The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Living Instrument Guiding the Defense and Protection of Human Rights in the Americas

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Living Instrument Guiding the Defense and Protection of Human Rights in the Americas

Washington DC, December 8, 2023.– What are human rights? How can human rights be fully enjoyed? Who has the obligation to ensure respect for and fulfilment of human rights? The answers to these questions are as obvious as they are complex. Despite the fact that human rights are inherent to all people, the enjoyment of these rights is determined by a diversity of factors that every day, in every corner of the world, bring people closer or further away from the goal of living in freedom, justice, and peace.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wants to assert the relevance of the UDHR to the work of defending and protecting human rights carried out every day by civil society organizations and activists in the Americas. Although human rights violations persist and worsen in the region, we believe that the Declaration is the tool that pushes and strengthens the struggle for human rights.

“In these 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is important to look back and recognize all that has been achieved since its adoption. Thanks to the Declaration, the world, and the Latin American region in particular, today has a solid mechanism for the protection of the rights of all people. From civil society we know that there is a lot of work to be done to achieve full guarantees, especially at the level of the obligations of States, but we see the Declaration as a living instrument that guides our work,” says Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of Race and Equality.

A Bit of History

Following the atrocities committed during World War II and the creation of the United Nations, the international community set out to create a road map to ensure the rights of all people everywhere and at all times. Thus, on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But how did they get there? The UN General Assembly considered an initial document at its first session in 1946 and then forwarded it to the Economic and Social Council for consideration by the Commission on Human Rights, which was entrusted with the task of drafting what they initially called the “international bill of human rights”.

At its first session in early 1947, the Commission on Human Rights directed its members to formulate a preliminary draft of the charter, which was later taken up by a Drafting Committee composed of representatives of eight countries, which were chosen on the basis of geographical distribution. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR Drafting Committee.

The first draft of the Declaration was proposed in September 1948 and more than 50 Member States participated in the final draft. In its resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from voting, but none voted against.

Did you know?

Delegates from several countries played a key role in ensuring that women’s rights were included in the Declaration. Hansa Mehta of India is widely credited with changing the phrase “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal” in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 Learn more.

75 Years Later

That document, which was formulated under the common ideal that all people live in freedom, justice, and peace, has paved the way for the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, which are now permanently applied at the global and regional levels. Race and Equality, in its work to defend and protect the rights of Afro-descendant and indigenous populations, LGBTI+ people, and other vulnerable groups, recognizes and champions international human rights law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a permanent foundation for our work in documentation, capacity building, advocacy, and strategic litigation. To cite one example, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has been a key tool for strengthening allied organizations in their advocacy processes before States and the Inter-American and Universal Human Rights Systems on the rights of persons of African descent.

Meanwhile, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been a fundamental piece in documentation and advocacy processes with partner organizations in the defense and protection of Afro-descendant, indigenous, and LBTI+ women. In 2022, Race and Equality supported and accompanied a collective of Peruvian feminist organizations in their participation in the review of the CEDAW Committee in Peru, achieving that it included recommendations to the State based on the demands of lesbian women for the first time.

In these 75 years of the UDHR, Race and Equality recalls that the application of human rights must be governed by the principles of universality, interdependence, indivisibility, and progressivity. We believe that the recognition and respect of the following are imperative: (a) that all persons are entitled to all human rights; (b) that human rights are linked to each other and, therefore, the recognition and exercise of one of them implies respect for and protection of many others; (c) that human rights must be recognized, protected and guaranteed in their entirety, that they cannot be fragmented; and d) that it is the obligation of States to ensure progress in the constructive development of human rights, and that any kind of regression is completely prohibited.

In addition, as a way of honoring these 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have produced an illustration that recognizes the diversity of people in the Americas—and, therefore, the diversity of circumstances that affect them—and symbolically places at the center the Declaration that, in the days of its drafting, Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned it as a document of support, guidance, and inspiration, noting, “this is the first step in an evolutionary process.”

We also recall and put again as a point of reflection an excerpt from the speech “Where do human rights begin?” that Eleanor Roosevelt gave in 1958 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the UDHR:

“Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to home. So close and so small that they cannot be located on any world map: each person’s environment, the neighborhood in which they live, the school or university they attend; the farm, factory, or office where you work. These are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity, without discrimination. If these rights don’t mean anything there, they don’t mean anything anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to assert these rights close to home, we seek progress on a larger scale in vain.

CEDAW Committee Calls on Nicaragua to Withdraw Its Denunciation of the OAS Charter and Adopt Measures to Protect Women and Girls

Washington D.C., October 31, 2023.-  Twenty days prior to Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the Organization of American States (OAS), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in its Concluding Observations, urged the Nicaraguan authorities to retract their complaint against the Organization of American States Charter. The Committee also urged the State to engage in dialogue and take necessary measures to comply with its observations on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls in the country.

During the review on 23 October, Ambassador Rosalía Concepción Bohórquez Palacios made a statement calling the Committee “biased” and departed from the review without providing information on budget allocations for the Ministry of Women, the adoption of a national gender equality policy, or measures to ensure that women – particularly those residing in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean –  benefit from public programs to promote gender equality and eliminating discrimination. The State of Nicaragua has progressively withdrawn from international treaties and has broken commitments to international human rights treaty bodies by not actively participating in their revisions.

Repeal of Laws that Discriminate Against Women

Considering concerning reports spanning the last four years, which have documented 7,000 cases of attacks against women human rights defenders branded as “traitors” and “coup plotters,” as well as the non-implementation of protective measures issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in connection with 38 cases of women human rights defenders subjected to intimidation and reprisals, the Committee called on the State of Nicaragua to repeal all legislation that discriminates against women on the basis of their political opinions and their participation in political and public life. Among these laws are the Foreign Agents Law (Law 1040), the Special Law on Cybercrimes (Law 1042), and the Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace (Law 1055).

The Committee further pressed the State to immediately release the women detained for their dissenting political views and ensure the safeguarding of their right to life, liberty, and physical and psychological well-being during and after their release. As of 31 August, 16 women were deprived of their liberty for political reasons, according to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners

According to the Committee, the State should adopt a plan of action for the reparation, rehabilitation, and compensation of these women. Additionally, the State should conduct investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of individuals responsible for acts of reprisal and assaults against the women human rights defenders and activists, even if the perpetrators are state agents.

Safe Return of Stateless Women Defenders

In its observations, the Committee also requests the repeal of Law 1145 or the “Special Law Regulating the Loss of Nicaraguan Nationality,” which provides that persons sentenced under Law 1055, the “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace” will lose their Nicaraguan nationality and has left more than 317 persons stateless. This includes women political prisoners, renowned feminist and women’s rights defenders and activists, and journalists.

The Committee concluded that the State of Nicaragua should restore nationality in all instances where women have lost it for political reasons and implement measures to reduce cases of statelessness (1961) in accordance with Article 9 of the Convention, prevent statelessness, and formulate a plan to facilitate the secure return of Nicaraguan women desiring to come back to the country. 

Justice for Victims of Gender-Based Violence and Mothers of Victims of Repression

Between 2018 and 2021, the number of femicides rose to 57 cases, with 220 cases of attempted femicides. These statistics deeply concerned the Committee, which repeatedly highlighted the restrictive definition of femicide in the Penal Code as problematic, as it applies solely to murders of women within relationship contexts.

The Committee also expressed with concern the closure of the National Commission to Combat Violence and the lack of information on the number and enforcement of protection orders and victim support services, including shelter, psychosocial counselling, and rehabilitation for women survivors of violence.

In response, the Committee called on the State to: broaden the definition of femicide to encompass all gender-related murders; implement a national strategy for the prevention of all forms of gender-based violence against women; restore and strengthen the mandate of the National Commission to Combat Violence; and compile data on the prevalence of gender-based violence against women, disaggregated by age, victim-perpetrator ratios, and other socio-demographic characteristics.

The Committee also demanded that perpetrators of gender-based violence against human rights defenders, journalists, women detained during the 2018 protests, and mothers of fatal victims of protest-related repression be properly prosecuted and convicted. It emphasized the importance of providing adequate remedies, including reparations, to the victims.

Laws that Address Intersectional Forms of Discrimination

Furthermore, the Committee expressed concern about the intersecting forms of discrimination faced by Indigenous and Afro-descendant women in Nicaragua, who encounter limited access to education, employment, economic opportunities, healthcare, and participation in decision-making processes within the State. These challenges are compounded by a heightened risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence and forced evictions of Indigenous women, particularly in territories such as the Bosawás Reserve and the Mayagna Sauni As Indigenous territory, which frequently experience incursions by non-Indigenous settlers.

In this regard, the Committee urged the State to develop legislation and policies addressing intersectional forms of discrimination against Indigenous and Afro-descendant women and girls. Additionally, it called for effective investigations, prosecutions, and penalties for crimes occurring in ancestral territories, along with the provision of appropriate remedies and reparations for victims. 

The Committee stressed the importance of ensuring that Indigenous women obtain land titles and collective control over the land, water, forests, fisheries, aquaculture, and other resources they have owned, occupied, used or acquired.


The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) reminds the State of Nicaragua that the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women entails the obligation to submit reports, participate in constructive dialogues with the CEDAW Committee and comply with the recommendations made by the Committee. Therefore, we urge the State to comply with the recommendations made and to establish communications with the Committee in favor of the protection of women and girls and halt the repression and violence against women defenders, activists, and journalists expressing dissenting opinions. 

Lastly, Race and Equality acknowledges the invaluable role played by Nicaraguan civil society organizations that, despite significant risks, continue to monitor and document the human rights situation of Nicaraguan women inside and outside the country. Their dedication and reporting significantly contributed to this review and the formulation of valuable Concluding Observations, which serve a roadmap for the State of Nicaragua to fulfill its obligations outlined in CEDAW.

CEDAW: Laws Enacted by the Nicaraguan State Threaten Women’s Lives

Washington D.C., October 24, 2023- In the review of the State of Nicaragua, experts from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), expressed their concern about laws that pose serious threats against women human rights defenders and activists, as well as the neglect of Indigenous and Afro-descendant women on the Caribbean Coast, in the context of the closure of civic and democratic space in the Central American country. 

At the beginning of the session, the representative of the State of Nicaragua, Rosalía Concepción Bohórquez Palacios, abandoned the exam in a disrespectful manner. She expressed “total rejection of the malicious, biased, partialized and malicious questions on the report presented by Nicaragua on May 2, 2019.” 

This is the fifth time that Nicaragua has failed to comply with its obligation to actively participate in the periodic reviews carried out by the United Nations treaty bodies for the promotion and defense of human rights in the signatory countries. The Chair of the Committee, Ana Peláez, regretted the State’s position, “however, the work that the Committee has and the obligations and responsibilities that they assume in relation to the States Parties, makes us continue to advance in today’s work.” 

Law 1055: The Law with the Most Effects on Women 

The Committee’s Rapporteur for Nicaragua, Leticia Bonifaz Alonzo, expressed her deep concern that in the Central American country “femicide is not an autonomous crime.” The reforms limit the definition of femicide to the murder of women in the context of a relationship. It is also a matter of concern that victim-aggressor mediation has been incorporated, which increases the risk of impunity and exposes victims to re-victimization and reprisals.

“The figures provided by non-governmental organizations show how violence against women has increased,” she added. 

She then recalled that, between 2020 and 2021, the State issued three laws with content contrary to international human rights instruments:  Law 1040, Law on Foreign Agents which, with the indication that “they have interference in internal affairs,” has made it impossible for non-governmental organizations to accompany, protect and empower Nicaraguan women,  as well as the deprivation of their patrimony and forced abandonment of the country.  Law 1042, known as the “Gag Law” because it violates the freedom of expression of women human rights defenders;  and Law 1055 “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace,” has seriously affected the civil and political rights of women. According to the expert, Law 1055 is the law that has most affected women human rights defenders.

In addition, “there are particular patterns of aggression against women, such as arrests and theft of personal items and the disproportionate presence of members of the armed forces,” Bonifaz said.

Arbitrary Detentions and Statelessness, Latent Threats to Women Defenders

“Women’s participation has been restricted due to gender-based violence against women human rights defenders. Women defenders are under siege in the State party,” warned expert Marion Bethel. In the last four years, women’s rights organizations have documented approximately 7,000 cases of attacks against women human rights defenders.

In addition, women’s human rights defenders and activists who oppose the government face possible loss of nationality in retaliation, leaving them in a situation of statelessness, a condition that hinders the exercise of other rights such as health, education, decent employment and family life. 

“The State party (Nicaragua), through legislative amendments, has arbitrarily deprived some persons of their nationality, and this is contrary to international human rights law,” he told the Committee. 

According to alternative reports from 2023, around 222 people who are stateless are mothers and fathers of children who continue to live in Nicaragua. For the expert, this violation of fundamental rights puts them at greater risk of discrimination and “exacerbates the vulnerability of women and girls who may already be exposed to gender-based violence and human trafficking.” 

Indigenous and Afro-descendant Women in the Absence of Protection

“Violence against women in the autonomous regions along the North and South Caribbean Coast continues to increase, particularly in the case of indigenous women who have legal provisions and protection orders,” said expert Rangita de Silva de Alwis

In August 2021, two women were sexually abused in an attack related to a gold mining dispute in the Mayangna Sauni As territory.

Expert Bandana Rana emphasized the determined struggle of Afro-descendant women as they confront challenges related to the preservation and respect of the treaty that grants them the right to inhabit their ancestral lands, preserving their unique customs and resources. The expert lamented that the incursions of third parties in the Mosquitia have worsened the human rights situation of Afro-descendant women, since “violence is committed against women, girls and adolescents, which includes murders and forced displacement.” 

In relation to health on the Caribbean Coast, expert Dafna Hacker said that “there is a gap between the law and reality,” since in general terms, there is a lack of health services that impacts especially women “due to a high prevalence of malaria, fever, dengue, HIV/AIDS, as well as the remoteness of care centers and the high costs of transportation.”

On several occasions, the Chairperson of the Committee called on the State of Nicaragua to express its point of view on the issues. Nonetheless, an unsettling silence prevailed in all of them. 

Finally, the Chair expressed her deep disappointment and concern over the accusations made by the State in relation to the work of the Committee and its experts “which call into question the loyalty, honor, impartiality, true commitment, and full awareness that all the experts of this Committee make when they assume their responsibilities and duties”. Despite these insults, the President insisted that they are willing to “extend their hand” and “open the doors” to the State of Nicaragua.


The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) rejects the position of the State of Nicaragua, which disrespects the work of the Committee and the civil society organizations that exercise their legitimate right to participate in this process. Both with respect to the Committee and with respect to the organizations, the State refers in disqualifying and inappropriate terms, completely refusing to be held accountable for its actions and seeking to circumvent its international obligations towards women. 

This pattern of non-compliance by the State of Nicaragua with its international obligations in the area of women’s human rights undoubtedly requires a forceful response from the international community.


The committee will submit its concluding observations before the end of the current session. The concluding observations will be adopted at the 87th session in February 2024.

Civil society welcomes the appointment of Graeme Reid as the third UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, celebrates the achievements of Victor Madrigal-Borloz in the role

Geneva, 13 October 2023.- The President of the UN Human Rights Council has appointed Graeme Reid as the incoming holder of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). 

The appointment was made today at the United Nations Human Rights Council, after his nomination was proposed last month by the President of the 47 government member body charged with overseeing human rights around the globe. Graeme Reid will take on the role on 1 November 2023.

An anthropologist and researcher from South Africa, Reid – who currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch – is the third person to ever be appointed to hold the United Nations mandate dedicated to addressing specific human rights violations against LGBT and gender-diverse persons, following Vitit Muntarbhorn from Thailand (2016-2017) and Victor Madrigal-Borloz from Costa Rica (2017-2023).

Civil society organisations worldwide welcomed the decision: “Billions of people continue to live in societies with laws and societal attitudes that put LGBTI persons in danger,” said XYZ organisations worldwide. “With his extensive experience in advocacy and academic spaces alike, and his keen dedication to listening to the voices of grassroots human rights defenders, we trust Reid will be able to further build bridges and remind States of their obligations towards people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities across the globe. As civil society, we look forward to constructive engagement with the new mandate holder.”

The appointment comes at the end of a months-long application process. 23 candidates went through shortlisting, with interviews and final appointment then overseen by Member States of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Earlier this month organisations worldwide had expressed their regret on the lack of women and non-binary persons in the short-list of candidates recommended by the Consultative Group, as highlighted during the recent session of the Human Rights Council. “Ensuring participation and representation of women is crucial to reflect the diverse realities of women’s lives,” organisations pointed out. 

In June 2022, the Human Rights Council successfully renewed the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The renewal recognized and reaffirmed the vital importance of the maintenance of this mandate, as LGBT communities around the world continue to be subject to violence and discrimination on the basis of their SOGI.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the outgoing mandate holder, continues in the role until the end of the month. “Today we also want to celebrate everything that has been achieved over the last six years,” civil society organisations concluded. “Thanks to Víctor Madrigal-Borloz and his work, the world has heard more about the impact of criminalisation of same-sex relations between consenting adults, the need to legally recognise a person’s gender, the barriers to social inclusion and the importance of collecting data related to LGBT lives, the harm caused by so-called ‘conversion therapy’, and more. Madrigal-Borloz has also cast a light on good practices to prevent discrimination, and conducted visits to Georgia, Mozambique, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United States and United Kingdom, building bridges between civil society, political and religious authorities. At a time in which anti-rights forces are more vocal by the minute, and are increasingly targeting our communities as a part of a larger attack against gender equality, it is critical that the mandate’s work continues and is supported by States and civil society alike.”


In the Framework of the UPR Pre-Session in Geneva, Activists will Denounce Human Rights Violations in Cuba

Geneva, August 28, 2023.- This Wednesday, August 30, representatives of Cuba’s independent civil society in Cuba and international organizations working for the defense of human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean will gather in Geneva, Switzerland, to denounce human rights violations on the island. 

The event entitled ‘Cuba: Five Years After the Universal Periodic Review (UPR),’ will commence at 1:30 p.m. (Geneva time) at Rue de Varembé 1 (5th floor). This meeting is being held within the framework of the UPR pre-session, taking place from August 29 to September 1 in Geneva, where representatives of civil society organizations from 14 countries, including Cuba, will address the human rights situation in each of these territories.

The panel discussion will feature the lawyer and consultant to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Livia Lemus; the Director of Cubalex, Laritza Diversent; the Director of Strategy at the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, Yaxys Cires; the officer of the Central America and the Caribbean Program of Article 19, Claudia Ordoñez; independent journalist Mario Luis Reyes, and Cuban artist Nonardo Perea.

The panelists will discuss labor and trade union rights, individuals deprived of liberty for political reasons, independent journalism, and freedom of expression on the island. The aim is to raise awareness before international and regional human rights mechanisms, as well as representatives of the states, about the human rights reality experienced in this country prior to the IV UPR cycle, where Cuba will be evaluated in November of this year. 

In 2018, the Cuban state was last reviewed during the III UPR cycle. At that time, Cuba received 339 recommendations, of which it accepted 226, took note of 83, and rejected 30. To monitor the implementation of these recommendations, several independent civil society organizations submitted alternative reports to be considered in the new UPR cycle.

The panel discussion on Wednesday, August 30, will allow attendees to gain more information about what has transpired on the island five years after its last UPR evaluation. 

From Race and Equality, we emphasized the importance of creating such spaces to denounce human rights violations taking place in Cuba. We call upon international and regional human rights mechanisms, as well as state representatives, to listen to the  appeals of independent civil society organizations in Cuba and condemn the repression, harassment, and various forms of violence documented daily in this country.

Colombia: Concern over the territorial expansion of armed groups and their violent strategies of social control. UN High Commissioner.  

Colombia, August 22, 2023.- The Colombian Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented its analysis of Colombia’s human rights situation, in which it recognized the current Government’s approach to human rights, its willingness to address important issues, and its commitment to the protection of human rights, which has resulted in significant and positive changes. However, the Representative in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner Juliette De Rivero, highlighted the concerns and challenges that the Office has observed in the country and that require immediate attention.1 In particular, she expressed concern about the territorial expansion of armed groups and their violent strategies of social control over the civilian population and grassroots organizations, despite dialogue processes offered.  


Increase in massacres in the country    

During the first half of 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) recorded an 11% increase in the number of verified massacres compared to the same quarter of the previous year. A total of 52 massacres were verified during this period. Most of the massacres were allegedly perpetrated by non-state armed groups and criminal organizations. The most affected departments were Atlántico, Antioquia, Cauca, La Guajira, Magdalena, Meta, Norte de Santander, Putumayo and Valle del Cauca. For its part, the Institute for Development and Peace Studies, INDEPAZ, has registered a total of 59 massacres in the country to date.2  


Violence against social leaders continues to be of concern.  

In the first half of 2023, the OHCHR reported a 19% reduction in cases of homicides of human rights defenders compared to the previous half (July-December 2022). While this decrease is encouraging, the number of killings of human rights defenders in Colombia remains unacceptably high. In total, 46 cases of homicide have been recorded, of which 39 were men and 7 women. Among them, 11 were indigenous, 9 were Afro-descendants, and 15 were campesinos. In addition, 35% of the human rights defenders killed were members of Community Action Boards. To date, INDEPAZ has registered 105 massacres or killings during 2023 in the country. 

In terms of displacement, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported a 33% decrease in cases of displacement compared to the previous six-month period and a 2% increase in cases of confinement during the same period. In addition, the UN Verification Mission has verified two fewer cases of killings of ex-combatants during this period.  


Sexual violence and human trafficking   

During the first half of 2023, the Office has received a total of 42 complaints of sexual and gender-based violence in the context of armed conflict, of which 27 have been confirmed. These complaints have been registered in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Chocó, Nariño, and Norte de Santander. Of particular concern is the situation of trafficking of girls and adolescents for sexual exploitation by non-state armed groups, as well as the rape of women and girls. These differentiated situations demonstrate the need to adopt effective and specific measures to guarantee the protection and effective participation of women, girls and LGBTI+ persons in all spaces of dialogue and decision-making for the comprehensive construction of peace. 

Race and Equality calls on the government of Colombia to take into account the report presented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which points out the existence of human rights violations that require immediate measures to protect the lives and rights of citizens in its national territory, especially in areas of the country that continue to be affected by the armed conflict and illegal armed groups. Regarding the protection of ethnic communities at risk, it is crucial that the State take effective measures to guarantee the full exercise of their individual and collective rights, especially due to the impact of the armed conflict and violence. The national government must work to repair and protect the rights of these communities, who are entitled to special protection according to international standards. 

We also urge the State to carry out a Comprehensive Reform of the National Police with the genuine and effective participation of civil society, especially the victims of racist police violence. Additionally the state should adopt, abide by, and effectively implement international standards against racism and discrimination, such as the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance (CIRDI), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the standards that have been developed to prevent the disproportionate use of force against people of African descent by security forces. 

Victor Madrigal meets with more than 30 LGBTI+ people from Mexico with the support of Race and Equality

In Mexico, the United Nations Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, met with local authorities, leaders, and LGBTI+ organizations of two Mexican states to promote his mandate.

From July 17th to the 22nd, the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (UNIESOGI), Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, held a promotional visit to two Mexican states –Oaxaca and Mexico City—, which were conducted in alliance with the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), represented by the Senior LGBTI Program Officer, Zuleika Rivera. Likewise, the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was present, represented by Niza Castañeda, Human Rights Officer.

During his visit, he met with more than 30 LGBTI+ people of different organizations, leaders of civil society, and local authorities dedicated to the protection and promotion of LGBTI+ rights, with the goal of learning more about the situation of LGBTI+ people in Mexico and to provide information to participants on the functions of the mandate and the various forms of participation for civil society. Additionally, the Independent Expert and Race and Equality participated in the 6th Conference of LGBTI Political Leaders of the Americas and the Caribbean, where Madrigal-Borloz was invited to participate as a panelist.

Dialogue with the muxhe community

On July 18th, the “Dialogue of authorities and the muxhe/trans community of the region of Istmo with the Independent Expert” was held in Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, which was convened by the Technical Institute of the Isthmus, the Proyecto Transformándome, Mexfam and other civil society organizations. “In Oaxaca there exists a narrative and language of inclusion and respect for the communities of the Isthmus, lessons that are beneficial for the world. Indigenous peoples, African people, and Asian civilizations have known sexual and gender diversity as phenomenon that are part of the richness of society,” expressed the Independent Expert at the meeting.

The dialogue was attended by authorities such as Mariano Rosado López, Secretary of the Municipality of Juchitán de Zaragoza, and Juan José Rementeria Orozco, Director of the Technical Institute of the Isthmus (TecNM), who expressed his wishes for an inclusive education for the muxhe community and LGBTI+ people. Also in attendance was the first muxhe municipal representative, Carisia Cabrera, who described the challenge of reaching the governorship and the constant struggle to be representative, as sexism and racism have always existed.

The meeting was also attended by leaders, local groups, and secular actors, and had the purpose of establishing a link with the muxhe community and other sexual diverse communities, allowing listening and articulation of needs in health, security, justice, work, and social inclusion. In this regard, Jenni Natalia Santiago, from Ellas Deciden, a network of lesbian, bisexual and gender-diverse women, pointed out that colonial processes keep ancestral gender identities silent and that it is necessary for the Mexican State to recognize their existence and the barriers they face in accessing opportunities.

United Nations Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, at the “Dialogue with authorities and the muxhe/trans community of the region of Itsmo” at the Technical Institute of the Isthmus of Mexico.

Meetings with civil society

Over two days, the Independent Expert on SOGI, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, met with Mexican civil society organizations in three thematic roundtables, where they addressed issues such as migration, human mobility and its impact on LGBTI+ persons, disappearances, hate speech and hate crimes, and the rights of LGBTI+ persons deprived of liberty, LGBTI+ indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples, and trans youth.

Mexico has one of the borders with the highest migratory flows and, in the last year, the number of LGBTI+ people in migration has increased, including youth and adolescents. In addition, extreme violence at home and on the streets and lack of opportunities due to sexual orientation and gender identity are the main causes of expulsion from their places of origin. In the country, there is no specific migration policy for LGBTI+ people, neither in the national migration law nor in the federal asylum law, so there are no mechanisms of care; in addition, hypersexualization and racial profiling is very common.

On the other hand, civil organizations have a constant struggle for truth, justice, reparation, and for the memory of the victims of disappearance and hate crimes. The country has not been able to build an official registry of LGBTI+ persons and the Missing Persons Search Commissions and Prosecutor’s Offices in Mexico do not recognize diverse families’ ability to initiate the search processes for LGBTI+ missing persons. In addition, there is a lack of training in forensic anthropology to correctly treat the bodies of trans persons.

Likewise, it is necessary to recognize and respect the rights of LGBTI+ persons in detention centers in Mexico. LGBTI+ people deprived of their liberty are often victims of systematic violations of their rights and cruel and inhumane acts, with trans people facing these acts with greater severity. Likewise, hate speech and the presumption of criminality reinforce discrimination against indigenous populations, LGBTI+ Afro-Mexicans, and trans youth and children.

Víctor Madrigal-Borloz in thematic meetings with Mexican LGBTI+ civil society organizations.

Víctor Madrigal-Borloz in thematic meetings with Mexican LGBTI+ civil society organizations.

LGBTI+ Political Leaders

The Independent Expert and Race and Equality participated in the 6th Conference of LGBTI+ Political Leaders of the Americas and the Caribbean, the largest event that brings together openly LGBTI+ leaders, public servants, and allies, where Víctor Madrigal-Borloz was invited to participate in the panel “Betting on democracies, bursting with color”. During his portion of the panel, the Independent Expert reflected on how the creation of the mandate is a sign of the fight for political spaces, 30 years ago it was unthinkable that sexual orientation and gender identity would be discussed at the United Nations.

The main objective of the 6th Conference, in which around 500 people participated, was to provide a space for dialogue, capacity building and networking and exchange of experiences in the field of citizen and political participation to move towards equality. Something important to highlight is that, during the meeting, the first LGBTI+ caucus in Brazil was created to combat the systematic attack on LGBTI+ rights promoted by the extreme right. This delegation is composed of more than 23 political authorities, members of the government and social organizations, among them federal deputy Erika Hilton, Duda Salabert and state deputy Linda Brasil.

Part of the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights work is to support the promotional visits of the mandates of the United Nations and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) for the rights of LGBTI+ people. In this regard, Race and Equality reaffirms its commitment to accompany their efforts to ensure the equality and dignity of LGBTI+ people.

Miguel Ángel Alanis (Race and Equality), Niza Castañeda (OHCHR), Alex Leal (UNIESOGI), Zuleika Rivera (Race and Equality) at the 6th Conference of LGBTI+ Political Leaders of the Americas and the Caribbean. In the second photo: Victor Madrigal-Borloz participating in the panel "Betting on democracies, bursting with color".

Victor Madrigal-Borloz participating in the panel “Betting on democracies, bursting with color”. In the second photo: Miguel Ángel Alanis (Race and Equality), Niza Castañeda (OHCHR), Alex Leal (UNIESOGI), Zuleika Rivera (Race and Equality) at the 6th Conference of LGBTI+ Political Leaders of the Americas and the Caribbean.

Transcendent Voices: Art and Culture as Forms of Resistance and Pride

Washington D.C., June 28, 2023 – On International LGBTI+ Pride Day, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wishes to dedicate this article to recognize, celebrate, and highlight the presence of LGBTI+ persons in the region in the field of art and culture, which have always been forms of resistance, survival, and pride for LGBTI+ persons. Their disruptive forms of artistic expression have revolutionized this sector, not only enriching it but also challenging and transforming the dominant narratives of cisheteronormativity.

From a human rights perspective, the A/HRC/14/36 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights states that cultural rights are essential for the recognition and respect of human dignity in many aspects. Through these rights, the development and expression of diverse worldviews – both individual and collective – are protected, encompassing important freedoms related to issues of identity.[1]

In this sense, the representation and dignified visibility of historically marginalized groups, such as the LGBTI+ population, are crucial to reclaim their bodies and identities and promote their human rights. “Combat stigma and discrimination. Positive representation in culture contributes to challenging the negative stereotypes and prejudices surrounding sexual and gender diversity,” mentions Alex Aguirre, Human Rights Researcher at the Institute for Peace and Development (Ipades) in Nicaragua, who points out that this also applies to oneself when characters and narratives reflect personal experiences that contribute to developing greater confidence and accepting one’s gender identity or sexual orientation without shame or guilt.

“Diverse artistic expression makes things visible, exposes, portrays, and enriches. Being able to enjoy art created by sexual and gender diverse individuals provides a different perspective to the audience, humanizing and making their expressions their own,” says Fhran Medina, lawyer and LGBTI+ rights activist from Fraternidad Trans Masculina Perú.

From the perspective of the meaning of art and culture, Guillermo Valdizán states in his book Creación Heroica that “forms of cultural production are intimately linked to processes of social transformation.”[2] In other words, cultural production does not exist outside of a specific social, political, and economic context and has been present throughout the history of societies; therefore, it is part of the social process and not just a tool. As Sol Ámbar Sánchez Latorre, Advocacy Director at the GAAT Foundation in Colombia, says, there is an appropriation of the more visible cultural sphere by LGBTI+ persons, which produces new representations and reflections on sexuality and gender, fostering cultural transformations.

Next, Race and Equality’s counterparts recommend some notable examples of cultural productions that have contributed to the visibility of LGBTI+ people:

Yunior Pino, Cuban photographer and activist: “We are courageous individuals endowed with talents and gifts; we educate to eradicate the taboos that have caused a lot of harm and discrimination for generations. I recommend the Cuban film titled Fátima because it portrays the harsh reality experienced by the majority of the LGBTI+ community in Cuba, facing a macho and discriminatory society and a system that forces family separation and prostitution.”

Sol Ámbar Sánchez Latorre, Advocacy Director at the GAAT Foundation in Colombia: “I would like the work of Kia sonorica, a Paraguayan trans artist, to be more widely known. She is also an anti-colonial historian and has a deep understanding of art history; and now she is one of the pioneering Latin American artists using artificial intelligence to create artistic works.”

Fhran Medina, Peruvian lawyer and activist: “Antay is my favorite Peruvian singer-songwriter, not only because he is a great singer, but also because of the work and immense heart he puts into each song and performance. His lyrics are filled with tenderness and artistry. As a trans singer-songwriter, he carries many stories and experiences of the trans population. The music video for the song “Júrame” is something that everyone should watch, and you can find more of his productions on Spotify and YouTube.”

Articulación Brasileña de Lésbicas – Rede ABL: “We recommend the work of Bia Ferreira in music because she is a black woman and ‘sapatão’* who brings true ‘gospels’ of liberation in her songs. It is important for other people to know her work because she explains the cause and solutions to various social issues in a didactic way.”

Alex Aguirre, Human Rights Researcher at the Institute for Peace and Development (Ipades) in Nicaragua: “I recommend the artist Ru Paul, an iconic Drag Queen and host of the show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Ru Paul has been an important figure in LGBTI+ culture and has promoted acceptance and celebration of diversity.”

In conclusion, the visibility of LGBTI+ persons in the field of art and culture is a powerful indicator of progress in human rights. Through cinema, music, dance, theater, visual art, and more, a space has been conquered where these transcendent voices can be heard, and their experiences can be authentically represented. Race and Equality reaffirms its commitment to promoting the visibility and representation of LGBTI+ individuals in all areas of life and wishes them a Pride Month filled with music, art, and culture. All people deserve to live in a society free of violence, more just, and without discrimination. Human rights always!

*’Sapatão’ is a word of pride that refers to lesbian women in Brazil. It is similar to how the trans movement has embraced the word ‘travesti’.



[1] Report of the independent expert in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Farida Shaheed, submitted pursuant to resolution 10/23 of the Human Rights Council. Available at

[2] Valdizán, Guillermo (2021). Creación Heroica: Neoliberalismo, políticas culturales y estrategia comunitaria en el Perú del siglo XXI. Lima: RGC Ediciones

Afro-Descendant Activists from Latin America and the Caribbean take over New York and Washington D.C.

Washington D.C., May 31, 2023 – In light of the second session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants (PFPAD), which will take place from May 30 to June 2 in New York City, organizations representing Afro-descendant women from Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic have formed a Delegation for Racial Justice to denounce racial and gender violence in Latin America. With the support of the International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race and Equality) and the Black Alliance to End Violence (Fundo Elas), the Delegation for Racial Justice aims to highlight the experiences of Afro-descendant women and the urgent need for international support in building agendas and projects to combat the various forms of racist violence affecting the lives of Latin American women from an intersectional perspective.

Additionally, Race and Equality, together with the Open Society Foundation, is promoting the participation of 15 other organizations, predominantly composed of Afro-descendant women from Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Permanent Forum of Afro-Descendants. With this collaboration, the Delegation for Racial Justice will comprise approximately 30 organizations, united in their call for international cooperation to end racial and gender violence in the Americas. The objective of this delegation is also to prepare a report with recommendations and insights on the first and second sessions of the Permanent Forum, to be presented during the third session scheduled to take place in Brazil in 2023.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants was established in 2021 by General Assembly Resolution 75/314, serving as a consultative mechanism to contribute to the fight against racism and the promotion of the rights of the Afro-descendant population. The forum collaborates with the Human Rights Council and other UN mechanisms. The first meeting took place in December 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland, and in addition to the upcoming session in New York, the forum is scheduled to convene in Brazil in December of the same year. The Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants is part of the implementation activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent and is chaired by Epsy Campbell Barr, the former Vice President of Costa Rica.

Parallel Event: Racial and Gender Violence in Latin America

On Thursday, June 1, at 1:15 p.m. (New York time), the event ‘Racial and Gender Violence in Latin America‘ will be held at the Church Center of the United Nations. The event will call upon political actors present in New York to listen to the realities of Black and LBTI Latin American women. With panels on ‘Women’s Rights and Intersectionality’ and ‘Civil Society’s Vision in the Fight Against Gender Violence in Latin America.’ This space, organized within the framework of the Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants, aims to facilitate dialogue among Latin American women leaders, discussing the different contexts in which they live, where the brutality of structural racism manifests in terms of discrimination and violence.

Moreover, the urgency to address racial and gender violence is supported by data indicating that Latin America is one of the most violent regions in the global south, with the Black population being disproportionately affected due to the absence of specific policies. Therefore, this delegation aims to contribute to the development of the agenda and declaration of the Permanent Forum with a focus on combating racial and gender violence in Latin America. Furthermore, it seeks to establish appropriate channels for obtaining disaggregated data to better implement and propose public policies tailored to the realities of Afro-descendant individuals, particularly Afro-descendant women.

Political Advocacy Week in Washington D.C.

To strengthen and continue the work carried out during the Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants, the delegation will travel to Washington D.C. from June 5th-7th. With the support of organizations such as the Washington Brazil Office (WBO) and Black Women Radicals, they will meet with representatives from the Department of State and Afro-North American organizations, including the Black Caucus. They will also hold meetings with missions from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Additionally, the Delegation for Racial Justice will strategically work towards the implementation and strengthening of bilateral international treaties among their countries, such as the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI), the Joint Action Plan for the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and the Promotion of Equality (JAPER), which has recently been reactivated between Brazil and the United States, and the Action Plan between the United States and Colombia for Racial and Ethnic Equality (CAPREE).

“For this delegation, it is crucial that Afro-descendant women directly present their realities and recommendations for positive change because they play a key role in defending their communities. Moreover, the context of racial justice in the Americas is an important point of exchange between Afro-Latin American and Afro-North American organizations,” explains Elvia Duque, Race and Ethnicity Officer at Race and Equality.

To conclude the week of political advocacy, the ‘Black Women’s Movement in Washington D.C.‘ event will take place on June 7, starting at 11 a.m. (Washington D.C. time), at the meeting center for Afro-descendant women, ÌPÀDÉ. The panel discussion on communication and mobilization strategies against racism and racial violence in the Americas will feature the leaders who make up the delegation.


 Delegation for Racial Justice of Afro-Descendant Women from Latin America and the Caribbean

United Nations Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants – May 30th to June 2nd in New York

Parallel Event: Racial and Gender Violence in Latin America

Thursday, June 1, 1:15 p.m. (New York time)

Venue: UN Church Center – 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017. 8th floor. Located a two-minute walk from the UN headquarters.

Political Advocacy Week in Washington D.C. – June 5th to June 7th

Event: Black Women’s Movement in Washington D.C.

Wednesday, June 7, 11 a.m. (Washington D.C. time)

Venue: ÌPÀDÉ – 1734 20th St NW, Washington, DC 20009



Lesbian Visibility: Couples, Families and Lesbian Maternity Homes

Washington D.C., April 26, 2023– On the International Lesbian Visibility Day, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) believes it is necessary to talk about the visibility of family diversity made up of lesbians and non-binary lesbians, either with or without children, the right to love outside of the heterosexual framework, and still enjoy the legal protection of the State.

Although international law recognizes that all people are equal before the law,[1] the legal protection for same-sex couples, in terms of equality, is not the same. The inability to marry, adopt, and be recognized as a family due to lesbophobia and structural discrimination keeps lesbians and their children unprotected.

According to Statista, in Latin America, equal marriage is legal only in seven countries and in some Mexican states. In the case of Cuba, following the adoption of the new Family Code, persons of the same sex could marry and adopt, however, lesbians remain invisible. “There are articles and laws that address diversity, but we continue to be discriminate. My partner Kirenia Núñez and I have been together for seven years, and in all that time we have suffered lesbophobic violence. We have been violated for being activists and for being lesbians in a country where the state doesn’t really recognize us,” said María Matienzo, a Cuban writer who was forced to leave the island.

Up until 2008 in Nicaragua, the “crime of sodomy” was enforced in Article 204 of the Criminal Code, which criminalized same-sex relations with sentences of up to three years in prison.

Despite the repeal of this Article, lesbian women and non-binary lesbians of Nicaragua are exposed to religious fundamentalisms, hate speech, machismo, and a lack of protection by the State. The Nicaraguan Constitution does not recognize the right to self-determination with respect to gender identity or equal marriage, which makes it impossible to form families of lesbian parents, having or adopting children, and inheriting as a surviving spouse.

When States do not legally recognize or protect lesbian families, they leave them without access to other rights such as inheritance, social security, widowhood or divorce pensions, custody or adoption of children, housing, employment, credit, visits to hospitals and prisons, among others. In addition, this helplessness extends to their children and their most fundamental rights such as recognizing their two mothers and bearing their surnames.

In Peru, Jenny Trujillo and Darling Delfín, two lesbians married in Mexico, are suing the Peruvian State before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) because the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status (RENIEC), since 2016, refuses to register them as mothers on their son’s National Identity Card (DNI) even though the Judiciary ordered him to do so.

Last year, after five years of being discriminated against as lesbians and mothers, Jenny and Darling went to international courts with a petition and request for precautionary measures to guarantee: a life without discrimination, the best interests for their son, free development of personality, personal freedom, among others.

Although equal marriage does not exist in Peru, Article 2050 of the Civil Code and the Constitution provide recognition of marriages and rights acquired abroad. “We have faith that soon more lesbian mothers will be able to have their sons or daughters recognized and protected by the Peruvian State, and that there will no longer be the need to leave our country to seek legal recognition,” says Jenny Trujillo.

In the case of Colombia, there was an equal marriage law that recognized same-sex unions; however, institutional obstacles persisted that discriminated against women, not only because they were lesbians but also because they were of African descent. “Families of lesbian parents made up of black women exist. We are tasked with mothering from a place of love, respect, and empathy. We often encounter institutional barriers that do not recognize us as mothers of our children, that make us invisible, that do not allow us to enjoy the rights that we as mothers have. The families of lesbian black women are here, and we want to be visible,” says Sami Arizabaleta, activist and director of the Afro-Descendant Foundation for Social and Sexual Diversity – Somos Identidad.

Advisory Opinion 24/17 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the International Protection of Same-Sex Relationships is clear when it indicates that the American Convention does not establish a closed concept of the family. Not even one model is protected. For this reason, “the rights resulting from affective relationships between couples are usually protected by the Convention through the Family Institute and the Family Life Institute.”[2]

States must fulfil their obligations regarding the principle of equality and non-discrimination provided in Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which is elaborated extensively in General Comment No. 20 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Considering this, Race and Equality raises some recommendations for States on measures to protect the rights of lesbians:

  • Guarantee the right to a family and the civil rights of lesbians and GBTI+ people through the legal recognition of lesbian mothers and diverse families.
  • Guarantee access to equal marriage and maintain unrestricted respect for rights acquired abroad.
  • Develop mechanisms that prevent the criminalization of lesbian mothers in processes of custody of their children.
  • Strengthen training programs for State officials to guarantee dignified treatment of lesbians and GBTI+ people in public services.
  • Implement Comprehensive Sexual Education policies that guarantee respect for sexual diversity and gender identities.
  • Register, document, and analyze violence against lesbians and GBTI+ people to formulate policies that respond to their needs.
  • Guarantee access to justice. Investigate and punish discrimination and crimes committed against lesbians and GBTI+ people.
  • Promote access for lesbians and GBTI+ people.
  • Create accessible political spaces and positions of power to guarantee the right to political participation without violence and with the representation of identities.
  • Implement assistance programs for cases of violence due to prejudice in and out of the home.

Note: In Brazil, there are two specific dates for the lesbian movement: August 19, Lesbian Pride Day, and August 29, Lesbian Visibility Day. Therefore, the Brazilian Lesbian Movement feels represented by these dates that contemplate the struggle and history of Brazilian lesbian women.

[1] Art. 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

[2] Art. 174 of OC 24/17 of the Inter-American Court

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