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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Argentina and Uruguay with non-governmental organizations

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination 

22 November 2016

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held a meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations from Argentina and Uruguay, whose periodic reports will be considered this week.

Non-governmental organizations from Argentina focused on the disadvantaged status of indigenous peoples and persons of African descent in Argentina.  The State did not provide sufficient protection for the indigenous communities, and their opinion was not taken into consideration when making key decisions.  Irregular migrants were also discriminated against, and the general climate towards them was rather hostile, it was explained.  Argentina should be defined as a multicultural country, which was not currently the case.

ANDHES and the Union of Peoples of the Diaguita Nation, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, and Organizacion Comision Organizadora del 8 del Novembre and Sociedad Caboverdana spoke on the situation in Argentina. 

A civil sector representative from Uruguay drew attention to the lack of compliance of Uruguay with Article 1 of the Convention.  Racial discrimination was still deeply rooted in Uruguay despite the superficial appearances; it was most prevalent in institutions and the educational system.  The overall understanding of discrimination among the population at large was missing.  Concerns were also expressed about the situation of migrants, especially those from Africa and Colombia. 

Coalition of Civil Society Organizations spoke on the situation in Uruguay.

The Committee will reconvene in public at 3 p.m. today to consider the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of Argentina (CERD/C/ARG/21-23).

Statements on Argentina

ANDHES and the Union of Peoples of the Diaguita Nation stated that Argentina had barely legislated the questions of territorial rights of indigenous peoples.  To date, no indigenous community property had been put under the law, and the private sector was thus free to explore those territories.  The State had criminalized peaceful protests by communities.  Despite the fact that the Committee had already raised this issue, the State had not addressed the issue of State violence.  The previous week, courts had sanctioned one of the community lawyers.  Between 2010 and 2015, at least seven indigenous leaders had been killed without anyone being held accountable.  There was no free legal assistance for indigenous communities.  The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs had not changed its centralized organization.  The State did not have a systematic approach to prior and informed consent.  The Committee was asked to recommend to the State party that it provide adequate access to justice for indigenous people.  A truly consultative process was necessary. 

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, in a joint statement, said that the 2004 Law on Migration and the regulatory decree of 2010 recognized the right of migrants to access to justice and equal treatment before the courts.  Migratory irregularity was one of the main factors of discrimination, there were gaps persisting in the implementation of the legal framework.  Those in irregular situations often found themselves discriminated against; those migrants were not provided information on how to proceed with the regularization of their status.  There had been an increase in the number of orders of expulsion for having an irregular migratory status.  Police authorities and health officials discriminated against such people.  In addition, political actors and the State had developed a strong discourse against migration, connecting it to drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings.  There were no communication channels between the State and migrant and human rights organizations.  The State was obliged to have programmes for migrant regularization. 

Organizacion Comision Organizadora del 8 del Novembre and Sociedad Caboverdana said that Afro-descendants were not included in budgetary and political decisions in an active manner.  The existing laws had not been successfully put into practice or sufficiently communicated.  Historically marginalized people did not have a say in current affairs of the country.  The curricula should include intercultural aspects.  Argentina should be defined as a multicultural country and diversity should be promoted.  The Afro-Forum had helped raise the visibility of the African-Argentinian community, and such programmes ought to be recovered and expanded.  The Law on Migration should be put into practice, and migrants should not be prosecuted.  For once and for all, justice ought to be established in the case of the murder of a Senegalese citizen, which had not yet been settled.

Discussion on Argentina

On indigenous issues, it would be useful to hear what was happening vis-à-vis indigenous territories in Argentina, a Committee Expert said.  Argentina did not have high visibility of the people of African descent, he noted.  How did the Argentinian society react to having a detention centre for migrants?  The issue of the Jewish community in Argentina and the large number of complaints coming from them was brought up by another Expert.  How many Jews were there in Argentina, and why was there a disparity in the number of complaints from them? 

Responding, civil sector representatives explained that Argentina, as a federal State, had to work with each and every province, with which it had to address the issues of land ownership.  Indigenous peoples should be working with specialists who were not indigenous, but not much had been achieved yet through that process.  The percentage of Afro-Argentinians today was quite low and their community stood at about 1.8 per cent of the population.  Poor living conditions, participation in wars and mixing up with other groups had all contributed to the reduction in the number if Afro-Argentinians.  Historical racism and skewing of the figures in the census could have also contributed to the decline.  The Jewish community was deemed to be a religious and not an ethnic community, which was why it did not appear in the census; their estimated number was 500,000.  The community was well represented in the State, which made it easier to provide a high profile to the cases of discrimination.  The lack of land ownership and titles provided serious obstacles to the use of indigenous territories.  One speaker reminded that there had been two attacks specifically against the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, with no satisfactory legal outcome.   

In further questions, Committee Members asked about the estimated percentages of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in Argentina.  The National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism seemed incapable of effectively covering the whole national territory, an Expert noted.  Another Committee Member stated that justice in Argentina appeared to act very efficiently against indigenous peoples, but rarely in their favour.  The issue of the pollution of ground and superficial waters in indigenous communities was also raised.  An Expert inquired if people could self-identify in the census, or whether another approach was applied.  Was anything planned in Argentina for the Decade of the People of African Descent?  If Argentina did not present itself as a multicultural State, how did it describe itself, asked the Expert?  A question was also asked about where exactly in Argentina did the Afro-Argentinians live.  Another Expert inquired how relations were built between the indigenous communities and local authorities.  What mechanisms were there in place at the local and provincial levels?  The Expert inquired about coordination between various parts of the Afro-Argentinian community.  A question was also asked on the data on migrants’ access to education, health care and other services.  Did populations of colour know about mechanisms at their disposal?  Details were sought on how the census was conducted.

Non-governmental organizations explained that the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism carried out multiple international events and media campaigns.  However, insufficient work was done to promote Afro-Argentinian communities.  Mechanisms should be set up to better connect the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism with the relevant civil sector organizations.  The 2010 census had had a basic questionnaire for the general population and a more specific survey for about 10 per cent of the population, which included Afro-descendants.  Answers were provided on the basis of self-identification.  High levels of racism in Argentina meant that often people did not recognize themselves as belonging to a certain community.  Argentina was clearly a multicultural country, but the State did not formally and officially define itself in that manner.  It should be described as a multicultural and multilinguistic country.  Regarding access to justice, a civil society representative said that the general belief was that there were not that many Afro-descendants.  Policy changes were needed vis-à-vis access to justice and education.  The level of violence and bullying against Afro-Argentinian children was high, which was why they often left school early.  Afro-descendants still largely had jobs as in colonial times.  Another speaker said that the crisis in justice was very profound.  The approach to indigenous peoples varied from one province to another.  It was hard to ensure compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it was non-binding.  Fracking was carried out in some indigenous territories in Patagonia.  Information on migrant detention was mostly of a journalistic nature, as no official, definite information was provided. 

Statement on Uruguay

Coalition of Civil Society Organizations stated that Uruguay did not have national legislation complying with Article 1 of the Convention.  The scarce progress made in norms was focused on Montevideo, the country’s capital.  The State did not have specialized services to address the situation of racism and racial discrimination.  The 2011 population census had made progress with disaggregating data, but more needed to be done with regard to Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples.  The most visible manifestation of inequality was in educational performance: those of African descent were much more likely to abandon education than others.  There were worrying indicators about sexual minorities of African descent as discrimination against them was cross-sectional.  The daily experience of people of African descent showed that racism was still deeply rooted in Uruguay.  Concerns were also expressed about the situation of migrants, especially those from Africa and Colombia. 

Discussion on Uruguay

An Expert wanted to know about the perception of possible quotas for people of African descent.  Would such measures be considered legitimate, he inquired.  The low visibility of the indigenous peoples in Uruguay was disconcerting.  Another Committee Member raised the issue of access to justice, and asked whether the laws against discrimination were considered to be adequate.  Were victims of discrimination in a position to obtain judicial redress, and if not, what was the main difficulty?

In response to the questions posed, civil society representatives said that many did not understand why the temporary special measures and affirmative action were needed.  That contributed to the continuation of the structural discrimination in society.  African religions were not prohibited, but certain venues and monuments were occasionally attacked and vandalized.  The laws in Uruguay were not sufficiently applied, said the speaker, which made them not suitable.  Non-recognition of racism and racial discrimination and the lack of knowledge of the population at large of the existence of relevant laws were both matters of concern.  It was hard to promote the quota legislation because of the overall limited understanding of the population in that regard.

In the second round of questions, a Committee Expert wanted to know about efforts to combat the informal economy which was disadvantageous primarily for minority women.  What types of tools were provided by the Government and civil society to people in need so that they could denounce their precarious work conditions?   A question was asked on the existence of any type of legal assistance for the most disadvantaged groups.

Responding, non-governmental organizations said that in general the situation of workers of African descent was one of accessing employment of low quality, particularly in domestic service.   The specific subject of racial discrimination and abuse related to it was not covered as such.  Afro-descendant women working in domestic labour were particularly vulnerable.  For the last several years, the prevention of informal domestic labour was left mostly to civil society.  The free legal aid system was in place, but was often overwhelmed by demand.  It was explained that the traditional dance Candombe, originating from African slaves, was widely accepted today, and brought together different groups in society. 

An Expert wondered if there was data on poverty levels, and the disproportionate level of Afro-descendants affected by it.  How exactly were the Uruguayan laws insufficient in dealing with the issue of racial discrimination, another Expert inquired.  He also raised the issue of hate speech and wanted to know whether it was sometimes confused with free speech.  A question was also asked about derogatory nicknames sometimes given to persons of colour.  What was the minimum wage in Uruguay?

It was explained that the minimum wage of between 200 and 300 USD was used as a reference to see if a person was entitled to free legal aid.  Such assistance was provided nationwide.  Over the last 10years, Uruguay had experienced great economic growth, but its distribution was suboptimal as for most people in Uruguay it had dropped, but for those of African descent the poverty level had gone up to 35 per cent.  On whether the existing laws themselves were sufficient, a civil society representative stated that lawyers were often not trained to adequately address human rights issues.  Most people of African descent lived in the north of the country, 500 kilometres or more from Montevideo, which was not representative of the country as a whole.  Responding to the question on hate speech, it was stated that some leading newspapers referred to “negros”.  Press freedom should not be used to the detriment of any community and it should not assault the self-esteem of the black Uruguayans.  The State was not defined as multicultural, nor did it have a plan for the Decade on the People of African Descent. 

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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