In Latin America, the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are part of the most disadvantaged communities or peoples, as a result of complex socio-historical processes initiated with the discovery of America and that were establishing persistent discriminatory practices to this day, which has implied a historical plundering of their lands, with serious consequences for the full enjoyment of their human rights.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the corollary of prolonged indigenous struggles. It synthesizes the international standard and offers an explicit regulatory framework as an approach to public policies (ECLAC, 2014).

In Latin America there are more than 800 indigenous peoples, with a population close to 45 million, characterized by their wide demographic, social, territorial and political diversity, from peoples in voluntary isolation to their presence in large urban settlements. Currently, there are 826 indigenous peoples in the region, highly heterogeneous. Brazil is located at one extreme, with 305 indigenous peoples, followed by Colombia with 102, Peru with 85 and Mexico with 78; and at the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama, with 9 indigenous peoples each, El Salvador with 3, and Uruguay with 2 (ECLAC, 2014: 44).

Today the indigenous peoples and the Afro-descendant population are the poorest on the continent, live in the worst conditions and receive worse incomes than non-indigenous people, even with similar levels of education (FAO, 2015: XV).

Protection of the indigenous people’s rights

The ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (Convention 169), recognizes for the first time the collective rights of indigenous peoples in 1989. In 2000, the United Nations established the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The following year, appointed a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, who later became the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. In 2007, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) was established by the Human Rights Council, through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which raises the right to self-determination. Likewise, a minimum standard of rights of indigenous peoples was established, mandatory for States, articulated in five dimensions: the right to non-discrimination; the right to development and social welfare; the right to cultural integrity; the right to property, use, control and access to lands, territories and natural resources; and the right to political participation.

For indigenous peoples, the right to participate in decision-making on matters that affect them has a direct impact on the effective enjoyment of other human rights, such as self-determination, equality, cultural integrity, free, prior and informed consent and the right to property. Hence, political participation, at different levels according to the diversity of interests and actions, is part of the minimum standard of their rights.

Protection of Afro-descendant people’s rights

The African-American or Afro-descendant culture of the Americas and the Caribbean is a complex reality framed by long-standing historical phenomena, characterized by periods of rupture, continuities, deconstruction and reconstruction (Antón, 2006 in ECLAC and UNFPA, 2009: 14). This is a fact that is understood as a strategic response to enslavement and the need to adapt to new contexts, such as that of the Americas. This phenomenon forced to break with the naive and colonized conscience, to assume a critical and decolonizing one, which would be the seed for cultural revaluation, the search for freedom, the conquest of citizenship, the politicization of identity and then, the direct struggle against racism and poverty.

Afro-descendants face social problems whose central characteristics have been slavery, colonization, discrimination and exclusion. At least that is what the III World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held by the United Nations in Durban (South Africa) during 2001, admitted.

As a consequence of racism and discrimination, these communities have suffered a series of deprivations in the enjoyment of human rights. Hence, poverty, socioeconomic inequality and marginality in most Afro-descendant societies in Latin America become a shared ignominious condition (World Bank, 2004). The invisibility suffered by Afro-descendants facilitates the violation of their rights and freedoms, thus increasing their vulnerability, promoting their exclusion and the discrimination they experience in accessing their rights and opportunities. These communities are subject to discrimination and racist expressions. The United Nations Organization has promoted the creation of new instruments that allow greater effectiveness in the eradication of discriminatory and racist behaviors that influence State policies to avoid these practices.

The most recent studies by ECLAC, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and other multilateral agencies present a discouraging panorama of Afro-descent in Latin America, in terms of social achievements and the satisfaction of economic, social and cultural rights. Specific research shows with social indicators that there are huge gaps between Afro-descendants and non-Afro-descendants, which prevented Afro-descendants from reaching the Millennium Goals and Objectives.

Throughout the region, Afro-descendant organizations denounce acute conflicts, which represent the systematic violation of human rights –especially collectives– and international humanitarian law.

International Decade for People of African Descent

On December 23, 2013, through resolution 68/237, the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization (UN) proclaimed International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) with the theme “Afro-descendants: recognition, justice and development”. This represents a unique and timely occasion to stress the importance of the contribution of Afro-descendants to our societies and propose concrete measures to promote equality and fight against any type of discrimination.

Within the program of activities of the International Decade, an overview of the human rights situation of Afro-descendants’ peoples is provided and States and the international community are urged to carry out specific activities aimed at achieving the proposed objectives. These goals are:

  • Promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African Descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, on December 10, 1948).
  • Strengthen the adoption of measures and cooperation at the national, regional and international levels to ensure that Afro-descendants fully enjoy their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights and participate fully and equally in all areas of society.
  • Promote greater knowledge and respect for the diversity of the heritage and culture of people of African Descent and their contribution to the development of societies.
  • Adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks according to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to ensure their full and effective implementation.
  • Afro-descendants in Mexico

    Afromexicans are a population that since the 16th century had a central participation in social, cultural, political and economic aspects in Mexico, dating back to the times before this country was constituted as an independent nation.

    Their ancestors, from the Gambia, Guinea, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Mozambique, migrated as slaves. At present, the most well-known settlements in Mexico are located mainly in the regions of the Papaloapan Oaxacaqueño River (Acatlán, Cosolapa, Tuxtepec and Loma Bonita), the Costa Chica de Guerrero and Oaxaca, in the central-gulf region of the state of Veracruz (Yanga, San Juan de la Punta, La Antigua, Rodríguez Clara, Hueyapan, Cosamaloapan), the Costa Grande de Guerrero, the Tierra Caliente region in Michoacán, in the Altos and the Isthmus-coast in Chiapas, as well as in the municipality of Múzquiz in the state of Coahuila (Flores Dávila, Julia, 2006).

    Afro-descendant populations have suffered historically, and continue to suffer, exclusion, racism and discrimination. In fact, they are not considered in areas such as social policy, legislation and until recently in statistical production, which leads to invisibility, that is one of the worst forms of peoples’ discrimination.

    Among its demands are education, health and economic development –in consideration of specific cultural issues– as well as the preservation of their culture, the right to prior, free and informed consultation and political participation, which has generated discussions about respecting their rights, cultural difference, access to culture and self-determination.

    In the 2015 Intercensal Survey of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), from direct question 1,381,853 Mexicans are considered Afro-descendants, of which 676,924 are men and 704,929 are women, equivalent to 1.2% of the total population of the country. Likewise, in 487,975 Mexican homes, one of the head of the family and/or his partner are considered Afro-descendants, which represents 1.6% of the total (38.1% with female heads). These households are made up of 1,979,249 people with Afro-descendant ties (972,066 men and 1,007,183 women), that is, 1.7% of the population.

    The historical invisibility faced by Afro-Mexicans is a cause of ignorance of the important contribution of this population in the past and present of Mexico, which reproduced the mistaken idea that all Afro-descendants are foreigners.

    Mascogos: northern Mexico people of Afro-descendants

    Mascogos is the name by which the “black seminoles” are called. They are a town of Afro-descendants whose African ancestors came to the United States as slaves and then were Maroons, rebel slaves. They descend from the Maroons and gullahs of South Carolina, who escaped to Florida, which in the year 1600 belonged to the Spanish Crown. Both groups joined and formed the group of Black Seminoles that over time settled in Texas, Oklahoma, Bahamas and Mexico, where they were called “Mascogos”.

    This town fled from land dispossession and confinement in reservations by the American hibern. Some ended up taking refuge in Mexico and were granted land in Coahuila, where slavery had been abolished since 1820. Those who remained in Mexico consider themselves as a Tribe of Black Mascogos, as well as in Oklahoma and the Bahamas. Another group settled in Texas, mainly in Brackettville.

    Currently, the Mascogos live from agriculture –they mainly plant wheat, corn and beans– and from the raising of goats and cattle. Because of mixture many have lost their original features. They celebrate the so-called Junethen Day, Blacks Day, where they commemorate the abolition of slavery in the United States. During this celebration, the typical dishes of Mascoga gastronomy are prepared, such as oatmeal with fruits, nopales with piquín pepper, apple capirotada, pork rind with viscera, pork duritos, pumpkin dried apricots, and many more. They also have their own language, called “seminal Creole”, although it is at great risk because of its lack of practice.

    Prior, free and informed consultation

    Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples consider that free, prior and informed consent is an indispensable requirement of consultation and an expression of the exercise of their right to self-determination, contained in national and international human rights legal frameworks.

    Among them, ILO Convention 169 proposes to “consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly”. It also states that governments in the application of their provisions must establish the means for interested peoples to participate freely under equal conditions as other sectors of the population. In this sense, 17 States of the Region have institutions created for the management of indigenous peoples’ affairs. Some of these arose when policies with an indigenous approach were still in force. In other cases, poverty reduction policies influenced its creation, so the organization, its structure of work and relationship with indigenous peoples is very diverse.

    “Consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly”.

    The consultation and consent are aimed are aimed at founding, ensuring and applying the right of effective participation of indigenous peoples the decision-making process that concern them. The form of participation in decision-making affects their rights and interests in a differentiated way in electoral processes, mobilizations and other activities of political influence and public interest. On some occasions, greater emphasis is placed on the consultation procedure than on reaching agreements for the full exercise of the rights of indigenous peoples.


    CALL FOR ACTION AGAINST TRAFFICKING... Published July 30, 2019
    In June, the climate crisis... Published June 14, 2019
    4th ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE RLI Published May 3, 2019
    CONFERENCE "TORTURE IN MEXICO ... Published May 27, 2019
    III SYMPOSIUM OF MIGRATIONS... Published May 23, 2019
    BERG INSTITUTE PROGRAM... Published January 9, 2019


    We are an interdisciplinary Network dedicated to raising awareness, dissemination, research and advocacy in the field of human rights.