Press Release

IACHR Calls on OAS Member States to Bring an End to Racial Discrimination in the Americas

March 20, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) cautions that people of African descent and those who belong to other racial and ethnic minorities continue to be victims of racism and structural racial discrimination, situations which prevent them from enjoying their human rights, in spite of the progress that has been made in the region with the adoption of laws and public policies on this issue.

The principle of equality and non-discrimination is one of the pillars of the democratic system and the foundation of the inter-American system of human rights. In this regard, it is essential for the States to adopt effective measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the region and to ensure the rights of people of African descent and those who belong to other racial and ethnic minorities.

“We have a major outstanding obligation in the Americas,” said Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, IACHR President and Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination. “It is imperative for States to design, implement, and fund systems to collect accurate data and statistical and qualitative information on the human rights situation of Afro-descendants and other racial and ethnic minorities in the Americas. Unfortunately, this is not happening as yet in any significant way,” she added.

“Once they have this information, States can construct, delineate, and implement public policies and laws appropriate to the circumstances of each region and sub-region, so as to address the needs and overcome the specific obstacles that affect those population groups,” President Antoine noted.

The Inter-American Commission cautions that people of African descent face significant obstacles to the exercise of their civil and political rights, as well as their economic, social, and cultural rights. For example, they tend to live in areas that are poorer and have less infrastructure, which places them at greater risk of crime and violence. Moreover, people of African descent face serious obstacles in terms of access to housing, to basic health and education services, and to management positions and other high-ranking employment.

“At the IACHR we have heard testimony, examined statistics and other information provided both by civil society organizations and by States, and visited countries, and we have been able to verify that structural racial discrimination continues to exist in many countries in the region,” President Antoine said.

In particular, the IACHR is concerned to observe the especially vulnerable situation of low-income women of African descent. Cross-cutting factors such as their gender, race, and socioeconomic situation have placed them in a situation of extreme vulnerability. In addition, the Commission has received troubling information concerning the high levels of discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans persons of African descent. Consequently, the Inter-American Commission considers it essential for States to recognize discrimination against these individuals; collect disaggregated information on their situation and living conditions; incorporate a gender and diversity approach; and design public policies to prevent and eliminate racial discrimination in its various forms.

The IACHR recognizes the approval of laws designed to combat racial discrimination as a positive step that has taken place in various countries of the Americas. However, factors that allow for and foster continuing racism and racial discrimination continue to exist in the region.

“Regrettably, in different countries of the region we have repeatedly observed the impossibility of accessing complaint and reparation mechanisms, the lack of judicial guarantees, and the lack of awareness and training among justice system operators with regard to racial discrimination,” the IACHR President indicated.

States must adopt measures and policies to adapt their domestic laws and processes so as to ensure effective access to justice for the Afro-descendant population and other racial and ethnic minority groups. In order to do that, they must take into account the material, economic, and juridical obstacles and the systematic exclusion faced by that population. States should devote human resources and funds to help neutralize prejudice and racial stereotypes and at the same time improve the living conditions of people of African descent with respect to health care, housing, education, and work.

Finally, the IACHR urges States in the region to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, so as to make the standards of protection of fundamental rights universal in the hemisphere. The Commission reiterates the importance that the inter-American system move toward the universal acceptance and application of its standards through the ratification of all regional human rights instruments by all member countries.

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.

No. 031/15