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Statement to the media by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Argentina, 11-18 March 2019

Spanish

Buenos Aires, 18 March 2019

  1. The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of Argentina for its invitation to visit the country from 11 to 18 March 2019, and for its cooperation. We thank the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, in particular the Secretariat of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship. We also thank the United Nations in Argentina for their support to the visit.
  2. The views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature and our final findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2019.
  3. During the visit, the Working Group assessed the human rights situation of people of African descent living in Argentina, and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance they face. The Working Group studied the official measures taken and mechanisms to prevent systemic racial discrimination and to protect victims of racism, as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination.
  4. As part of its fact-finding mission, the Working Group visited Buenos Aires, Santiago del Estero and Santa Fe. It met with senior officials of the Argentinian Government at the national and provincial levels, the legislature, law enforcement, national and provincial human rights institutions, United Nations entities, people of African descent, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, as well as communities and individuals working to promote the rights of people of African descent in Argentina. It also visited two police stations in the city of Buenos Aires.
  5. We thank the civil society organizations, human rights defenders, lawyers, academics and individuals we met during the visit, who are working to promote and protect the rights of people of African descent in Argentina, creating initiatives and proposing strategies to address structural racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance.
  6. The protection of human rights and the prohibition of racial discrimination is enshrined in the Constitution. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is the State agency responsible for promoting public policies designed to protect, establish and guarantee human rights. The Secretariat of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism and the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) work within this Ministry to strengthen public policies for combating discrimination in all its forms. The establishment of a number of institutions at the national and provincial levels including the Federal Public Defender’s Office, branches of INADI and Ombudsperson offices are also important initiatives to combat racial discrimination. 
  7. We note that the Secretariat of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism of the Nation implements strategic lines of affirmative action for Afro-Argentines, people of African descent and Africans in matters of the Right to Development, Access to Justice and Recognition.  The Decree No. 658/2017 calls for coordination between the administrative units of the Executive Branch to develop a program of activities under the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), proclaimed by the UN General Assembly. 
  8. The Working Group welcomes the designation of 8 November as the National Day of Afro-Argentine Peoples and African Culture by Law N ° 26.852 in 2013. The Working Group was also informed that the 1st Afro-National Congress will be organized by the State in August 2019.
  1. The Working Group welcomes the initiatives undertaken by Government to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and in particular its work to develop a National Afro-descendant Program and action plan to implement the International Decade for People of African descent 2015-2024. It will include provisions for scholarships in education; incorporation into the educational curricula of the historical facts related to enslavement, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism; quotas in employment; a platform for dialogue with organizations of Afro-descendants; anti-discrimination awareness-raising campaigns; trainings for public and law enforcement officials, and  inclusion of places of historical importance of the Afro-descendant community as historical and cultural heritage.  
  2. The Working Group welcomes the commitment to include the Afro-descendant variable in the general questionnaire of the National Population, Household and Housing Census to be carried out in the year 2020, to gather disaggregated data about the population in the country, through the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC), with participation of people of African descent.
  3. During the visit of the Working Group, it observed several good practices which should be replicated: In the City of Buenos Aires, the work of the Ministry of Public Defender’s Directorate of Assistance to Persons Deprived of their Liberty (DAPPL); in Santiago del Estero, the work by the Provincial Government with communities on the recognition of Afro-descendant identity, history and inclusion in education; in Chascomus, the recognition of “La Capilla de los Negros” as an important historical site; and in Santa Fe, the provincial Ombudsperson’s Office’s mobile clinics to reach rural communities.
  4. The Working Group also welcomes the civil society initiatives to promote and protect the human rights of people of African descent and raise awareness about Afro-Argentine identity. The Working Group also appreciates civil society efforts to implement the International Decade for people of African descent.
  5. Despite the positive measures referred to above, the Working Group is concerned about the human rights situation of people of African descent in Argentina. It is particularly concerned about the long-standing invisibility and the persistent structural discrimination against Afro-Argentines, people of African descent and Africans.  The prevailing narrative is that wars and diseases have led to the diminishing of the once large Afro-Argentine population. This narrative obscures the reality that the Afro-Argentine population has existed and continues to struggle to be recognized in Argentine society. They continue to be perceived as foreigners in their own nation.
  6. The Working Group was informed that the denial of the existence of Afro-Argentines is linked to Argentina’s view of itself “as a country of Europeans”. The social model of Argentina built in the 19th and 20th century was Euro-centric and disregarded the input of Afro-descendants to the Argentinian culture and social structure. The Working Group heard reports of structural discrimination focusing on all non-white poor people in Argentina and in particular people of African descent. Democracy brings to light issues that were hidden during the dictatorship, including the history of people of African descent. The Government is making efforts to create a culture of human rights and have started work addressing the lack of recognition, justice and development. It is critically important that all work to address the situation of people of African descent is done in partnership with people of African descent and civil society and with a human rights based approach.
  7. Argentina must come to terms with the reality that people of African descent are a group living in a situation of vulnerability group deserving of special measures. They have faced numerous difficulties however they are becoming organized with a number of networks and civil society organizations promoting their human rights.  Exclusion has been for so long that they need support from international organizations.
  8. History and the contributions of people of African descent to Argentine society has been for the most part forgotten. The crime of the trade in enslaved Africans during the colonial period has been erased from the institutional memory of Argentina. Few remember that people of African descent were at the forefront of the wars for Argentina’s independence and in the period immediately after. Furthermore, people of African descent worked tirelessly in the farms to grow the economy of Argentina. For them, there must be reparatory justice.
  9. The Working Group notes that the 2010 National Household Survey and National Population Census included a question relating to persons of African background for the first time; this was a sample collection of data and not integrated nationwide. The census data therefore underrepresented the real population of Afro-Argentines in the country. While the 2010 census indicated an Afro-descendent population of 149,493, civil society organizations are of the view that there are up to two million people of African descent in Argentina.
  10. The Working Group was informed that in Argentina, there was a general idea that Afro-Argentines are only those with obvious African features. This idea is not cognisant of the Afro-Argentines who are now mixed to the extent that others do not have the obvious African features, yet they self-identify as people of African descent due to their African ancestry and must be recognized as such.  
  11. The Working Group found that the word “negro” carries a predominantly negative connotation in Argentina, associated with discrimination based on race and socio-economic status. The Working Group was informed that the statement “working like a negro and work in black”, “look at the black”, and “girl/boy from the slums” are considered offensive and derogatory by Afro-Argentines.
  12. Civil society reported racial profiling by law enforcement against Afro-Argentines, people of African descent and Africans.  Negative stereotypes of people of African descent that they are dangerous, violent criminals, involved in drug trafficking and sex work, all contribute to excessive policing.
  13. The disproportionate use of force against people of African descent can turn to deadly violence. This was the story of a Uruguayan national of African descent, Jose Delfin Acosta Martinez, who died in Argentine police custody on 5 April 1996. On 11 July 2013, in Report 36/13, Petition 403-02, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found admissible the complaint of his family against Argentina about Martinez’ arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and death in police custody.
  14. The Working Group is equally concerned about the death of Massar Ba, a Senegalese human rights defender, in 2016. The questions surrounding his death continue to be unanswered. The circumstances of his death demand clarification. The Working Group understands that the investigation is still ongoing and would like to continue receiving updates about his case. 
  15. The presidential decree no.70/2017 modified the migration regime, with a more restrictive migration policy that represents a concern.
  16. Migrants of African descent are being portrayed as dangerous, coming to take jobs and responsible for insecurity in the country. In Buenos Aires and other cities the Working Group was informed about the disproportionate targeting by the police of street vendors of African descent, most of whom are Senegalese. They are reportedly criminalized for misdemeanours such as resisting arrest or violation of the trademark law, subjected to police violence, arbitrary detention and confiscation of goods. Those with irregular immigration status are in a more vulnerable situation. The outcome is uniformly that following warrantless arrests and detention, street vendors are eventually released by the prosecutor or judge. This practice is repeated as a tool of harassment without any accountability.
  17. The Working Group observed that Afro-Argentines are amongst the poorest of the poor. The Working Group noted with concern that people of African descent in Argentina are not able to fully enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights. Structural racial discrimination prevents them from enjoying the minimum international standards for development, including those set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. Human rights concerns include violations of the right to an adequate standard of living; lack of access to housing, water; land tenure; heath care; education; security and justice.  The infrastructure, including access to roads and adequate transportation, remains an issue in many areas, both urban and rural.
  18. The Working Group notes ongoing efforts by the Government to include in the curricula the history of the trade in enslaved Africans, as well as history and contributions of people of African descent in Argentina. The Working Group remained concerned that access to education was limited due to poverty and discrimination. The Working Group was informed that many children of African descent drop out of school early on.
  19. People of African descent are often discriminated in access to employment. Harmful effects of structural and institutional racism in the world of work have a negative impact on the Afro-descent community both in the public and private sectors, significantly reducing their representation in the employment sector. To a large extent, people of African descent have been confined to the informal job sector, making them vulnerable to exploitation. Employment opportunities, especially in the rural areas, were very scarce. Migrants of African descent face further obstacles due to barriers in obtaining residence permits.
  20. The Working Group welcomes the universal health care system in Argentina. The Working Group was informed that some people of African descent faced racial discrimination in accessing services.  The Working Group was also concerned by the reluctance of migrants of African descent to access healthcare centres and hospitals due to their unregularized status in Argentina.
  21. In Santiago del Estero Province, Afro-Argentines are reported to be living in appalling conditions because of extreme poverty. The Working Group also learnt that budgetary allocations for housing had declined thus affecting Afro-Argentines living in Santiago del Estero.   The Working Group was informed that there was no specific provision and focus on people of African descent in the housing policy and programmes.
  22. Women of African descent experience additional human rights concerns which relate to their job opportunities and a risk of being harassed and a victim of violence. In this context, the Working Group acknowledges the adoption of the Law 26485 of 2009 on violence against women.  The Working Group also noted the “Spotlight Initiative” of the UN in Argentina to contribute to efforts in reducing violence against women and girls. Afro-Argentine women, women of African descent and  African women lived in very poor conditions and felt excluded from the society. The Working Group was also informed about the high prevalence of adolescent mothers who are forced to leave school in order to look after their children.
  23. The following recommendations are intended to assist Argentina in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance.
  24. The Working Group recommends that the government give effect to its National Afro-descendant Program and action plan to implement the International Decade for People of African descent 2015-2024.
  25. The Government of Argentina should consider the ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance.
  26. Legislative reforms affecting people of African descent should be undertaken in consultations with and involvement of civil society representing them. In this connection, the Working Group recommends the Human Rights Observatory of the Senate to play an active role in promoting legislative measures aimed at enhancing the visibility and protecting the rights of Afro-Argentines and people of African descent. INADI should be strengthened, especially its presence in all the provinces.
  27. The Working Group recommends that the National Congress of Afro-Descendants envisaged by the Government involve people of African descent at all stages from planning to implementation and include all organizations representing Afro-Argentinians and Africans living in Argentina.
  28. The Working Group welcomes the efforts of the Argentine government to establish a mechanism (Simore Project) to enforce recommendation of the UN and other bodies. The Working Group recommends that the mechanism bind not just the federal government but also the provincial governments.
  29. The Working Group recommends that the historical contribution of people of African descent to Argentinian independence, culture, society and economy be fully recognized at all levels of government and in the society as a whole. A culture of inclusion should be fostered and supported.
  30. The Government should as a matter of priority focus on addressing the invisibility of the Afro-Argentines by promoting their culture, customs, traditions, and their history, as well as their contributions to the Argentine nation.
  31. The Government should establish positive measures to ensure the effective representation of Afro-Argentines and people of African descent in the public sector, including in the highest decision making positions.
  32. The Working Group urges the government to carry out awareness-raising programmes to prevent use of words and expressions which are demeaning to Afro-descendants, using the communication manual developed by INADI. The government must further discourage the stigmatization of blackness in Argentina. 
  33. The Working Group urges the government to provide support to civil society organizations in carrying out activities on the 8th November in celebrating the National Day of the Afro-Argentines and Afro Culture. The government must promote a nationwide public dialogue on the significance of the history of Afro-Argentines, including their current human rights situation.
  34. Government should establish an Institute for Afro-Argentines, which should be staffed by Afro-Argentines and adequately funded.  The Working Group recommends the Institute is supported by an inter-ministerial task force.
  35. The Working Group strongly recommends that the upcoming National Census in 2020 includes questions relating to Afro-Argentines, which should be prepared in consultations with Afro-Argentines and people of African descent nationwide, allowing for voluntary self-identification. They should also be involved in deciding on the process by which the census will be administered. Such data should then be utilized to inform public policies to address structural discrimination faced by Afro-Argentines. The Working group further urges the government to conduct awareness campaigns on the questionnaire in order to collect data that would be reflective of the reality of people of African descent in the country. The questionnaire must be given to the entire population in order to collect data on people of African descent in Argentina. In this connection, the Working Group offers its own data mapping questionnaire sent to Argentina in December 2018 for possible guidance in the shaping of its 2020 census.
  36. In order to ensure that the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda truly leaves no one behind and racial discrimination is addressed, Afro-Argentines and other people of African descent must be identified and specific programmes developed to protect their human rights.  In the context of the 40th anniversary of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (BAPA+40), from 20-22 March 2019, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Working Group encourages all countries and relevant stakeholders to strengthen efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda in all South-South and triangular cooperation policies and activities by specifically promoting the human rights of people of African descent.
  37. Encourage the UN system and development partners to study the situation of Afro Argentines and other people of African descent in the country within their area of competence and develop specific programmes to assist them.
  38. Argentina’s past has a bearing on contemporary law enforcement, therefore requiring significant changes in training for law enforcement as well as cultural awareness training to adapt to a culturally and racially diverse society.
  39. The Working Group urges the Government to study and address institutional and structural racism and racial violence against Afro-Argentines and people of African descent, in partnership with concerned communities. In the case of Jose Delfin Acosta Martinez, the Working Group recommends that steps be taken toward the immediate grant of full reparations to his family.
  40. Excessive policing of street vendors of African descent must come to an end. The absence of sufficient legal basis makes the warrantless arrests unlawful in the first instance. The brutality attending the arrests further violates their human rights. The irregular immigration status of some of these vendors ought to be corrected by official action. The amnesty granted in 2013 to undocumented migrants was a good practice and should be repeated. Migrants should be provided with the necessary conditions to access Spanish language lessons. Other pathways to citizenship for the migrants must be created.
  41. The Working Group recommends that there is an in-depth independent investigation into police action targeting street vendors in the city of Buenos Aires to monitor and identify perpetrators of racial discrimination, violence and theft of goods, develop remedies and combat impunity.
  42. To gather disaggregated data on numbers of people of African descent in detention the Working group recommends the inclusion of a question when they arrive in the detention facility or prison whether they self-identify as a person of African descent.
  43. The Working Group recommends measures to increase representation of people of African descent at all levels in the public administration, the judiciary, prosecution services and law enforcement, as well as other sectors including education and media, among others.
  44. The Working Group recommends that the inequalities and invisibility of Afro-Argentinians are addressed from the perspective of reparatory justice, based on the recognition of people of African descent as stipulated by the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. Efforts to increase visibility should ensure that Afro-Argentines benefit from development programmes aimed at improving their life quality and the enjoyment of human rights. The CARICOM Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice can serve as a useful reference in this regard.
  45. The Working Group recommends an establishment of a Museum of Afro-Argentinian Culture, supported by the State in partnership with the Afro-Argentine communities. The Museum could be a centre of historical remembrance, adequately referring to the presence and sacrifice of Afro-Argentinians before and after 1816.
  46. The Working Group recommends that the presence and legacy of Afro-Argentines and people of African descent is reflected in the form of monuments and cultural sites, such as La Capilla de Los Negros in Chascomus.
  47. The Government should take all necessary measures to ensure full implementation of the right to adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing, access to affordable health care and employment.  
  48. The Working Group recommends that school curricula, both at elementary and secondary levels, include the history and contributions of Afro-Argentines to nation-building. The Working Group recommends that educational authorities at the national and provincial levels develop the education curriculum together with Afro-Argentines.   
  49. The Working Group urges the government to guarantee access to inclusive and equitable education for Afro-Argentines. Children of African descent from rural communities must have every opportunity to attend and excel in school and university. Quotas must be established for Afro-Argentines and people of African descent, with adequate support for their education. Adult education should also be provided.
  50.  The Working Group urges government to introduce quotas in order to ensure that Afro-Argentines and people of African descent are employed in the public sector at all levels. They must be provided training and opportunities to access the formal employment sector.
  51. There must also be quotas for Afro-Argentines by way of land and land tenure rights for them. From a reparatory approach, land rights must be guaranteed for Afro-Argentines. Government lands may be dealt with more easily in this regard. For private land, agrarian or land reform must be implemented with people of African descent as beneficiaries.
  52. We urge the Government to ensure that access to primary health care is extended to Afro-Argentine communities and that medical practitioners, including specialist doctors, are available in those communities. 
  53. The Working Group urges Argentina to take all necessary measures to ensure full implementation of the right to adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing for people of African descent. This must be coupled with the development of adequate infrastructure in rural areas where people of Afro-descendants live.
  54. The Government should ensure that women of African descent should be adequately protected from all forms of discrimination and violence, and can enjoy equal opportunities in access to employment, health and justice. The authorities should also ensure that the implementation of the Law 26485 of 2009 on violence against women adequately addresses the additional risks of being subjected to violence and harassment by women of African Descent.
  55. The Working Group reminds media of their important role as a public watchdog with special responsibilities for ensuring that factual and reliable information about people of African descent is reported. It also urges media to play its role in increasing visibility of Afro-Argentines and people of African descent and their culture, including through representation in the media sector. The authorities should support initiatives aimed at recognizing the presence and historic legacies of Afro-Argentinians in theatre, music, television and film industries.
  56. The Working Group would like to reiterate its satisfaction at the Government’s willingness to engage in dialogue, cooperation and action to combat racial discrimination. We hope that our report will support the Government in this process and we express our willingness to assist in this important endeavour.