, and in the development of laws.  “As long as we are not allowed to be decision-makers [or] participate in spaces of power, the possibility of leveling the playing field and building our societies under equal conditions will be a utopia,” notes the chief.  

In the area of gender-based violence, Latin America and the Caribbean continue to present the highest rate of assaults against women, ranked 14 among the 25 countries with the highest indices of femicide in the world.  Approximately 2,100 women are assassinated every year (six per day and 175 every month) for the simple fact of being women, according to what Bachelet indicated.

The foregoing provides a quick glance at the state of women’s rights in the region; nonetheless, a series of factors that run contrary to them have cross-cut the recognition of women’s diversity and the particularity of their conditions vis-à-vis the enforceability of rights; that is, rural women, Afro-descendant women, and those with diverse sexual and gender identities additionally confront other types of violence that we should make visible on this day.

According to the CEPAL report Afro-Descendant Women in Latin America and the Caribbean: Debts of Equality, the ‘visibilization’ of the historic presence of Afro-descendant women demands recognition of their concrete experience as women who live within a historical, social, and cultural context of slave-owning and racist societies.  Contexts, therefore, that deepen the inequities faced by Afro-descendant women as compared with other social groups, due to their ‘invisibilization’ as subjects of differentiated policies with particular impacts and thus, worrisome indices of poverty, little possibility to access healthcare, education, employment, and participation in decision-making spaces much lower that that of the rest of the population, further undermined by racist and discriminatory logic that is a product of the historical legacy manifested in the ways in which Afro-descendant peoples develop in society.

Something similar occurs with lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex women who throughout history have confronted physical and symbolic violence incorporated into the social group that makes it impossible for their sexual and gender identities to be recognized and thus, have their fundamental rights guaranteed.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), persons who self-identify as having an identity that differs from cisgender (socially concordant with the sex assigned at birth) or are socially recognized [as such], suffer from innumerable human rights violations.  In particular, in Latin America women are the recipients of a series of violent acts on the part of male chauvinists who stigmatize and/or pigeonhole them in roles in which they are not allowed to freely express themselves and recognize their identity.  It is thus that on average, the life expectancy of trans women is no greater than 30 years; their participation in the labor market lags behind, a high percentage of them work in the informal sector or as sexual workers, and they confront violent and complex processes for accessing health [and] education services and participating in spaces of decision-making and power.

We at Race & Equality call on all of the States of Latin America and the Caribbean to continue working to ensure guarantees and recognition of women’s rights.  Unquestionably, empowered women break the cycles of violence and poverty, decisive factors in making progress in consolidating societies that are more equitable and democratic.  To ensure that result, it is essential to continue working to break historically rooted patriarchal schemas, especially as they relate to women’s participation in decision-making spaces.

We urge the States to not lose sight of plurality and diversity in the construction of what it means to be a woman, in which it is essential to undertake affirmative actions that recognize Afro-descendant [and] rural women and women with diverse sexual and gender identities, in this way breaking the barriers that historically have systematically prevented the inclusion and participation of this group of women in social life and ensured that their future generations were subject to the same vicious cycle of inequality, racism, and discrimination.

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