Washington, D.C., February 28, 2003



Good 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 discrimination.


The 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 our mandate.


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.


The 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.


Specifically, 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.


During 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.


Thus 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 hemisphere.


At 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.


Mr. 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.


In 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.


Allow 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.


From 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.


Adoption 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.


In 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 regional system.


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.


The 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.


Development 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 Court.


As 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 rights.


Finally, 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.


It 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.


In 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.


In 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.


To 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 hemisphere.


Thank you very much.