The IACHR Calls on States to Respect the Justice Systems of Afro-Descendant and Tribal Communities

August 31, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – On the International Day for People of African Descent, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States in the Americas to take concrete action to foster respect for the justice systems of Afro-descendant and tribal communities, and to recognize the operations of those justice systems.

The rights of ethnic peoples to self-government and an autonomous justice system are a practical and effective way for these peoples to exercise their self-determination, an issue the IACHR has addressed in the thematic report Right to Self-Determination of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

The Social Charter of the Americas says that States commit to respecting, promoting, and protecting intercultural dialogue, ways of life, value systems, traditions, and beliefs. Ethnic peoples therefore have a right to practice and preserve their customs and knowledge and they deserve that their diverse cultures, histories, and aspirations be respected and promoted.

The IACHR understands that the exercise of local self-government and self-determination must respect national constitutional rights and international human rights standards. The IACHR also understands that the application of an autonomous justice system should be restricted to members of ethnic communities who commit minor crimes and offenses within those communities' territories. The IACHR notes that several coordination mechanisms have been set up between national justice systems and ethnic justice systems, whose operations depend on each State.

Afro-descendant and tribal communities have the right to have their own justice systems in accordance with their customs and worldviews, including their traditional organizational structures; their own internal conflict-resolution mechanisms; and their own collective community protection measures. All these institutions seek to preserve the cultural identity and the historical memory of African diaspora in the Americas.

The Commission calls on States to take measures to recognize the autonomous institutions that represent Afro-descendant peoples, to enable their operations—including the administration of justice, territorial management, and natural resource management—and to grant these peoples the financial resources they need to run these institutions.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 206/23

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