Press Release

IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on ESCER calls on the States to guarantee the rights of Afro-descendant Persons and prevent racial discrimination in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

April 28, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (OSRESCER), in the context of its Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit for the COVID-19 pandemic crisis (SACROI COVID-19), call the States to respect the rights of Afro-descendant persons and to prevent and combat racial discrimination in this context. In particular, the Commission and its OSRESCER urge the States to guarantee timely access to public health, through measures of prevention, mitigation and treatment of this disease, under conditions of dignity, equality and non-discrimination for all Afro-descendant persons and tribal communities.

The IACHR recalls that structural discrimination and historical racial segregation expose the Afro-descendant population and tribal communities to various gaps in opportunities for their own development, as well as permanent obstacles to the progressiveness of their economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. The Commission and its OSRESCER highlight that, according to information from the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), people with this ethnic-racial origin report low percentages in economic assets and formal employments, a situation that tends to expose them to situations of poverty in the countries of the region. Furthermore, they stress that within this group, both women and rural workers of African descent are those who register the highest unemployment and job insecurity figures compared to the general population.

The IACHR and its OSRESCER recall the need for emergency health policies and comprehensive protection that guarantee access to health services for all people and that are sensitive to the differing needs of individuals, in order not to aggravate situations of structural discrimination, such as ethnic-racial origin, age, gender, socio-economic situation, migration status, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and / or expression, among others.

In this sense, the IACHR and its OSRESCER highlight that the measures of containment and compulsory social isolation can represent a differentiated impact on the economic life of Afro-descendant people, who would have more difficulties in accessing public health services. The Commission also highlights the negative impact that may result from the increase in terminations of employment and the decrease in economic income per capita due to the institutional strategies adopted in the context of the pandemic; which could exacerbate and disproportionately impact the population groups in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty, such as homeless people or living in informal settlements.

On the subject, the Commission and its OSRESCER welcome the emergency plans developed by States in the region, such as in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and the United States, aimed at supporting workers, mainly informal ones, so that they can comply with the measures of social isolation during the containment of the pandemic. Likewise, they call on States to keep supporting people who are in a situation of extreme vulnerability through the construction and application of emergency measures that account for accomplishing on the important guidelines for containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, while they guarantee access to economic resources to populations that are most exposed to poverty and extreme poverty.

On the other hand, considering this population’s poverty rates, the Commission and its OSRESCER express concern about the increasing numbers of infections and deaths of African American people due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. According to publicly available information from Chicago by April 12th, 68% of COVID-19 related deaths were among African Americans, who represents only 30% of the city’s population. In the State of Louisiana, 7 out of 10 people who died from the pandemic were Afro descendant. Also, 62 deaths have been verified in Alabama of which 53% correspond to people of this ethnic-racial origin. Similarly, authorities in Detroit, Michigan, the city with the largest population of African descent persons in the country, have warned about the racial disparity regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; by April 15th, 120 deaths of people with African descent were reported due to the virus.

Moreover, the IACHR and its OSRESCER reiterate their observation that the geographic areas with a high concentration of Afro-descendant people in the region coincide with areas of marginalization and poverty, housing deficits, greater exposure to crime and violence. Such is the case of the Colombian Pacific region, where the correlation between high indicators of economic poverty and settlement areas of Afro-descendant communities persists, where even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of armed violence are registered in against persons belonging to said communities. As well as the situation of Afro-descendant people living in the favelas in Brazil, where 78 cases of infection and 10 deaths have been reported up to April 16; its inhabitants are more exposed to the high demographic concentration, and more aggravated to the violent action of armed groups; making it even more difficult to implement social isolation measures.

Additionally, the Commission and its OSRESCER observe that different States in the region have had pertinent measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for their effects, states of exception and curfews have been declared, which establish mandatory social isolation, empowering State security agents to apply the use of force and preventive detention to violators. According to the IACHR's monitoring activities, in the States with the highest presence of Afro-descendant persons, the figures of police violence against this population are higher compared to people of other ethnic-racial origin. For this reason, the Commission urges the States to take effective measures in the current context of the pandemic to prevent acts of institutional violence and excessive use of force based on ethnic-racial origin and patterns of racial profiling.

As for the Afro-descendant tribal communities, the IACHR expresses its deepest concern regarding Resolution No. 11 of the Committee for the Development of the Brazilian Space Program that was issued on March 26th. This order approved the rules for the Prior and Informed Consent consultation for the Quilombola communities, in accordance to the ILO’s 169 Resolution, which will be affected by the consolidation of the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA in Portuguese), in Maranhão state, Brazil. If the dispossession would be confirmed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IACHR and its OSRESCER stresses that this could represent a risk to health security, the right to health and the integrity of the Quilombola communities.

Regarding the Afro-descendant tribal communities, the IACHR reiterates to the States the importance of recognizing the territorial rights of collective property to the Afro-descendant communities and guaranteeing them the effective right to free, prior and informed consent and consultation, respecting their free self-determination. Likewise, it urges the States to refrain from promoting legislative initiatives or projects that affect ethnic territories during the duration of this pandemic, due to the impossibility of carrying out said consultation processes.

Finally, the IACHR highlights the different strategies adopted by the States of the region to reduce the risk of contagion and health impact of COVID-19, and the need for a coordinated response among them. Conscious of this, the Commission calls for the situation of Afro-descendants and tribal communities to be made visible in the context of this pandemic, especially to include an ethnic-racial perspective with an intersectional approach in all response measures implemented both in the level national, as in the regional responses that can be articulated.

Due to the aforementioned, in relation to the rights of people of Afro-descendant persons, the IACHR and its Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights recommends to the States, in addition to the provisions of Resolution 1/2020:

1. Adopt differentiated institutional measures to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Afro-descendant people; and in this framework, include in the systems of registries of people affected by this pandemic, disaggregated data on ethnic-racial origin, gender, disability, nationality and age.

2. Guarantee timely access to comprehensive public health services for Afro-descendant persons and tribal communities, incorporating an intercultural approach, and in that regard, having clear, accessible and inclusive information for this population about the medical procedures performed on them.

3. Include Afro-descendant persons in all spaces and levels of decision-making on action plans, public policies and projects that are executed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, to promote permanent communication channels with Afro-descendant civil society organizations to ensure their participation in the different stages of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these plans.

4. Implement institutional protocols to prevent the excessive use of force and the application of racial profiling patterns, within the framework of the measures adopted to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.

5. Guarantee the fair exercise of the right to free, prior and informed consent and consultation for Afro-descendant tribal communities during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. If necessary, suspend projects of any kind that may affect these communities due to the impossibility of practicing the consultation processes.

6. Establish universal basic income measures and temporary shelters for Afro-descendant persons and tribal communities in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty, especially people in the street situation, living on informal settlements and the rural communities, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The OSRESCER is an autonomous office of the IACHR that was specifically created to support the IACHR in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

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 and to defend 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.

No. 092/20