Press Release

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the IACHR and the UN Special Rapporteur on racism call on States to adopt special measures and affirmative actions towards Afro-descendant persons

March 21, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance call on States to act without delay in adopting legislative, political, and programmatic measures to implement special policy and affirmative actions aimed at promoting equitable conditions for equal opportunity, inclusion, and progress for Afro-descendant persons. Accordingly, States must adopt steps to collect adequate and disaggregated information with an ethnic-racial perspective, and interventions aimed at improving living conditions for Afro-descendant persons in regards to their health, housing, education and employment. 

According to available data, there are over 150 million Afro-descendant persons living in the Americas. This number amounts to 30% of the entirety of the hemisphere’s population. However, Afro-descendant persons and communities continue to face numerous obstacles to access high-quality public services in terms of health, education and justice, as well as to effectively participate in the formal labor market and have access to a decent work.

Furthermore, the the experts highlight that there still is an institutional racism entrenched on the State institutions and organs, which can be observed on discriminatory practices and racism, for instance, within domestic justice systems. They also recognize the effort that distinct countries of the region have deployed in order to develop normative frameworks and public policies aimed at fighting racism, discrimination, and other forms of intolerance. However, they emphasizes on this commemorative day that there still are racial disparities in the region, which are distant from the minimum acceptable level of equality.

Commissioner Margarette Macaulay, President of the IACHR and Rapporteur for the Rights of Afro-descendants and against Racial Discrimination, has pointed out that “structural discrimination and institutional racism that are verified among distinct countries of the Americas are the result of centuries of slavery and discrimination, which will only be reversed through positive action and public policies effectively designed to integrate Afro-descendant persons.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, added that in the current alarming context, “racial equality is under attack and it is vital that states, civil society organizations, social movements and activists devote renewed energy and attention to the structural drivers of racial inequality, including, as recognized by the Durban Declaration”. She highlighted that global attention must be paid to the structural economic, political and legal conditions that stoke racism and xenophobia among populations that perceive historically stigmatized groups as threats. 

The experts also mentioned that it is legitimate and necessary that States adopt special measures and affirmative actions in order to promote equal opportunity and advance the integration of Afro-descendants in regards to education, economy, labor and politics. States should review their laws and policy to ensure they are in conformity with the principles of effective equality and the obligation not to discriminate. This involves evaluating their possible discriminatory impact and its potential to generate indirect discrimination. 

Finally, the Commission, along with the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, assertively call on States of the region to adopt necessary measures to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Intolerance, and relevant  international treaties, as an effective demonstration of the serious duty to fight racial discrimination and all forms of intolerance on the hemisphere. The universal ratification of Inter-American instruments, and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, is an indispensable step towards the respect and guarantee of all human rights, and the prevention and eradication of racial discrimination. The experts urged States and other actors to remain vigilant and redouble their efforts with respect to addressing structural manifestations of racial discrimination and inequality, all of which are prohibited under international human rights law. “Enabling people of African descent to actively participate at all levels of decision making is essential to overcome structural discrimination and to ensure their place as key actors in the development of countries”, they concluded.

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 and to defend 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.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

No. 055/18