Friday, April 9, 2010

Not Just Guantánamo. What is the difference between psychological torture and stoning as a violation of human rights?

by Bill Quigley

In New York City, the U.S. is torturing a Muslim detainee with no prior criminal record who has not even gone to trial.

For the last almost three years, Syed Fahad Hashmi has been kept in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell under 24 hour video and audio surveillance. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. He takes his meals alone in his cell. He cannot see any other detainees and he is not allowed to communicate in any way with any prisoners. He cannot write letters to friends and he cannot make calls to anyone but his lawyer. He is prohibited from participating in group prayer. He gets newspapers that are 30 days old with sections cut out by the government. One hour a day he is taken into another confined room where he is also kept in total isolation.

Children are taught that the U.S. Constitution protects people accused of crimes. No one is to be punished unless their guilt or innocence has been decided in a fair trial. Until trial, people are entitled to the presumption of innocence. They are entitled to be defended by an attorney of their choice. And the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The punishment of Mr. Hashmi has been going on for years while he has been waiting for trial. In addition to the punitive isolation he is subjected to today, he was denied the attorney of his choice. He was allowed only counsel investigated and pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed to look at any translated documents unless the translator is pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed any contact with the media at all. One member of his family can visit through the heavy screen for one hour every other week unless the government takes away those visits to further punish him. The government took away his family visits for 90 days when he was observed shadow boxing in his cell and talked back to the guard who asked what he was doing.

If the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, what is the impact of forced isolation? Medical testimony presented in his case in federal court concluded that after 60 days in solitary people’s mental state begins to break down. That means a person will start to experience panic, anxiety, confusion, headaches, heart palpitations, sleep problems, withdrawal, anger, depression, despair, and over-sensitivity. Over time this can lead to severe psychiatric trauma and harms like psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates.

That is why, under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is considered a form of torture and is banned. The conditions and practices of isolation are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Convention against Torture, and the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In 1995, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated that isolation conditions in certain U.S. maximum security prisons were incompatible with international standards. In 1996, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture reported on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in U.S. supermax prisons. In 2000, the U.N. Committee on Torture roundly condemned the United States for its treatment of prisoners, citing supermax prisons. In May 2006, the same committee concluded that the United States should “review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.”

John McCain said his two years in solitary confinement were torture. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” The reaction of McCain and many other victims of isolation torture were described in a 2009 New Yorker article on isolation by Atul Gawande. Gawande concluded that prolonged isolation is objectively horrifying, intrinsically cruel, and more widespread in the U.S. than any country in the world.

Who is this man? Syed Fahad Hashmi grew up in Queens and attended Brooklyn College. He became an outspoken Muslim activist. He moved to London and received a master’s degree in international relations there.

Yet the federal judge hearing his case continues to approve of the forced isolation and the rest of the restrictions on this presumably innocent man.

The reason that this is allowed to continue is that Hashmi is accused of being involved with al Qaeda.

Mr. Hashmi is accused of helping al Qaeda by allowing rain gear (raincoats, ponchos and socks) that were going to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment, he allowed his cell phone to be used to contact al Qaeda supporters and he made post-arrest threatening statements.

Supporters of Fahad have demonstrated outside his jail, set up a website – and have worked for years to alert the public to his torture. Articles by Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges and Jeanne Theoharris have been written over the past several years documenting and protesting these human rights violations.

But, once accused of connections with terrorism or al Qaeda, apparently, the U.S. constitution and international human rights apparently do not apply. Torture by the U.S. is allowed. Pre-trial punishment is allowed. The presumption of innocence goes out the window. Counsel of choice is not allowed. Communication with news media not allowed.

The trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi is set for April 28, 2010 in New York. Till then he will continue to be tortured by the U.S. government whose star spangled banner proclaims it to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.


Ethnic Nationalism and Xenophobia

By Austin Cline

What does it mean to be German, French, or Italian? This is a question which European nations are facing and having trouble answering. In America, simply being born here is enough. The same is true for a few other countries, like Canada and Australia. For a country like Germany, however, ethnicity plays a role and this causes problems for immigrants.

The Economist explains the problem faced by Germany:

Germany is not the only country that has problems with immigration, but it faces a special dilemma. In a way, it is torn between its past and its future: it still yearns for cultural homogeneity, but will in fact need more immigrants, particularly highly skilled ones, to make up for its low birth rate and to keep its economy competitive.

It is the “legacy of romanticism”, in the words of Dieter Oberndörfer, a political scientist at Freiburg University, that holds Germany back. Thinkers such as Friedrich Julius Stahl, a 19th-century lawyer, developed the idea that Germans are a people based on descent. “The older and purer the tribe,” he wrote, “the more it will be a nation.” This became mainstream thinking, at least among the ruling classes, and helps to explain why, some time after Germany had become a nation at last in the late 19th century, it decided to base citizenship on blood rather than soil.

The emphasis on ethnic origin also explains why Germany has seen a huge influx of foreigners with German roots since the second world war, mostly from eastern Europe. Individuals who could prove German ancestry were invariably welcomed.
One other country where this is especially true is, ironically enough, Israel. Anyone who can prove that they are Jew, no matter where they were born or grew up, can become a citizen automatically. How much of the Israeli sense of nationality and national identity has been shaped by late 19th century German beliefs about ethnic purity? Too much, it appears.

Immigrants without German roots were also admitted in large numbers, but on different terms: under Germany’s “guest-worker model”, they were expected to go home when they were no longer needed. Predictably, though, many of the 14m guest workers whom Germany allowed in between 1955 and 1973 stayed on, particularly the Turks. They also brought their families over, which resulted in many German-born foreigners. Add other immigrants, refugees and EU citizens (who can come and go as they please), and it is easy to see why the number of foreigners grew rapidly, from 500,000 after the second world war to 6.7m (8% of the population) today. Another 7m or so Germans are naturalised immigrants. In record time, all this has turned Germany into nearly as much of a nation of immigrants as America.

Yet it took German politics until the late 1990s to accept this reality. Both big parties often felt they had to pander to anti-immigrant, if not xenophobic views. ... The third generation of Turkish immigrants, in particular, is increasingly marginalised—and not just because of the school system and the labour market. The exclusion starts when they become teenagers, explains Mr Ersan: they often switch to a Turkish football club at that point because their old German club makes it clear to them that they do not really belong there. When they have finished school, they are rarely offered even an unpaid internship, let alone an apprenticeship.

That is if they manage to finish school at all. According to a 2001 study by Bamberg University, 15.6% of young foreigners in Frankfurt failed to do so, compared with 6.5% of Germans. Far too many left school at 14. For Germany as a whole, the numbers are even worse.

The Turkish community is also to blame. Many have retreated into ethnic ghettos: the availability of a complete Turkish infrastructure makes it possible for them to live in Germany without having much contact with Germans. The fact that Turkish men in Germany increasingly look for wives in Turkey does not help: their children are often raised the traditional way and do not learn enough German to integrate properly.
Both Turks and Germans are to blame for the current situation, but who will take responsibility for fixing it? The Turks probably can’t move very far without cooperation from the Germans, but nothing the Germans do will help much unless more Turks are willing to take a chance and try to live more integrated lives in German society.

Both are going to have to take joint responsibility, then. Germans must ensure that young people of Turkish descent are able to get a decent education and have access to decent jobs. Turks, then, must be willing to move beyond their traditional ways of life and traditional neighborhoods in order to become part of the rest of Germany.

The parallels here with America are interesting. Africans were enslaved and made a sort of “guest worker” in America. Their descendants faced continual discrimination and a refusal to accept their citizenship in America — not to mention their very humanity. Today, young African-Americans also fail to graduate school in large enough numbers and, when they do graduate, they don’t have access to the same sorts of jobs. Perhaps America and Germany will be able to learn something from each other in dealing with these social problems.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is stoning women to death, mandated by Koran or Islam?

Women and girls in Iraq live in constant fear of violence as the conflict intensifies and insecurity spirals. Within their own communities, many women and girls remain at risk of death or injury from male relatives if they are accused of behavior held to have brought dishonor on the family.

Recently, in Bashika, Mosul, hundreds of men beat and stoned a 17 year old woman named Du’a Khalil Aswad to death, in a gruesome example of collective ‘honour killing’. The woman, a member of the Yezidi religion, which is practiced by Kurds in Northern Iraq, ran away from her family to join an Arab Muslim man with whom she had fallen in love and had been meeting secretly, but who rejected her.

Damned under the ‘honour’ code, for running away, for choosing outside her own community and for being ultimately rejected, Du’a had nowhere to go.

For a couple of days, she had put up with a local Yezidi tribal leader but to live in peace was not in her destiny. She was abducted and brutally murdered in front of hundreds of men by her relatives — who stripped her body, beat and kicked her, and killed her by crushing her body with rocks and concrete blocks. The police officials too participated in the disgusting communal murder.
Stoning: Is it the part of culture in Iraq?

Death by stoning is slow and painful. Islamic code prescribes that ‘the stone should not be so big as to kill the offender with one or two stones’ and ‘nor should it be as small as pebbles’.
The Islamic groups resort to every possible method to terrorize Iraqi women. Today, stoning is only practiced in order to maintain the submission of its women and those in the lower cast. Also, those impoverished or socially unimportant are punished by stoning.

Silent Killings

There are frequent reports of ‘honor crimes’ in Iraq - in particular in the predominantly Kurdish north of the country. Most victims of ‘honor crimes’ are women and girls who are considered by their male relatives and others to have shamed the women’s families by immoral behavior.
Often grounds for such accusations are flimsy and no more than rumor.

What is the situation like?

The government’s failure to protect women, and enforce laws against criminals, has created a situation where thousands of women become victims of so called honor killings. Violence has risen as a result of patriarchal and religious traditions.

In the 21st century, for such crimes to be carried out in broad daylight is not only a shame on society as whole, but most of all, it is a shame on a government that is unable to protect women from such inhumane and backward practices.

With officials largely silent on the issue except to deny that it occurs, it is unclear how many more women in the province are stoned to death.

The barbaric and violent practice of stoning will continue as long as people will water the cult of Islam, MuHAMmad, which has put his hands everywhere especially in this inhuman practice of ’stoning women to death’ and in imposing uncivilized Sharia Law upon human culture.

It forces me to ask a question, can women in Muslim countries ever expect to breathe in the air of self- approbation?


Poverty and Racial Discrimination in Latin America

The Case of Afrodescendientes

Leonardo Reales - Afro-Latino researcher

The poverty and racial discrimination that Afro-descendants in Latin America have historically faced are two structural problems that should be of concern not only to academics and NGOs interested in social development and human rights, but also to governments and regional and international institutions.

There is no doubt that economic, cultural, social and political benefits for the region that would accrue from the implementation of strategies to eliminate such problems are far from insignificant. In fact, international interest in this situation has grown over the last five years, as is evident in the proliferation of articles, reports and documents demonstrating the need for reducing such marginalization in order to achieve development and economic growth for the region.

This need is in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals proposed by the UN, especially the goal of reducing by half the income poverty rate by 2015, a goal that will be possible in the Latin American countries only if their national gross products increase. In other words, the region urgently needs its excluded and marginalized population to have equitable access to the education system, to health services, and to loans and labor markets in order to stimulate economic growth and stabilize its democracies.

Although there is much argument about the statistics on Afro-Latinos, both Afro-descendant and international organizations estimate that the region has at least 150 millions Afro-Latinos, some 30% of its total population. Some studies and reports show that socio-racial exclusion in Latin America is directly related to the Afro-descendants’ economic situation, and their limited chances of improving their income level.

As a matter of fact, the social and economic situation in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, shows that Afro-descendants are the poorest of the poor, and live below the poverty line. In other words, most Afro-descendants are poor, and most of the poor in the region are Afro-descendants.

This situation, which I studied while carrying out research for my Master’s thesis on Afro-Latinos and racism in Latin America, suggests that there is a social and political framework in which Afro-Latinos suffer constant violations of their economic, social, cultural and human rights, even though the governments in the region deny that such discrimination exists. In fact, this human rights situation was the reason why I began work on that particular project.

In the course of my research, I not only used documents and articles from Afro-descendant organizations, but also referred to recent reports on the subject that have been published by international institutions, such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations Development Program, the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, the United States Agency for International Development, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the International Labor Organization.

In addition, I also turned to material from the historical archive in order to explain the main causes and characteristics of poverty, racism, racial discrimination and socio-racial exclusion in Latin America, and why those problems have not been eliminated by society in any country of the region.

Based on these documents it is easy to conclude that once slavery was abolished in Latin America, both Africans and Afro-Latinos found themselves in the same situation, suffering the consequences of the denigrating discourses created within the framework of slavery. Historical documents also demonstrate the reproduction of the socio-racial pyramid, in spite of political constitutions and laws promoting the existence of a society formed by free men and women living under “the same” judicial and human rights conditions.

The permanence of the socio-racial structure in the region created a generalized exclusion and racial discrimination against Afro-descendants, which can be seen at both public and private levels. There are no Afro-descendants occupying important positions, and most of them do not have the same opportunities to improve their living conditions and social development. This also produced more poverty among the Afro-descendant communities, weakening the region’s productive potential.

In the light of this I decided to propose the following hypothesis: the Afro-descendant population in Latin America, excluded for decades at both public and private levels, is mostly poor, and its poverty produces losses in the income of the region, thus limiting its social development and economic growth.

My thesis’ main objective is to serve as a reference point in the creation and promotion of social policies and economic development programs, at both public and private levels, that aim to improve the living conditions of Afro-Latinos, reducing their poverty and exclusion, in order to further the kind of equal development within the region that will strengthen its economic capacity and income.

The text also has four objectives which seek to encourage universities and public institutions to consider the ethnic component of their research, policies, reports and programs. Those objectives are:

·        to present the socio-economic situation of Afro-descendants based on previous studies and reports;

·        to explain the causes of institutionalized racism in the region, and its consequences in terms of social development and economic growth;

·        to propose the creation and implementation of affirmative action policies and programs for Afro-Latinos in the labor market and the education system;

·        to promote more research among the academic community, in order to point out how noxious socio-racial exclusion is, not only for Afro-Latinos but for Latin-American society in general.

The thesis can be defined as documentary research, because most of the texts I used to write it come from institutional reports which analyze the strong relationship between poverty, racial discrimination and socio-racial exclusion in Latin America.

Moreover, I utilized other research findings, including those from the two theses I wrote in order to get my undergraduate degrees in Political Science and History, and articles from Afro-descendant organizations, human rights activists, academics and community leaders throughout the Latin American region.

However, the research is also descriptive, considering its primary sources, in which there are some personal essays and works, quoted throughout the document, and the opinions received from Afro-descendant community leaders that I interviewed while performing research on Afro-Latinos and racism in the region.

The thesis pretends to promote an academic and political discussion of the local, national and regional benefits that would be produced in terms of social, political and economic development, if the governments in the region eliminate the problems I have mentioned. This discussion should also include the role of the regional institutions that are involved in the implementation of social and development policies.

Furthermore, the text I wrote makes a comparison between the political, cultural and socio-economic situation of Afro-descendants, and the rest of the population in the region. The comparison shows that Afro-descendants require special attention from governments and specific policies in their National Development Plans. That is why the research findings can serve as a political tool to promote socio-racial inclusion in order to help support Afro-descendants and productivity in the countries.

I will write this paper taking advantage of the proposals and conclusions that I wrote in my thesis. Those conclusions and proposals seek to find solutions and ideas that may help to end socio-racial exclusion in Latin America, and improve the living conditions of Afro-descendants, in the frame of the Millennium Development Goals process and the international human rights norms, which have been approved by most Latin American countries in the last decades. The conclusions are:

Poverty and racial discrimination are two complex structural problems that affect all Latin American nations. These problems mainly affect Afro-descendants, who usually are excluded from public and private institutions, and do not have enough political power to participate in the relevant decision-making processes. The socio-racial exclusion persisted in the region as a direct consequence of the socio-racial structure created during slavery, and despite norms and constitutions that promote social justice, equity and equality under the law for all citizens.

Racism, racial discrimination and socio-racial exclusion in Latin America have produced self-esteem problems in their victims, especially the population which has an African background. Moreover, they do not have real chances to end their poverty and little has been done to address these issues. That is why most of the poor people in Latin America are Afro-descendants, and most Afro-descendants are poor.

It is urgent to make international human rights treaties and norms effective, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Covenant 169 of the International Labor Organization, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, that have been ratified by Latin American states with a view to improving the political and socio-economic situation of all ethnic groups.

The Millennium Development Goals complement the international human rights treaties in so far as they seek the elimination of poverty and the promotion of social development in a non-discriminatory framework. In that sense, it is important to say that if the main objective is strengthening economic growth and development all countries in the region must try to guarantee the elimination of institutionalized racism and racial discrimination.

Although Afro-Latinos in general live in the poorest regions in Latin America, and have the lowest level of income, the situation is even worse when we analyze the gender component. In other words, Afro-descendant women are not only the most excluded people in the region, but they suffer the consequences of domestic and sexual violence, just as other women do. That is why it is also urgent to find solutions to this problem and recognize their relevant role as promoters of culture and values.

In the frame of institutionalized racial exclusion, the Afro-descendant population is the victim of intolerance problems. Many governments and academics have said that there is no racism or racial discrimination in their countries, because legal segregation does not exist. Nevertheless, this fact does not mean the non-existence of racist practices in the region. In fact, some studies demonstrate that institutionalized racism is related to the lack of knowledge and poverty of most Afro-Latinos.  

            External invasions have meant that Afro-descendants have tended to lose their natural resources and lands, which has resulted in massive migrations to big cities and towns, because the population usually considers these are better places to solve their problems, even though they also suffer discrimination there. Sometimes the migrations are forced by illegal groups and/or the State itself, which represents one of the worst human rights violations, if we consider their ancestral rights to their lands.

Afro-descendants present a dramatic situation in terms of health and housing, and they are also excluded from the welfare system. This has been historically produced by racial discrimination against them, and has resulted in more poverty problems.    Their dramatic situation has also strengthened the noxious cycle “socio-racial exclusion - poverty - low economic growth”.

That means the exclusion suffered by Afro-descendants increases their poverty problems, reduces their potential and possibilities of working under a healthy and efficient environment, and negatively affects the productivity of the countries.

The Afro-descendant population has limited access to the education system in all countries. Socio-racial prejudices that came from slavery became a characteristic of Latin-American societies, and despite the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, the education system continues promoting racist and discriminatory ideas.

The region has minimized how important both Africans and Afro-Latinos during the independence war were, and their role in the national identities building processes. Moreover, the education system itself has promoted the use of racist stereotypes and ideas that have obviously produced self-esteem problems among the Afro-descendant communities. This situation has become another obstacle for Afro-descendants to access to labor markets at both public and private levels.        

Racial discrimination, racism and socio-racial exclusion are responsible for the concentration of Afro-descendants in the low-paid labor market. They earn lower salaries than the legal minimums and they usually comprise the majority of convicted people. Their access to labor markets is influenced by the lack of equity they suffer in educational terms. That is why the States and private companies must implement policies and programs towards the elimination of labor discrimination against Afro-descendants, and promote equal access to all kinds of employment.

Labor discrimination is stronger when the victim is an Afro-descendant, which is a violation of the right to work, which is defended by several international human rights treaties that have been ratified by all States in the region. That is why loans and labor markets for Afro-Latinos are limited, and it is important to emphasize the situation is even worse when we see the gender component. In Latin America, most women with African backgrounds earn less than white people and mestizos with the same academic level and professional background.

If States create political, cultural and social conditions to improve the economic situation of Afro-Latinos, equal development and economic growth would be easier to achieve for the region in the following years. For this reason, Afro-descendants urgently require the implementation of affirmative action policies and programs at both public and private levels, which will lead to them being included in all social, economic, cultural and political activities established by the national constitutions.

Racial discrimination and racism also affect Afro-Caribbean people. As a matter of fact, these problems are the main cause of their poverty. External invasions, and political, social, economic and cultural hegemonies have been the characteristics of institutionalized racism, socio-racial exclusion and racial discrimination against the Afro-Caribbean population.  

Both Afro-Latinos and Afro-Caribbean people are strongly affected by the same structural problems (especially poverty, racial discrimination and socio-racial exclusion) and present the worst socio-economic indicators in terms of their access to the education system, to health and social services, to land and housing, and to loans and labor markets, which make Afro-descendants the poorest of the poor in the Americas.

Latin America is the region in the world with the worst distribution of income, and this situation has increased for the last decades because of the implementation of wrong socio-economic development models and policies. Distribution of income is even worse when we consider the ethnic component. Without a doubt, in all Latin American countries white people and mestizos have more opportunities than Afro-descendants to access to social services and education, and this has produced more poverty, exclusion, inequality and racial discrimination against them.    

Despite the disadvantageous social situation of Afro-Latinos, their contribution to economies in the region has been crucial. Afro-descendants are producers of goods and services, and they represent a market of 150 millions costumers. They are central to many key areas of production, and the standard of living of the middle-classes of most countries in the region could not be maintained without the domestic work contributions of Afro-descendant women and young Afro-Latinos.

Moreover, the informal sector that provides goods and services, and feeds the low-income and poorer sectors of the Latin American population is sustained by Afro-descendants. Latin America’s quality of life today would be unrecognizable without the active economic presence of Afro-descendants. Yet, like their ancestors centuries before them, they are not properly rewarded economically or even respected socially.

The perpetuation of systems and attitudes that confine Afro-descendants to low-paid, racially-defined areas of work, where education plays a limited role in terms of advancement, is therefore seen by many to be only a slightly altered, modern version of slavery.

As the well-documented study Afro-descendants, Discrimination and Economic Exclusion in Latin America [i] concludes, in Latin America and the Caribbean freedom of movement and advancement in the economic arena is blocked by racial discrimination in education, recruitment and promotion, and by workers’ lack of knowledge about their human, social and economic rights. This forces a large mass of workers to be available consistently to function only as cheap labor in sectors where the “white” population does not wish to work. This not only stifles the self-development of Afro-descendants, but also guarantees the continuation of the unequal distribution of income that I have already mentioned.

This dispensation may guarantee a better quality of domestic life for the middle and upper classes in Latin America but, as in prior eras, it is achieved at the expense of Afro-descendants’ rights. It could also be argued that, if theses are the economic gain for the region, from a population that has been educationally and socially suppressed, one can only wonder what Latin America’s economy may be missing by condoning or by continuing to do nothing about eliminating their social and economic exclusion, and poverty. [ii]      

Some studies and reports [iii] have shown how these practices contributed to the slow economic growth of Latin America and the Caribbean. Discriminatory employers and institutions that invest less in training Afro-Latinos than white people and mestizos, fail to invest in a very large section of the population and limit the economic potential of the entire region.

It is perhaps important to recall at this stage, that the demise of both slavery and apartheid owed as much to their economic inefficiency as to their moral. In the long term, market discrimination and segmented economies established along racial, ethnic and gender lines diminish productivity, growth and economic development. [iv]  

The creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas would undoubtedly serve the best interests of the region to promote the inclusion of Afro-descendants, with a focus on increasing educational opportunities, and decreasing the racial discrimination and other factors that perpetuate their socio-racial and economic exclusion.

It is important to point out that many governments in Latin America are parties to key Conventions and Covenants that have an impact on Afro-descendants’ rights. Therefore, there is - at least - an understanding of the need for rights and an agreement about the basic equality of rights. The performance of these states on issues of racial discrimination and the treatment of minorities show that progress has been made on the legislative front - at least in terms of enacting legislation - but there is far less progress in implementing such legislation. [v] When it comes to policy enforcement, the racial prejudices of the civil servants involved prevent effective application.

Afro-descendants are generally not considered, nor are they involved, in the design of policies and programs that affect them, particularly those policies such as the decentralization of resources to municipalities where Afro-descendants are demographic majorities, and in socio-economic policies related to non-traditional exports. [vi]

Although many countries have begun to introduce legislation to recognize Afro-descendants as minorities, and to punish racial discrimination, few of these laws are really enforced. When they are enforced, their application by the authorities usually discriminates against the interests of Afro-descendants.

This is achieved via delays, when the outcome is likely to be beneficial to Afro-descendants, or by undue swiftness when it will work against them. This occurs especially in the titling of property for peasants who have encroached upon and occupied Afro-descendant ancestral lands.

The most detrimental omission by Latin American governments, however, is their failure to establish appropriate institutions to denounce the violations of the social, cultural and economic rights of Afro-descendants, and to demand retribution. [vii]

There is a need to transform the public perception of Afro-descendants through changes in the formal education curriculum, to incorporate an accurate history, and the contribution of both Africans and Afro-descendants in Latin America. Yet, apart from developing a bilingual education curriculum in some Central American countries, no known efforts are being made at any level in the region to change attitudes about socio-racial exclusion and discrimination. [viii]

Afro-descendant invisibility in socio-economic development programs began to be addressed in 1999, via the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Census Departments of the region. Since 2002, the censuses have been encouraged to include several questions of ethnic identity and “race”, but with mixed results, often because neither questioner nor questioned are clear about the benefits of counting or being counted. [ix]

For most Afro-descendant organizations and community leaders, there are still no significant programs being designed or implemented expressly for their communities and towns, especially at the kinds of levels required to make an appreciable difference, given their long history of exclusion and racial discrimination.

That is why Afro-descendant organizations have identified the following key strategies, not only to make effective Afro-descendants’ political, social, cultural, constitutional and economic rights, but also to guarantee socio-racial inclusion and development with equality throughout Latin America:

First, the governments in the region have to educate professionals with African backgrounds in the evaluation of public policies, especially those regarding Afro-Latinos; second, it is important to strengthen Afro-descendant networks in order to design socio-racial inclusion projects and plans; third, both governments and Afro-descendant organizations must establish priorities in the face of problems such as unemployment, racial discrimination, institutionalized racism and poverty.

Fourth, it is necessary to support and promote laws regarding Afro-descendant issues; fifth, Afro-descendant organizations should create partnerships with the public and private sectors, and the universities in the region, to get an important labor force of Afro-Latinos with a high educational level; and sixth, it is indispensable to work on equal development while eliminating the problems that I have been mentioning in this paper.

These strategies make us suggest the following development proposals, in order to not only eliminate the poverty of all Afro-descendants, but also to achieve more economic growth and respect for human rights in the region:

First, both governments and Afro-descendant organizations have to work on the promotion and implementation of programs regarding Afro-descendant enterprises and small businesses; second, they also have to work on the creation of working groups on health and social services for Afro-Latinos; third, they have to support the establishment of regional events and forums on Afro-Latinos, in order to obtain a clear comprehension of those programs and policies regarding the Afro-descendant population.

Fourth, Afro-descendants must create a political culture that allows them to negotiate their votes in an efficient way with candidates that are running for the Presidency and other electoral positions in order to promote policies that benefit Afro-descendant communities; fifth, governments and Afro-descendant organizations have to promote and support affirmative action policies and programs, especially to improve the access to higher education and employment.

Sixth, they have to promote the assistance and international cooperation to make effective their proposals; seventh, they have to promote the creation of an Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination against Afro-descendants and indigenous people, and support the Inter-American Human Rights Commission at the Organization of American States, which has been working on Afro-descendant issues for the last five years; and eighth, they should empower the regional integration under a context that promotes socio-racial inclusion and equity development, and demands international respect for them.

Finally, all countries must make political decisions that support Afro-Latinos, and eliminate socio-racial exclusion in the region, not only because this exclusion causes poverty and human rights violations, which is against both international and national norms, but also because of its negative impact on social development and regional economic growth.

[i] BRYAN, Maurice and SÁNCHEZ, Margarita, with MRG partners. “Afro-descendants, Discrimination and Economic Exclusion in Latin America”. Minority Rights Group International, London, May 2003

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] See Bibliography. Note: This essay as well as other documents on Afro-descendants and Afro-Colombians can be downloaded from and

[iv] BRYAN, Maurice and SÁNCHEZ, Margarita, op. cit., p. 15

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid. p. 16

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.


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