IACHR Launches Report on the Situation of People of African Descent at meeting of CARICOM
July 13, 2012
St. Lucia – On July 6, 2012, at the 33rd meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government, held in St. Lucia, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented its report on The Situation of People of African Descent, as well as briefings on the IACHR’s work, particularly on the rights of human rights defenders. Leading the IACHR team were Commissioner Jose de Jesus de Orozco, Chair and Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders; Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Rapporteur on the Rights of People of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination; and the IACHR Interim Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts-Nevis was guest speaker, while CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, offered welcoming remarks. Other CARICOM dignitaries in attendance included Prime Minister Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia, Prime Minister Tilman Thomas of Grenada, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and the Chief Minister of Anguilla, Hubert Hughes.
In her presentation, Commissioner Antoine acknowledged the history and impact of slavery in shaping contemporary racial inequality, noting, however, that the report “seeks to make a contribution to the ownership of human rights by persons of African descent in the Americas, to their strengthening, and to give persons of African descent a tool for empowerment.” Commissioner Antoine noted that this first thematic report of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of People of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination is also intended to promote greater visibility for the Afro-Descendant population of the Americas. She also stressed that in countries where African descendants are in the minority, inequities in areas such as education, health, financial status, and employment have been more easily identified and documented; and that some of these issues have been the subject of cases before the Commission.
Commissioner Antoine said that in Caribbean countries where populations tend to have majority Afro Descendant populations,the problem of race is more complex and more subtle. In this regard Commissioner Antoine observed that while there is less overt racism in Caribbean countries, indirect discrimination remains a problem, in addition to strong structural paradigms that exacerbate inequality between the races.
In his address, Commissioner Orozco recalled the role of the IACHR over the past 50 years in confronting grave and systematic human rights violations at the hands of dictatorships and authoritarian governments, noting that the Commission has worked to combat impunity and ensure justice and accountability. The IACHR Chair noted that human rights defenders play an indispensable role in the process of strengthening the rule of law and consolidating democratic institutions. Commissioner Orozco said that the IACHR had recently published its Second Report on the Situation of Human Right Defenders in the Americas, which served to document patterns of human rights abuses, including murders, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances of defenders. Commissioner Orozco added that in some countries, these abuses were on the rise, particularly in those countries that have experienced a breakdown in democracy; where an internal armed conflict persists; or where there are ongoing confrontations with organized crime groups.
On his part, the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza, said: “This landmark report is one of the major works in the 53 year history of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a body which has played a significant role as a watchdog for the rights of all the peoples of the hemisphere.”
Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts-Nevis said that while CARICOM States have a proud human rights record, “there are still many human rights issues that need our urgent attention if we are truly to say that we are freedom loving peoples living in dignity and conscious of the well being of each person.” He noted that the Caribbean lags behind the world in areas such as the treatment of “our differently abled.” The Prime Minister also noted that there are other areas of concern such as domestic violence, human trafficking, and the rights of indigenous peoples.
Prime Minister Douglas reiterated his personal commitment to elevating the standard of human rights in his country generally, and more specifically, “confronting perhaps some of the most controversial issues in the human rights arena, that is, the issues of sexual orientation and HIV.” In this regard, Prime Minister Douglas announced that he had taken on the challenge of reforming the laws of St. Kitts and Nevis on sexual orientation. Prime Minister Douglas explained that this “a huge challenge in a country and region which has grown up with the social and religious dogmas that declare that homosexuality is a sin,” but that “each person is entitled to live in freedom and dignity.” To that end, the Prime Minister said that he had previously declared publicly that his country “will change the pre-colonial laws that we inherited which make sodomy not only unlawful, but a criminal act.”
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.