Press Release

IACHR Presents Report on the Situation of People of African Descent in the Americas

January 18, 2012

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published today the Report The Situation of Persons of African Descent in the Americas. The report presents an initial evaluation with respect to the situation of afro-descendant persons in the Americas and makes recommendations to the States to advance in the protection of their human rights. The report was elaborated in the context of the activities of the IACHR in the International Year of Afro-descendants.

The principle of nondiscrimination is one of the pillars of the democratic system and is one of the fundamental bases of the inter-American system of human rights. However, afro-descendant persons in the Americas continue to be victims of exclusion, racism and racial discrimination and have been invisibilized, even when they are the majority of the population in some of the countries in the region. Despite afro-descendants represent approximately 30% of the population of the Americans, the variable “afrodescendance” had not been included in the census until recently.

As a consequence of the structural discrimination, afro-descendant persons live, in general, in the poorest areas and with the most precarious infrastructure, and they are more exposed to crime and violence. Furthermore, Afro-descendants encounter serious obstacles regarding access to health and education services, as well as in obtaining housing and employment, especially at the managerial and upper levels. Accordingly, the Commission concludes that persons of African descent face major obstacles for the exercise and guarantee of their civil and political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Similarly, under representation and the scant participation of the Afro-descendant population in politics demonstrate the existence of further impediments to access to political power structures and to an active role in the design of public policies designed to improve their situation of structural discrimination.

The report also analyzes the obstacles that the Afro-descendant population faces in the Americas when trying to access domestic judicial remedies in response to the existent discrimination. The Commission acknowledges on a positive note that some countries have recently approved legislation designed to combat racial discrimination. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Commission observes that the obstacles in the access to complaint and reparation mechanisms, be they administrative or judicial, as well as the lack of sensitivity of justice operators, is a factor that help perpetuate patterns of segregation and exclusion.

The Commission considers it essential for States in the region to adopt positive measures to eradicate racial discrimination in the Hemisphere and provide effective guarantees of the rights of Afro-descendants. To that end, there has to be proper and disaggregated information. Moreover, it is necessary to have sufficient and specific human and financial resources devoted not only to neutralizing prejudice and racial stereotypes but also to improving the living conditions of persons of African descent with respect to health, housing, education, and work, paying particular attention to the multiple discrimination to which Afro-descendant women are exposed. Human rights instruments in both the universal and the inter-American systems have specifically recognized the need to resort to affirmative action measures to remedy or offset structurally historical discrimination against certain groups and to prevent such discrimination from persisting. Affirmative action measures are an exceptional and temporary tool, needed to guarantee the substantive equality and enjoyment of fundamental rights of historically disadvantaged persons and social groups or victims of ongoing prejudice.

The Commission reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the States in the region in the search for solutions to the identified problems. Several measures already adopted to solve the situation show the understanding and recognition of the seriousness of the ongoing problems and the commitment of the members of the Government and non-governmental sectors to effectively solve the obstacles faced by the Afro-descendant population. In particular, the Commission highlights that the strengthening of the mechanisms of justice at the national level and the adoption of measures to overcome the obstacles in the access to judicial guarantees, constitute the first line of defense in the protection of human rights of the afro-descendant population.

This report has been elaborated thanks to the financial support of the European Union.

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 matter. 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. 5/12