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OAS Hosts Roundtable on Rights of Afro-Descendants in the Americas

  February 25, 2013

The Organization of American States (OAS) today hosted the 48th OAS Policy Roundtable on "Milestones and Challenges in the Advancement of the Rights of Afro-Descendants in the Americas," which discussed the progress made and challenges that remain for the full recognition of the human rights of Afro-Descendants in the region.

The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, opened the discussion noting that "the fight against discrimination and intolerance has been at the heart of the OAS since its beginnings." Its very Charter, he said, "proclaims the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed or gender."

The head of the hemispheric organization highlighted the severity of the challenges, noting that "we must face the fact that after centuries of exclusion and domination, indigenous peoples and afro-descendants have one of the lowest economic indicators and have limited access to decision-making processes." This gives rise to important questions, said the Secretary-General, and gave examples: "Why have we been unable to divest ourselves from the burden of discrimination? How can we break the cycle of exclusion and inequality that so brutally affects some of us? "

"More recently," continued the Secretary General Insulza, "the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has established that the principle of non-discrimination is one of the cornerstones of any democracy." On this point, he added that "the creation of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination in 2005 is an effort to work with OAS Member States to raise awareness and analyze the current challenges that confront countries of the region in the fight against racial discrimination."

The central theme of the presentation was delivered by United States Congressman Gregory Meeks, who said that, throughout the hemisphere, the empowerment of African descendants depends on a combination of education and resources needed to advance. "Whenever I travel to the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean I emphasize the need to develop and empower leaders of marginalized communities. I push governments to include minorities in the highest ranks, to actively seek and develop leaders from within these communities," said Representative Meeks.

The discussion panel consisted of Zakiya Carr Johnson, Senior Advisor to the Race, Ethnicity and Social Inclusion Unit of the U.S. State Department, and Francisco Lopez, President and CEO of the Bert Corona Leadership Institute, and was moderated by Ambassador Deborah-Mae Lovell, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the OAS. Lovell said that, in her capacity as Permanent Representative, she attempts to represent not only her country, but also to "speak on behalf of the voiceless, including women, the youth and Afro-Descendants."

For her part, Carr Johnson acknowledged that there have been advances in the rights of people of African descent, but warned that “we can’t rest and be comforted and be content that it is enough. Anything that moves forward has the potential to also move back. It is a constant and ongoing struggle to move forward policies and practices and change culture. "The face of inequality, the face of poverty, the face of injustice in this region - it is the face of people of African descent and indigenous peoples,” said the State Department Advisor, and "we’ve got to change that," she said.

The President and CEO of the Bert Corona Leadership Institute summarized the challenges facing people of African descent in the region, and mentioned among them "the lack of clean water, decent housing, the inability to find jobs, pregnancy, discrimination, insecurity, access to education and access to health." He noted that "these are major challenges in each country of the region" and called for "a stimulus plan for Afro America, a focused effort to help the Americas."

The event’s closing remarks were made by Emilio Álvarez Icaza, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who noted that the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination of the Commission is working on three central lines: capacity building, documentation and promotion. He emphasized that "it’s not all a question of legal frameworks and laws, it’s a question of daily practice and making rights a reality for everyone."

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video of the event is available here.

The B-roll of the event is available here.

The audio of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-065/13