On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, We Make an Urgent Call to Combat Religious Discrimination and Racism in the Americas

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, We Make an Urgent Call to Combat Religious Discrimination and Racism in the Americas

Washington DC, March 21, 2024.– As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) urgently calls on States to adopt measures to combat growing manifestations of religious discrimination and racism in the Americas, which significantly affect racialized population groups, such as Afro-descendants and Indigenous peoples.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, these groups face persistent challenges in expressing their sacred, ancestral, and cultural traditions without facing restrictions, stigma, repudiation, or violence. These reprisals include the persecution of members, as well as violence against places of worship and religious symbols associated with these traditions. Religious discrimination and racism can also manifest itself through stereotypes and prejudices that denigrate the beliefs and practices of these people, thus perpetuating their exclusion and marginalization.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) states that, in the case of the Afro-descendant population, their cultural identity encompasses the preservation of ancestral knowledge and the conservation of their historical legacy, so that traditions and beliefs such as the religions Lumbalú, Candomblé, Abakuá, Umbanda, Hoodoo, among others, which have their roots in Africa, are an intangible part of the heritage of the African diaspora and are part of the social process of resistance developed by enslaved people in the Americas.

In the case of Indigenous peoples, in terms of the right to freedom of religion or belief, the United Nations refers to a more diverse and complex spectrum of cultures and beliefs, since in line with their right to self-determination, Indigenous peoples are free to define and determine their own spiritual identity, according to the report “Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief”, presented in October 2022 by the then-Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed.

“Many conceptualize spirituality as a ‘way of life’: the shaping of distinctive emotions, habits, practices or virtues, the modeling of distinct beliefs and ways of thinking, and a particular way of living and communicating. Spirituality is therefore related to the transcendent and is intrinsic to the everyday experiences and practices of Indigenous peoples. Beyond its uniqueness, Indigenous spirituality and culture are often based on community, identity, and relationships with traditional lands,” the report details.

A Growing Problem Rooted in Racial Discrimination

The fact that Afro-descendant and Indigenous populations are the most affected by religious discrimination and racism is intrinsically related to the racial discrimination and systemic racism that persists in the Americas. 

In the recent webinar “The Legacy of African Religious Practices and the Social Biases and Prejudices They Face”—organized by the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the framework of the VII Week of People of African Descent in the Americas—representatives of civil society associated the rejection, persecution, and even criminalization of these practices to historical processes loaded with ignorance, stigmatization, and prejudice as they are not considered “civilized”.

The IACHR reports repeated denunciations of persecution and attacks against the life and integrity of leaders and practitioners of religions of African origin in different states of the region, as well as complaints of the destruction of temples and sacred spaces of Afro-descendant communities. In Brazil, Race and Equality is aware of cases of religious intolerance against religions of African origin that have triggered legal conflicts, with the disturbing result that practitioners have lost custody of their children.

In Bahia, the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Racial Equality registered 19 cases of religious racism between January and July 21, 2021, representing 65% of the total cases reported in 2020. Similarly, in Rio de Janeiro, the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR) received reports of 19 cases against religions of African origin, including two involving children, as of May of the same year.

On the other hand, in Mexico, a report by the organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reveals that Indigenous women in this country suffer more religious discrimination than their male relatives. Women who refuse to join the majority Roman Catholic faith face harassment and exclusion from the justice system, government benefit programs and services, and prenatal health care.

The report notes that although the Mexican Constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief and other human rights to all its citizens, in practice, violations are common in certain regions: in particular, for Indigenous communities governed by the Law of Uses and Customs.

Standards in the Framework of International Law

Within the Inter-American System, the right to freedom of religion and belief is enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article III) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 12). Within the Universal Human Rights System, it is stipulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has been further developed in the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, in 1981.

One of the most noteworthy Inter-American instruments on the subject is the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI), which states that States must prevent, prohibit, and punish any restriction or limitation on the use of people’s language, traditions, customs, and culture in public or private activities.

The “Study on Freedom of Religion and Belief: Inter-American Standards,” by the IACHR, unveils a broad framework for the protection of this right, where it also highlights instruments and jurisprudence applicable to Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. It also points out the vulnerability of some groups, such as LGBTI persons, children and adolescents, human rights defenders, and persons deprived of liberty, and therefore provides an additional set of aspects of the right to freedom of religion and belief in relation to them.

A Call to Action

Race and Equality has integrated the fight against religious discrimination and racism into its lines of work. Since 2021, in Brazil, we have been developing a project aimed at promoting religious tolerance and the reduction of violence and discrimination against practitioners of Afro-descendant religions, through the strengthening of Afro-Brazilian organizations so that they can document cases of violence based on religious beliefs, prepare them for strategic international litigation, and foster a culture of respect for religious freedom, in addition to training entities so that they can provide legal support to victims of this scourge. Meanwhile, in Cuba, we are supporting the preparation of the report “Obstacles Faced by Leaders and Members of Afro-Cuban Religions in Cuba.”

Based on human rights principles, and considering that discrimination and religious racism are growing problems in the region, Race and Equality calls on the States of the Americas to adopt measures to address and contain it, one of the most vital being the ratification and implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance. In terms of monitoring, it is important to have statistics and qualitative information on the religious and cultural practices of people of African descent and Indigenous peoples. It is also important to promote information free of prejudices and stigmas regarding these practices and, of course, to sanction any action that hinders them and implies a violation of the human rights of their followers.

Dominican Republic: Civil Society Delegation Present at The UPR Pre-Session

Geneva, March 4, 2024 – A Dominican civil society delegation participated in the Pre-session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held on Friday, February 16, 2024, in Geneva, Switzerland, with the technical support of the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality). The delegation was composed of Maria Martinez (Movimiento Socio Cultural de Trabajadores Haiti, MOSCTHA), Manuel Dandre (Red de Encuentro Dominicano-Haitiano Jacques Viau, Jacques Viau Network), Rosalba Diaz (Comunidad de Lesbianas Inclusivas Dominicanas, COLESDOM), Roberto Acevedo (Observatorio de Derechos Humanos para Grupos Vulnerabilizados, ODH-GV) and Jenny Morón (Movimiento de Mujeres Domínico-Haitianas, MUDHA), who were accompanied by Elvia Duque, Senior Race and Ethnicity Program Officer at Race and Equality.

During a week in the Swiss city, the delegation also had the opportunity to conduct advocacy by meeting with representatives of United Nations agencies and representatives of diplomatic missions, where they shared information about discrimination faced by some population groups in the Dominican Republic, in violation of their human rights.

Jenny Morón, of MUDHA, explained the situation of statelessness which, according to civil society estimates, affects more than 209,000 people and which has worsened as a result of Law 169-14, to the point that there are currently four groups whose human rights are affected in one way or another: 1) those who due to their surname and phenotypical characteristics are not associated with the Haitian population and have all their rights; 2) people who initially belonged to Group 1 but the State took away their nationality in 2013 for identifying some link with the Haitian population; 3) those who have been registered in the so-called Special Book (Registration Book for children of non-resident foreign mothers); and 4) those born in Dominican territory but who do not have any documentation or designation of nationality.

Activist Manuel Dandre, of the Jacques Viau Network, shared his experience as a person affected by Constitutional Tribunal ruling 168-13, because despite being born in the Dominican Republic, at the age of 55 the State changed his documents after identifying links with the Haitian population. “Those of us who find ourselves in Groups 2 and 3 have partial or no access to basic rights such as education, employment, transit, etc., and we are afraid of legislative changes that continue to diminish our rights,” he said.

Human rights defender María Martínez, of MOSCTHA, emphasized the crisis faced by the Dominican State in the labor area, with women and the stateless population being the most affected. According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, more than 95% of women in the country identify their workplaces as places of violence or harassment.

Likewise, activist Rosalba Diaz, from COLESDOM, highlighted that “the lack of legislation that guarantees protection to the LGBTI+ population has generated a great vulnerability of this population” emphasizing in her presentation “the constant cases of mutilation, stigma, and other cases of human rights violations faced by the intersex population even from a very young age, as well as the judicial patterns that undermine the custody rights of lesbian mothers in the Dominican Republic.”

Meanwhile, Roberto Acevedo, of ODH-GV, exposed the lack of access to employment and discrimination suffered by people with HIV/AIDS, because despite the existence of Law 135-11 – which provides for the privacy of information on HIV diagnosis – public institutions perform laboratory tests as part of the process of pre-selection of candidates for jobs, resulting in not employing people who test positive even if they have the necessary skills.

The delegation made a positive balance of the visit because in addition to making visible the crisis that the country is experiencing due to racist, xenophobic, and discriminatory policies, as well as positioning its recommendations, it served to warn about Law 1/2024, which creates a centralized body of the State, with the aim of protecting the interests of the nation and assessing internal and external threats against it. Civil society considers that this law generates the necessary tools to support the State in its work of criminalizing activists and human rights defenders, therefore, the delegation made a strong call to demand its repeal.

In addition, upon the return of the delegation to the Dominican Republic, the approval of Resolution No. 13, dated February 17, 2024, on the processing of birth registration of children of foreigners born in the Dominican Republic, was announced. After a few days of evaluation of this Resolution, at first glance it appears to be a possible solution to several of the issues addressed by this delegation in Geneva regarding the situation of statelessness, but upon a deeper analysis it generates concern because it does not benefit the population in condition of statelessness as it establishes the presentation of documents that they do not possess.

Below, we highlight some of the recommendations presented by this delegation during its advocacy tour at the UPR pre-session in Geneva:

  • Promote the creation of a technical roundtable to accompany, review, and implement the recommendations made in the UPR, with the participation of civil society, a member state of the Council, international organizations, and the Dominican State.
  • Promote a national law on equality and non-discrimination that prosecutes, criminalizes, and punishes racism and discrimination in all its forms.
  • Motivate the State to modify and/or eliminate any legislation, sentence, or provision that is not aligned with international treaties and agreements for the protection of human rights.
  • Motivate the State to sign, ratify, and implement the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI).
  • Prevent statelessness by creating clear, free, and expeditious mechanisms to benefit the victims of Judgment 168.13, given that Law 169.14 has not solved the problem caused by Judgment 168.13. In addition, ratify the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
  • Sensitize the authorities to avoid the criminalization of migration and to eliminate the policy of arrest, deportation, and expulsion based on racial profiling. In addition, take the necessary measures to ensure that no Dominican person is expelled from the national territory because of his or her skin color or descent.
  • Promote interculturality in the field of education and in the media.
  • Promote the protection of the human rights of women and girls in vulnerable situations.
  • Create legislation that integrates the benefits of Conventions 156, 190, and 189.
  • Promote and encourage the social integration of vulnerable groups (people living with HIV/AIDS, drug users) so that they can contribute to their community.
  • Motivate the elaboration and promulgation of the regulations for the application of Law 135-11 on HIV/AIDS, which 12 years later still does not have this important legal instrument.
  • Promote the strengthening of the role of the Ombudsman to promote and defend human rights regardless of gender, nationality, and creed.

Race and Equality thanks MUDHA, COLESDOM, and ODH-GV for obtaining their resources and joining the delegation initially composed of MOSCTHA and the Jacques Viau Network, and invites them to continue building together strategies to counteract the harsh reality that some populations live in the Dominican Republic. We also reiterate our commitment to fight against the different discriminations existing in this country hand in hand with the member organizations of the Jacques Viau Network and the NGO coalition CODHAJUR.


Pictured (from left to right): Elvia Duque (Race and Equality), María Martínez (MOSCTHA), Manuel Dandre (Jacques Viau Network), Rosalba Díaz (COLESDOM), Roberto Acevedo (ODH-GV), and Jenny Morón (MUDHA), in Room XXII, Building E of the United Nations. Geneva, Switzerland.

LGBTI+ Rights in Brazil: Impressions After the Visit of Roberta Clarke, IACHR Rapporteur

Brazil, October 9th, 2023 – In a promotional visit to Brazil facilitated by the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), Roberta Clarke, Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI People of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), had the opportunity to dialogue with civil society organizations and LGBTI+ activists from Brasília, Fortaleza, and Rio de Janeiro. During the visit, which took place from September 18th to 22nd, the IACHR Rapporteur was able to closely monitor the reality of the Brazilian LGBTI+ population, which, between advances and setbacks, remains united as a social movement and in the struggle for the preservation of the rights achieved thus far.

The trajectory of Roberta Clarke’s visit beyond the Rio-São Paulo axis was a strategy adopted by Race and Equality after several hearings with civil society, which constantly demanded attention to the different realities of the LGBTI+ population in other parts of the country. Thus, together with the support of the Ministry of Human Rights, through the National Secretary for the Rights of LGBTQIA+ People, Symmy Larrat, the city of Brasília was crucial for meetings with ministerial offices and meetings with the LGBTI+ movement in the Federal District. It is worth mentioning that the state of Ceará, with one of the highest rates of murders of LGBTI+ people, especially trans people, according to the dossier released by the National Association of Travestis and Transgenders (ANTRA), was also part of the script for active listening with activists from the northeast region, and for having the ‘Sister Imelda Lima Pontes Prison Unit’,  aimed exclusively at the LGBTI+ prison population.

Acknowledging that it is still too early to draw opinions and conclusions on the LGBTI+ Rapporteur’s visit to the country, Race and Equality brings to its audience an overview of the impressions shared by Roberta Clarke after talking to more than 15 organizations of the LGBTI+ movement in the visited cities. The Rapporteur’s impressions about the LGBTI+ population in the country were also reported during the public event held in Rio de Janeiro; “Building Bridges: LGBTI+ People’s Rights in an Intersectional Perspective”, hosted by Race and Equality.

During the week in which the Commissioner was in Brazil, two issues concerning LGBTI+ rights – which have already been achieved – were under discussion at the national level. One of them refers to equal civil marriage, which, due to the advance of extreme right-wing politicians in the Brazilian Congress, has once again been questioned as to its validity. Since 2011 and 2013, the Supreme Court (STF) and the National Council of Justice (CNJ) have equalized same-sex civil unions with heterosexual civil unions; however, Bill No. 5,167/2009 aims to annul this right. Although it has been postponed twice due to pressure from LGBTI+ deputies, and the vote remains suspended, it may return to the agenda in Congress. The other agenda that was under discussion refers to a manipulation also orchestrated by the growing anti-trans ideology that created a movement to attack the use of unisex bathrooms. The fomentation of intolerance on the part of conservative political actors has created a false idea that this was an urgent agenda item to be voted on.

These facts, for the Commissioner, reflected another Brazilian reality, since among the countries in the region, Brazil stands out among those that have made the most progress on LGBTI+ rights. In this regard, Roberta Clarke expressed concern about what is happening in the country and, particularly, about the issue of gender-based political violence, a topic that has been repeatedly denounced before the IACHR. For her, the spread of hate speech and the growth of the anti-trans movement has led to the need for reflection and the need to work together between social movements and LGBTI+ leaders. That is, to organize strategically to understand when it is worth expending efforts to the attacks of conservatives who aim only to spread fake news to dismantle civil society and interrupt the progress of the LGBTI+ political agenda.

In the face of these setbacks, the Commissioner demonstrated her solidarity and highlighted that the opportunity of having experienced different perspectives from across the country made her understand, in an intersectional way, the various types of violence that differentially affect the LGBTI+ community. While acknowledging the progress achieved through the historic struggle for visibility and rights, listening carefully to activists revealed that there is still much to be done. The country’s current situation has shown that there is strong pressure from the far right to destroy the progress made through gender equality policies and the recognition of LGBTI+ rights, and how through the spread of hate speech, trans people feel increasingly threatened and forced to live without access to basic rights.

Thus, Roberta affirmed the IACHR’s commitment to pay close attention to what happens in the country in the coming months, given that Brazil is a country of continental dimension and what happens in its territory has political influence on the entire region.

In her dialogue with the LGBTI+ social movement, the Rapporteur expressed concern about the difficulties reported in the documentation required for the process of civil rectification of name and gender; the various forms of violence against lesbian women; and the gap in the provision of public policies that meet their specificities, from the lack of data collection to the absence of health policies. In addition, lesbian women strongly emphasized the social exclusion they experience when they show affection in public, corrective rape practices, and conversion therapies, in addition to being expelled from their homes when they openly embrace their sexual orientation.

From the conversation with transmasculine people, the Commissioner was able to perceive how the violence they face is crossed mainly by issues of race, class, and territory, especially with regard to police violence. In Ceará, the theme of education was a major motto among LGBTI+ activists, highlighting the need for school inclusion policies since many LGBTI+ students abandon their educational institutions, either due to LGBTIphobia, bullying, disrespect for gender identity, among other forms of discrimination, and some do not even complete elementary school. In this context, on September 19th, the National Council for the Rights of the LGBTQIA+ Population published a resolution establishing guidelines to ensure inclusion and respect for gender identity in educational institutions.

In Brasilia, in addition to meetings with ministerial offices, Roberta Clarke met with the board of directors of the National LGBTQIA+ Council and had the opportunity to learn about the current demands of the LGBTI+ political agenda, in view of the democratic resumption in the country. The meeting with activists from the region took place in the Drag District with a round table that discussed topics such as the need for social assistance policies for the LGBTI+ population, such as the promotion of shelters and access to healthcare for the trans population.

During her visit to Rio de Janeiro, the Commissioner received a report from the Brazilian Lesbian Articulation (ABL) about lesbian women in the country; and received the ‘Dossier on Lesbocide’, after talking to one of the authors. In addition, she was given the dossiers on murder and violence against Brazilian travestis and transgender people in 2022; and the ‘Trans Brasil’ dossier, on their situation in the prison system, both documents being produced by ANTRA.

Finally, Race and Equality is deeply grateful to the Brazilian LGBTI+ movement that mobilized activists from different regions of the country so that they could convey to the IACHR Rapporteur their life experiences and their trajectories of struggles for rights in a country where being and existing as an LGBTI+ person is an act of courage. We also thank the IACHR for accepting our invitation and engaging in dialogue with the Brazilian LGBTI+ civil society movement. In view of our mission, encouraging visits by rapporteurs and experts from international mechanisms is another step in ensuring visibility, non-discrimination, and the full realization of human rights. Therefore, we ask the IACHR to consider the following recommendations for the Brazilian State:

1 – Creation of a National Council to confront hate speech and the dissemination of fake news with an intersectional perspective, in view of the violence and attacks suffered by the LGBTI+ population in the country.

2 – Establishment of policies and bills that constitutionally guarantee same-sex equal marriage, in addition to guaranteeing the safety of trans people in public bathrooms according to their gender identities and the plurality of unisex bathrooms.

3 – Collection of disaggregated data regarding the LGBTI+ population, either through the National Census or through surveys that foster the creation of specific public policies for this population.

4 – Training and education policies aimed at public security forces so that they can ensure the safety of Brazilian LGBTI+ people.

5 – Construction of a policy to confront gender-based political violence, with the provision of measures to protect LGBTI+ members of Congress.


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