Latin America faces huge task to reverse discrimination against Afro-descendants – UN rights chief

Afro-Colombian children displaced from their rural homes, find refuge near the city of Buenaventura. Photo: UNHCR/B.Heger

7 December 2015 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, saying he was struck by the “enormity of the task” over the next decade to reverse five centuries of discrimination against the 150 million people of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, has urged the region to draw on “the untapped potential in hitherto invisible communities.”

The top UN human rights official made those remarks in a speech to the first Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean on the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) held in Brasilia, Brazil, last week and which bought together States, regional organizations, national human rights institutions, equality bodies and civil society, particularly those of people of African descent, as well as UN bodies from the region.

“I am struck by the enormity of the task before us,” Mr. Zeid said.

“Ten years to reverse five centuries of structural discrimination? Racial discrimination that has deep roots grown in colonialism and slavery and nourished daily with fear, poverty and violence, roots that aggressively infiltrate every aspect of life – from access to food and education to physical integrity, to participation in decisions that fundamentally affect one’s life,” he said.

“A decade is such a short time,” he noted.

Mr. Zeid called on States to honour their commitments and obligations under international human rights law and use all the tools at their disposal to make concrete progress in advancing the rights of Afro-descendants. The tools include international human rights treaties, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) on eradicating racism and xenophobia, as well as the framework provided by the UN General Assembly for the International Decade. The themes for the Decade are: Recognition, Justice and Development.

“Today, there are more than 150 million people of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean – about 30 per cent of the population. Yet Afro-descendants throughout much of the region are almost invisible in the halls of power – economic, academic, professional or political, at local or national levels. High rates of inequality persist,” he said.

At the end of the meeting on Friday, the delegates adopted a declaration which recalls the UN General Assembly’s Programme of Activities of the International Decade and reaffirms their commitment to the full implementation of the Durban Declaration at national, regional and global levels.

States also pledged to adopt affirmative action policies to alleviate and remedy inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights in access to education and employment, in line with the particularities of each country.

“Let us seize this chance to tap the untapped potential in hitherto invisible communities. Let us pledge to use these 10 years to turn a corner,” the High Commissioner said.


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