BY MARTA ALTOLAGUIRRE, PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN
RIGHTS (IACHR), TO THE
ON JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS
THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
D.C., February 28, 2003
afternoon. On behalf of the
IACHR, I would like to greet the representatives of the states here and
congratulate them on the priority they have decided to assign to the
problem of preventing, combating, and eradicating racism and all forms of
discrimination and intolerance, in compliance with the mandate decided by
the OAS General Assembly in June 2002.
I would also like to extend my greetings to Mr. Doudou Diene, the
UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and
Related Forms of Intolerance. Despite
the proximity of the 59th session of the UN Human Rights
Commission, Mr. Doudou Diene accepted the invitation from the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to come to our 117th
regular session to talk about his mandate, his projects, and his interest
in working towards a regional strategy in the struggle against racism and
IACHR welcomes the fact that the OAS political organs have decided to give
special attention to the problem, and that they have initiated an in-depth
discussion on the steps to take in the inter-American system.
The Commission also pays tribute to the Brazilian government for
the leadership it has taken in advancing specific initiatives in the OAS,
and offers its close cooperation in any matters under its jurisdiction.
We would like to confirm our desire to cooperate in this and any
other initiatives designed to advance human rights, within the terms of
The Durban Declaration and the Program of Action, instruments approved at the Third World Conference Against Racism, and other decisions emanating from the Regional Preparatory Conference held in Santiago, recognize the pronounced inequalities that result from racism and discrimination. It is in this context that elimination of such attitudes and behavior is an essential component of efforts to ensure the effectiveness of the guarantees and rights protected by the universal system and the regional system for protection of human rights.
Commission is aware that, despite efforts on the part of the international
community and governments, the scourge of racism and racial discrimination
continues to be a source of human rights violations. It is clear that discrimination entails a whole series of
disadvantages and situations of violence, which can lead to a personal
tragedy in the case of an individual, and can hamper efforts to eliminate
poverty and adversely affect the effectiveness of democratic institutions,
in the case of a nation.
racism and racial discrimination undermine the rule of law and slow down
the development process of the countries in the hemisphere.
Consequently, a battle must be waged by all appropriate means to
acknowledge its presence and to confront its origins.
To this end, the regional system should adopt practical, efficient,
and innovate measures to ensure protection of the human rights of persons
who suffer from any form of discrimination.
Accordingly, the Commission would like to take this opportunity to
confirm in this forum its conviction of the need to establish a specific
regional instrument to combat racism and all forms of discrimination.
the Regional Preparatory Conference for the World Conference, held in
Santiago, Chile, the governments of the Americas made significant progress
towards establishing a conceptual framework to guide efforts to eliminate
social exclusion and discrimination.
they recognized the multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, and
multilinguistic character of the Americas; they maintained that racism,
racial discrimination, xenophobia, and the various related forms of
intolerance aggravate poverty, marginalization, and social exclusion of
individuals, groups, and communities, and they reaffirmed their commitment
to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of
indigenous peoples, peoples of African descent, immigrants, women, and
persons belonging to vulnerable groups.
Finally, they recognized that racism and racial discrimination
present an obstacle to development of democracy and the rule of law in the
that same Conference, the states parties supported the need to create an
Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia, and Related Forms of Intolerance to expand the scope of
existing instruments to include provisions covering new forms of racism,
that will reflect the individual characteristics of this region and will
contain a regional follow-up mechanism.
Chairman, in this conceptual framework, I would like to emphasize that
combating racism and discrimination and promoting full equality are
critical to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
recent years, the IACHR has been gradually including specific
consideration of these types of violations on its agenda, and it has been
examining situations of this kind on
both a collective level, on the occasion of country reports, and an
individual basis, in hearing petitions and individual cases.
me to say that, in examining various individual cases, the Commission has
stated that the principle of nondiscrimination is one of the underpinnings
of any democratic system and the fundamental basis of OAS protection.
In this area,, the Commission has focused on the human rights of
persons of African descent, indigenous peoples, migrants, and other
vulnerable groups. Similarly,
the Commission has indicated in its reports that the failure to advance
economic, social and cultural rights, or worse yet, the regression of
those rights, has accentuated the disadvantageous situation of these
groups and their poverty.
this standpoint of renewed interest in combating racial discrimination,
the Commission gives its support to advancing laws in the area of human
rights that will expand the scope of internationally recognized
protection, and is in favor of establishing a convention against racial
discrimination in the inter-American system, as this would strengthen the
global and regional strategy in this area.
of regional instruments that reiterate or elaborate on the provisions of
international instruments is nothing new.
The American Convention on Human Rights itself was approved three
years after the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture
followed the same path, and the San Salvador Protocol was adopted after
the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
fact, in the international system for protection of human rights, the
existence of parallel, complementary laws on the same subject is
commonplace. With these laws,
one is not superimposed over the other, but rather they reflect certain
regional characteristics, strengthen the protection of rights, and amplify
verification mechanisms, in accordance with the inherent features of the
International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination was established over 30 years ago, and reflected the
concerns at a given time, when there was special concern over apartheid. At the present time,
new forms, manifestations, and expressions of intolerance, racism, and
racial discrimination are evident, and so there is a need for a regional
convention to combat these new types of discrimination more effectively,
and to reflect the individual characteristics of this hemisphere.
Commission also observes that there is a great disparity in the laws of
the states in this region, in the way they define racial discrimination
and racism as a criminal offense, and in the remedies and recourse
available to victims of such practices.
Therefore, the Commission is of the view that an Inter-American
Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related
Forms of Intolerance would also serve as a frame of reference for the
principles that should guide OAS member states in adapting their own
national laws to the principles established to protect against
discrimination and racism, thereby helping promote respect for human
rights in the Americas.
of laws on this subject in the regional system would further and better
guarantee the rights recognized in it.
The Santiago and Durban documents should be used as a conceptual
and legal framework for future deliberations on a convention.
It is also relevant to recommend consideration of the doctrine and
jurisprudence of the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American
we have said on previous occasions, if a decision is made to create a
regional convention, it would be imperative that the instrument empower
the Commission to supervise compliance with its precepts, in a manner
similar to what was approved by the OAS in the Convention of Belém do Pará,
the Convention on Forced Disappearance, and the San Salvador Protocol. It is important that the new instrument grant victims of
racial discrimination the right to present individual petitions, and that
it strengthen the procedural capacity of
individuals, and expand the protection of specially protected
it is essential that discussions on the draft convention be as open as
possible, to ensure the benefit of different opinions, and especially the
views of civil society organizations with experience in the area. The Commission believes that the voice of the main victims of
racial discrimination in the hemisphere should occupy an important place.
is also important for the protective organs in the system, namely, the
Inter-American Commission and Court, to be heard, in view of their
experience in defining and applying human rights law.
The Commission is of course available to you to assist governments
in deliberations on a possible convention.
recent years, the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs has made
significant contributions to developing strategies to give impetus to
topics relevant to hemispheric relations.
The initiative presented here today can represent another
outstanding contribution in this regard.
the context of the shared commitment to eradicate racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia, and other related forms of intolerance, to
improve well-being, and to promote tolerant, inclusive societies, the
Inter-American Commission believes that the CAJP can promote this
initiative in various ways. One
of them could be to set up a working group on the situation of people of
African descent in the hemisphere. This
working group or another similar mechanism would provide the space to
discuss better strategies for combating racial discrimination and for
overcoming its consequences for persons who have been victims of it,
namely, persons of African descent in our region, as was recognized by the
governments participating in the Regional Conference in Santiago.
It is worth noting that, in the opinion of the Commission, the
contribution of countries with a majority population of persons of African
descent will be key to the work of this group.
Their historical experience could enhance a full understanding of
the situation and help identify better strategies to build societies which
have more respect for the equality of all human beings.
The IACHR offers its technical assistance in working with the
Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs in any way determined, to
deal effectively with the situation of people of African descent.
conclude, I would like to reiterate the support of the Commission to OAS
member states in this initiative designed to keep alive the spirit that
guided the work in Chile, and to continue the dialogue on a common
strategy for eradication of racism and racial discrimination in our
you very much.