Press Release

IACHR Visits Colombia to Receive Information on the Situation of Persons of African Descent

August 27, 2015

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a working visit to Colombia from August 10 to 12, 2015, in order to receive information on the human rights situation of Afrocolombians. The President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent, Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, led the delegation, which also included a senior attorney from its Executive Secretariat.

The activities began in Cali, the largest city of the Pacific region of Colombia, where Commissioner Antoine met with several authorities, including representatives of the Government of the Valle del Cauca Department such as the Secretary of Ethnic Groups, the Secretary of Culture and the High Commissioner for Peace and Human Rights for the Cauca Valley. The delegation also held meetings with a number of representatives of the City of Cali, led by its Culture Secretary representing the Mayor; and with representatives for the Cauca Valley of the Office of the Solicitor General and the Office of the Ombudsperson. Finally, the IACHR delegation met with a group of representatives of civil society who work to promote and protect the rights of Afrocolombians, especially in the four Departments which comprise the Pacific region of the country.

The IACHR also participated in an academic event in the Universidad ICESI of Cali, with a conference by Commissioner Antoine on the rights of Afrodescendents in the inter-American system. The delegation also gave a workshop on the legal mechanisms of the Inter-American Commission and the Court for students, lawyers and community leaders, focused on the protection and promotion of the rights of persons of African descent.

In Bogotá, President Antoine held an extensive meeting with a broad range of representatives of the National Government of Colombia, which took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting was conducted by the Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs, and included the Vice Minister for Participation and Equal Rights, as well as authorities from the Office of the Ministry of Culture, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of the Ombudsperson, the National Department for Planning, the National Unit for the Attention and Integral Reparation of Victims, the Unit for Land Restitution, the Human Rights Observatory of the Presidency of the Republic, and the Director of the Strategy for the Pacific. The delegation also met with the Director of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare. The activities in Bogotá concluded with a meeting with representatives of civil society working with Afrocolombian issues, where the delegation received information on the situation with a national focus.

During the visit, Commissioner Antoine noted the positive attitude and engagement of the Colombian authorities, who recognize the historical debt of their country’s society with persons of African descent. She noted that there are many programs in place aimed at improving the situation of human rights of Afrodescendents in Colombia, such as the special national plan for the development of the Pacific region (Todos somos PAZcifico), the promotion of culture and fight against discrimination in the City of Cali, development of policies for inclusion, the creation and funding of governmental entities at the national and local levels to address some of the issues. Commissioner Antoine welcomed the active and courageous role of human rights defenders and representatives of civil society in the furthering of the rights of Afrocolombians, as well as the interest of academic institutions in their promotion. However, Commissioner Antoine observed the need to ensure that such programs and policies are implemented expeditiously and effectively.

Among the concerns that were raised during the visit of Commissioner Antoine, the most serious is the continuation of a pattern of violence that has plagued the Afro-descendant community, particularly in their quest to defend their rights to their ancestral  and community lands and human dignity, depriving them of their ability to enjoy their human rights. The violence and killings of persons in the Afro-descendant community continues to be very high despite plans by the State to address these gross violations. The Commission notes that Afro-descendants continue to be the victims of displacement, disproportionately so, as a result of the armed conflict in their ancestral territories and the continuance of projects of extractive industries, activities which fuel the violence, including sexual violence to Afro-descendant women, and the killings.

The Commission notes that the Constitutional Court of Colombia has identified these patterns and placed them squarely within the broader context of inequality and discrimination and historic neglect by the state, which the Court has described as ‘invisibility’. It endorses the Constitutional Court’s findings and encourages the state of Columbia to implement these enlightened decisions of that court which require concrete measures to address these human rights violations and to do so by utilizing a differential approach.

The IACHR calls on the authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these alleged hate crimes and to do so with the full understanding and appreciation of the context of discrimination and inequity that Afro-descendants face in Columbia, situations acknowledged by the Courts of Colombia and the state itself, exists. The Commission also urges the state to offer effective protective measures to Afro-descendant human rights defenders and leaders. The Commission recalls the duties placed on states to eradicate discrimination, recalling that the Inter-American Court has reaffirmed the special obligations to protect that States have regarding “acts and practices of third parties who, with its tolerance or acquiescence, create, maintain or promote discriminatory situations”. The Inter-American Court finds to this end that States are obliged to take necessary “affirmative measures to change discriminatory situations that exist in their societies to the detriment of a specific group of persons”.

Other concerns highlighted by the IACHR during the visit to Colombia include an absence of political representation of this human group at all levels of Government, but especially in higher positions; their serious affectation by extractive industries and development projects; the heightened vulnerability of Afro women, children and adolescents; and a persistent culture of discrimination and segregation that must be addressed by the citizenry as a whole, as a necessary complement to official initiatives and campaigns for its eradication.

Commissioner Antoine sincerely thanks the National Government of Colombia who facilitated the visit and provided ample access to its authorities, as well as the authorities in the Valle del Cauca Department and in the City of Cali. She also expresses gratitude to representatives of civil society and academics who cooperated to make the visit a success. The Commission hopes to continue a fruitful communication with all parties in Colombia, especially those who work on issues related to the rights of persons of African descent, in order to follow-up on these matters in fulfilment of its mandate.

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. 095/15