Sign-on: Support Afro-descendant Peoples’ representation at the UN

Dear Colleagues-

We write to ask that you please sign your organization onto a letter expressing concern with UPR-Info’s failure to include a panelist specifically addressing Afro-Colombian human rights issues on its 5-person panel in Geneva addressing UN Human Rights Council members regarding Colombia’s human rights record.

To sign your organization onto the attached letter, please send an email to: with the name of the organization and the country in which it is located.

April 10, 2018

Nargiz Arupova

Executive Director UPR-Info

Dear Ms. Arupova,

We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to express concern about your decision not to include an Afro-Colombian perspective during the state briefing session in the lead up to the UN Human Rights Council’s review of Colombia. Our greatest concern is that UPR-Info’s approach to applications from organizations representing members of the African diaspora unintentionally perpetuates structural racism and its consequential oppression.

UPR-Info let MADRE know that the state briefing panel on Colombia consists of five representatives, including a representative from an Indigenous Peoples’ organization. When asked if any panelist would be representing Afro-descendant Peoples’ organizations UPR-INFO initially said that there was simply no time to cover Afro-descendant issues. It then suggested that the Indigenous representative could discuss Afro-descendant Peoples’ concerns. Equally distressing, UPR-Info then recommended that Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) request that the Indigenous organization either cover Afro-descendant issues or give up some of their panel time to PCN’s representative. Several days later, UPR-Info said that there is in fact an Afro-descendant speaker on the panel addressing human rights violations against Afro-Colombians, and we were at first heartened to hear this. However, we then learned that while this speaker is Afro-Colombian she is not actually slated to discuss solely Afro-Colombian issues. She was chosen by a larger coalition of groups to present on a report about general human rights issues in Colombia.

We have two overarching concerns with these responses and recommendations:

The suggestion that someone who is not Black speak on behalf of Black People robs them of their agency and ability to control the narrative of their communities’ experiences. No one can fully understand Afro-Colombian Peoples’ struggles except Afro-Colombians themselves. Furthermore, making different groups who face structural oppression compete for one speaking slot or suggesting that one group could speak for another group perpetuates the very structural racism all of our organizations work to end.

The mere presence of an Afro-descendant person or organization on a panel should not be conflated with meaningful coverage of Afro-Colombian human rights issues. Systemic racism in Colombia and by the international community consistently allows Afro-Descendants’ testimonies to be subsumed by false narratives of color-blindness that fail to recognize the particularities of Black history and of anti-Black discrimination. For these reasons, and particularly during International Decade for People of African Descent, through which the international community recognizes that Afro-descendants represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected, it is critical to elevate Black Peoples’ narratives and perspectives in human rights settings. This requires more than just inclusion of Afro-descendant individuals on panels. It requires ensuring that Afro-descendant organizations’ human rights concerns are meaningfully addressed in these settings.

 Finally, we wish to remind you that racist outcomes do not require racist actors. There are ways in which organizations that facilitate access to decision-making arenas for groups that confront structural barriers to that access, can unintentionally exclude those who bear the brunt of racism. We know that ignoring or minimizing the different experiences of oppressed groups has a disparate impact on them. It also leads to the promotion of discriminatory practices and justifies inequality, even within NGOs that claim to advocate for them.

At this fragile moment in Colombia’s peace implementation process, Afro-Colombians have been disproportionately impacted by ongoing violence and the government’s failure to comply with the Peace Accord. Afro-Colombians are also at the forefront of organizing for an inclusive peace in Colombia, having formed a critical force in the successful effort to include the Ethnic Chapter in the Peace Accord and continuing now to call for meaningful transitional justice. For these reasons, we believe it is a missed opportunity that Afro-Colombians not be permitted to speak at length to their own conditions and their own aspirations for peace at the United Nations. Failure to meaningfully include Afro-Colombians discussing their issues in a process that directly affects them, dismisses their struggles and frames their call for inclusion as an exaggeration.

We again invite you to dialogue with us on your decision not to include a representative addressing solely Afro-descendant People’s human rights on your state briefing panel on Colombia. We also hope your organization will make particular effort in other upcoming events to ensure that Afro-descendant Peoples’ organizations throughout the diaspora are both represented as panelists and are permitted to speak on the issues impacting them as Peoples.