Afro-Colombian National Movement CIMARRON Report on the Human Rights Situation of Afro-Colombians (1994-2004)
Leonardo Reales Jiménez (Head Researcher)
This document presents a general examination of the violations of human rights suffered by the Afro-Colombian population over the last ten years. The result of this examination is the product of testimonies from Afro-Colombians, as well as official reports regarding human rights in Colombia. It is very important to point out that all sources agree with the fact that Colombia, despite the existence of a Constitution that promotes equality under the law for all citizens and the respect for their human rights, is a country where socio-racial discrimination and exclusion exist as structural problems, and this situation has negatively affected the Afro-Colombian population at all levels.
Armed conflict has had a significant impact on Afro-Colombian communities. Regions in Colombia with large populations of Afro-Colombians have been the most affected by war and, subsequently, most of the internally displaced people in Colombia are Afro-Colombian. This situation has increased the extreme poverty level of the Afro-Colombian people who continue to be the main victims of many violations of their economic, social, cultural and human rights. This is why Afro-Colombians urgently need governmental solutions to their dramatic situation, solutions that are created in consultation with Afro-Colombian leaders and human rights activists.
The Socio-racial discrimination that came from the time of slavery, and that has persisted in Colombia despite equity laws and the abolition of slavery in 1852, has produced a situation of strong socio-racial exclusion in Colombian society. Thus, the situation of former slaves has persisted until today.
In fact, at the beginning of the twentieth century, more than seventy years after the abolition of slavery, the Congress and the President of Colombia approved a racist Law that clearly promoted the immigration to the country of white persons, attacking those people who had African or indigenous background. It is also easy to see that it took more than two hundred years of republican history to recognize the Afro-Colombian contribution to the nation. It was only in 1991 that the Congress approved, through the new Constitution and for the first time in Colombian history, that Colombia was a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation. The Congress also approved Article 55, an affirmative action norm for Afro-Colombians.
That Article was ruled through Law 70 of 1993, known as the Law of the Colombian Black Communities. The Law promotes the respect for social, economic, cultural, political and human rights of the Afro-Colombian communities. This Law, as well as some other laws and norms, established a strong legislative framework that, in theory, assures that Colombia is a respectful country where there is no racial discrimination against Afro-Colombians, and all citizens have the same access to social services such as health and education, as well as loans and labor markets. However, the reality reflects an opposite situation in which socio-racial exclusion persists as a definitive factor of national life.
It is important to emphasize that manifestations of the exclusion of Afro-Colombians can be easily identified in their lack of access to political and social institutions and services, to loans and labor markets, and to basic living conditions (shelter, safe drinking water, transport and suitable sanitary conditions).
Official sources say the Afro-Colombian population comprises almost the 30% of all Colombians, which means about 12 million people. The majority of these people are victims of socio-racial exclusion and live in extreme poverty. The statistics shown in the National Plan of Development of the Afro-Colombian Population (1998-2002) say that this kind of exclusion is closely related not only to the lower health and education indicators among the Afro-Colombian communities, but also to their limited access to well-paid jobs and better incomes.
The socio-economic panorama reflects that most Afro-Colombians are poor, that most of the poor people in Colombia have an African background, and that little has been done by the governments to address this issue. Moreover, as per the Plan of Development, the illiteracy rates are higher among Afro-Colombian communities than among the white and mestiza populations, and the access to the higher education system is more limited for the Afro-Colombian population, due to a lack of resources and the institutionalized racial exclusion.
In fact, the possibility of finishing higher education studies is minimal for most Afro-Colombians, and the quality of their schools is lower than the national average. In terms of health services, the official statistics confirm that there is a huge difference between the services in the Afro-Colombian regions and the rest of the country. The access to those services is not only more restricted for Afro-Colombians, but also they must face other problems such as a worse quality treatment, and uncomfortable health centers.
This situation has been confirmed by the Afro-Colombian communities throughout the country, clearly demonstrating that the enormous differences in terms of the income distribution in Colombia grows stronger, if considering the socio-racial background. This inequality in the income distribution is caused not only by the illiteracy or weak education status of many Afro-Colombians, but mainly because of the racial discrimination of which they are victims. In fact, if we compare the income distribution among some Afro-Colombians and other Colombians with the same education level, inequalities remain significant, decreasing only slightly.
The socio-racial background in Colombia has played a determining role in the access to urban work for Afro-Colombians as the labour market in Colombia is distinguished by extreme inequality. It is very rare to see an Afro-Colombian person occupying an important public or private position. Furthermore, Afro-Colombians even experience racial discrimination when applying for more menial jobs that require no special skills or abilities. It is obvious that racial-discrimination is strong in Colombia, producing extreme poverty among Afro-Colombian communities. Moreover, it has a negative economic impact on Colombian society at large, stunting development for the nation and resulting in losses of economic productivity in the country, as many reports from multilateral banks confirm.
The socio-economic panorama that has been mentioned was recognized by the National Department of Planning, a state institution that officially established that the Afro-Colombian population comprises almost 30% of the total population in the country. In other words, official sources assure that there are approximately 12 million Afro-Colombians living throughout the country.
This institution also established that most Afro-Colombians live in extreme poverty, and constantly suffer the consequences of exclusion. For example, the Department points out that:
- Most zones with Afro-Colombian presence have the worst indicators in terms of living conditions.
- The average income of Afro-Colombians is $500 dollars per year, while the national average income is $1,500 dollars per year.
- 75% of Afro-Colombians receive salaries less than the legal minimum, and their life expectancy is 20% below the national average.
- The level of the quality of education of Afro-Colombians is 40% below the national average.
- 95% of Afro-Colombians can’t afford to send their children to universities because of lack of incomes.
- Approximately 85% of Afro-Colombians live in extreme poverty and without access to basic public services.
It is clear then that the Afro-Colombian population experiences the highest level of poverty, and this is expressed in the evident inequities that exist in Colombia concerning the access to the education system, employment, health, and other basic social services. In short, as a result of the systematic violation of their economic, social, cultural and human rights, most of poor people in the country are Afro-Colombians, and their dramatic living conditions continue getting worse because of the lack of political will to make effective the human rights norms, by which the promotion and protection of all these rights are, in theory, granted.
For the last three decades Colombian governments have ratified all human rights treaties. These treaties (covenants and conventions) must be respected, promoted and defended as the treaties themselves say. Nevertheless, the reality is totally different of what the norms establish. Although it is understood that all human rights treaties have the same importance, in this document we only point out those treaties, considering the laws by which they were added to the Colombian Constitution, related to the Afro-Colombian population as an ethnic group. It is important to emphasize that these laws have been, and continue to be, systematically violated in the country for years:
- Law 22 of 1981, which adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
- Law 74 of 1968, which adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Law 74 of 1968, which adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Law 21 of 1991, which adopted the International Labor Organization Convention No.169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
These laws reflect the objectives of the treaties, which they adopted. They were approved to avoid and punish ideas such as racial prejudice, which have been taught in the mass media and the education system of Colombia, inciting socio-racial discrimination and exclusion. More importantly, they were approved to promote the creation of norms that guarantee the equality of all citizens under the law, without distinctions of preferences based on race, color, or ethnic origin.
The idea expressed in the last paragraph was made real with the approval of the new Political Constitution in 1991. Since then, several congressmen and presidents have approved an Afro-Colombian legislation that promotes the defense of human rights and punishes, in theory, their violations. Among the most important norms of this legislation, we point out the following:
- Law 70 of 1993: Law of Black Communities.
- Law 115 of 1994: General Law of Education (promotes ethnic education).
- Law 649 of 2000: Two Afro-Colombian among the House of Representatives.
- Law 725 of 2001: National Day of Afro-Colombian Heritage, May 21.
As can be seen, there exists a broad legislative framework that is meant to protect the rights of Afro-Colombians. Nonetheless, and despite the existence of these norms, the Afro-Colombian situation has been getting worse for the last ten years, and the socio-economic exclusion that mainly affects Afro-Colombians has changed very little. As a matter of fact, there has been a strengthening of racism and racial discrimination in the country.
For the last decade both the governments and the Colombian society have kept the same historical idea of white and mestiza supremacy at both public and private levels. Today, Afro-Colombian professionals continue to be excluded from important positions. For example, there are no Afro-Colombian persons occupying positions in the National Executive Power; there are no Afro-Colombian justices in the highest courts of the republic; there are no Afro-Colombian ministers or vice-ministers; there are no Afro-Colombian ambassadors; and there are no Afro-Colombian generals or admirals in the Armed Forces.
The last Administrations have been, in one way or another, characterized by institutionalized racism and racial discrimination. It is important to remark that this kind of racism and exclusion is also seen at the private level, where Afro-Colombians are invisible. Afro-Colombian persons are largely excluded from the loans market and scholarships to pursue advanced studies. In fact, the percentage of Afro-Colombians in the most prestigious universities is about 0.1% of all the students. It does not matter if these academic institutions have policies for non-discrimination: we should consider that happens when they don’t promote affirmative action for Afro-Colombians and indigenous people. Moreover, they have enough financial resources to promote the education of Afro-Colombians at the academic level, but they don’t do anything to solve the problem, because the system is still racist.
The Afro-Colombian heritage and history are ignored as a national patrimony. These matters are not included in the curriculums of schools at the basic and secondary level, thus contributing to the reproduction of stereotypes against Afro-Colombians. We think it is important to add that most education programs do not include the study of the phenomena of racism and discrimination, which is mandatory according to the General Law of Education and the Law 1122 of 1998, by which the State demands the inclusion of the Afro-Colombian studies in the curriculum of all schools.
New generations continue to be ‘educated’, despite the laws, under the influence of a system that institutionally excludes, invisibilizes, and discriminates against Afro-Colombians, thus teaching students of racism towards others. There have been cases of Afro-Colombian children that have been victims of racial discrimination in their schools. Their own classmates and friends verbally insult them, and this produces self-esteem problems.
The racist ideology is also fostered, in almost all cases, by the families themselves, and this has a multiplier effect at all levels of national life. What makes it more complicated is the fact that people don’t consider racism as a problem; they don’t see racial discrimination as a violation of human rights. This is even worse because racial discrimination is perhaps the most serious type of human rights violation in Colombia, if we consider that most Afro-Colombian children are victims of humiliations and exclusion, just for being Afro-Colombians.
While keeping the institutionalized racism in the country, the racist stereotypes will be perpetuated and it will reinforce the exclusion at both public and private levels. We will surely keep seeing parents repeating a common idea that we permanently hear in Colombia: “I am not racist, but I wouldn’t like seeing my daughter marrying a negro...”
Some would say that calling the above statement a human rights violation is an exaggeration. However, we believe that it is an accurate analysis, not only because nobody has the right to insult people, but also because it really represents the beginning of the racist ideas that later makes people reject Afro-Colombians while looking for employees. All forms of racism are considered human rights violations and the society must recognize them as such.
The mass media has been the main reproducer of racism and racial discrimination in Colombia. This has happened since the nineteenth century, and nowadays the situation remains the same. National newspapers and television channels, both public and private, utilize discriminatory and offensive language to classify the Afro-Colombian communities, which has resulted in the strengthening of this kind of discrimination through language (vocabularies and concepts) at all levels of society. That is why we see Colombians, including children, repeating the discriminatory expressions from TV commercials, soap-operas and articles in the press.
Afro-Colombians are called “morochos(as)”, “negritos(as)”, “niches”, “morenos(as)”, “negros(as)”, etc., in the mass media. Newspapers and television channels don’t usually contract for Afro-Colombians, and when they do it, they show Afro-Colombians as persons who only know how to work at the domestic level, just for being Afro-Colombians.
We consider these stereotypes really offensive. The Mass media has also used the word “negro” to refer to illegal and bad things, and even though people say that this doesn’t have any relationship with Afro-Colombians, we have demonstrated it does. For instance, “El Tiempo”, which is the most important and famous newspaper in the country, gives us an example of this kind of discrimination, when it published the elimination of the Brazilian Olympic soccer team:
“Brasil la vio muy negra… Cuba y Costa Rica dieron alegrías el domingo a América Latina al conquistar una medalla de oro y una de bronce en la Olimpiada de Sydney, mientras la selección de fútbol de Brasil, gran favorita para ganar el oro, perdió 3-1 con Sudáfrica.” No one denies that the expression “la vio muy negra” (“they saw it so black”) was used to offend a group of black soccer players, who played against a group mainly formed by black players too.
In other words, the Colombian mass media promotes the use of a racist language against those who have African background. This fact makes them accomplice of a violation of human rights. Thus, even though legislation prohibits racial discrimination through language, the mass media continues to practice it because they do not see it as discrimination.
Over the years, the internal armed conflict of Colombia has contributed to worsening of the situation of the Afro-Colombian communities. The selective violence against Afro-Colombian activists has increased through homicides, threats and forced displacements. The communities have been threatened by the illegal groups in conflict who see the Afro-Colombians as an obstacle since they occupy strategic territories, such as along the Pacific Coast, which are rich in terms of natural resources and trade activities, both legal and illegal. The control of the illegal groups over the lands of Afro-Colombians also makes worse the violations of the political and civil rights of the communities that are frequently victims of blockages, restrictions to people’s mobilizations and access to medicines and food, which has a negative impact on Afro-Colombian communities’ living conditions.
In terms of the forced displacement produced by the armed conflict that affects the Afro-Colombian population, it is important to point out that at least 50% of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have Afro-Colombian background. In other words, for the last decade more than one million Afro-Colombians have been victims of this violation of human rights, which also means violations of economic, political, social and cultural rights, if we consider their lands as ancestral.
The Afro-Colombian population is concerned about the following issue. In the last years some of the illegal groups in conflict, like the FARC, have named their combat activities and/or troops with names directly related to the Afro-Colombian communities and/or historical leaders and facts, such as the “cimarronaje” and/or “Benkos Bioho”, and this makes more vulnerable the dangerous work of Afro-Colombian human rights activists in the country.
It is important to emphasize that the main victims of the internal conflict are the Afro-Colombian communities. Although there are no studies about this obvious situation, the images from TV news confirm that the illegal armed groups use Afro-Colombian soldiers, who are either forced to join their troops or join as a strategy to solve their economic and social problems.
One of the terrible events that reconfirms that the Afro-Colombian population is the main victim of the internal armed conflict happened on May the 2nd 2002, the day of the Massacre of Bojayá (Chocó), the worst massacre in Colombian history. The massacre was committed by the guerrilla group FARC in the frame of a combat against the paramilitaries groups, resulting in the death of 119 persons, including some pregnant women and children. All of them were Afro-Colombians, which also was considered as an infraction to the international humanitarian law norms ratified by the Colombian state.
Despite the existing legislative framework that aims to protect human rights, recent governments have failed to implement the international human rights treaties ratified by the state. These governments have also failed to consider the recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which have sought to protect the Afro-Colombian communities from violations of human rights, including and especially racial discrimination which negatively impacts all spheres of national life.
Colombia has historically presented a strong institutionalised racism that limits the social development of the Afro-Colombian population. The current government has recognized the existence of this violation of human rights, but little has been done to address the issue. To illustrate this, there are no Afro-Colombian Generals in the Armed Forces, while most of the soldiers who are fighting in the armed conflict are Afro-Colombians, something that can be easily observed despite the absence of research on the issue. The government hasn’t created affirmative action programs for Afro-Colombians either, and racial discrimination in the labour markets is still strong, as reflected in the Afro-Colombian presence in the state institutions.
The government refuses to recognise that in prisons, Afro-Colombians are victims of maltreatment based on their ethnic background, which is a form of racial discrimination. Afro-Colombian detainees do not receive the support of lawyers, and their basic rights are violated by the prison authorities. Neither the government nor the judiciary helps to eliminate these racist practices in Colombian prisons. 
It is difficult to understand why the current government, which has declared itself as a protector of the international human rights norms and international humanitarian law, and which is fully aware of the social and economic situation of the Afro-Colombian people, only dedicates less than one page to the dramatic situation in its Human Rights Annual Report. This Report, that has 166 pages, mentions the situation of Indigenous people in more depth, but it says almost nothing about the situation of the Afro-Colombians. In short, the government doesn’t really care about the human rights situation of the Afro-Colombian population, and it has never thought about the positive impact of the elimination of all forms of exclusion and racial discrimination on the economic growth and the social development of the nation.
The lack of governmental interest in the situation of the Afro-Colombian people is confirmed by the closing of the National Office of Black Communities, the only office created specifically to address Afro-Colombian issues. The Office, which was created under the Ministry of Interior in the frame of the implementation of Law 70 of 1993, was eliminated to create the Direction of Ethnic Groups, which curiously has a mestizo director that does not demonstrate a strong commitment to Afro-Colombians. Moreover, this Office has limitations in terms of financial resources, and it is ill-equipped to adequately solve the problems of racial discrimination. Thus, the official decision of eliminating the Office of Black Communities as it was working, not only has stopped the Afro-Colombian process of organization, but also has made worse the Afro-Colombian social situation. This situation will only be solved if the Government and the Congress approve a Law to establish the creation of effective mechanisms to face racial discrimination, and a national governmental institution that address Afro-Colombian issues.
A further problem that the current Government chooses to ignore is the situation of the prostitution of young Afro-Colombians. These young people join the business of prostitution because they have no other opportunities for improving their living conditions. This situation, which has racial discrimination as its root, results in many young Afro-Colombians prostituting in Colombia’s big cities such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Cartagena. Unfortunately, there are no studies on this subject, since the re-opening of the Office of Black Communities is highly unlikely; we are worried that such a study would not be possible at this time.
Finally, the Government keeps continually fails to recognize the role of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to examine communications from persons who have been victims of racial discrimination, in accordance with Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Article 14 states that all governments that have ratified the Convention, in representation of States, must assume their responsibility of rectifying the violations of the Convention. In light of all this, we must ask the following question: If there is no problem of racial discrimination in Colombia, as argued by the Colombian Government, what is the fear of the Government about recognizing the statement made in Article 14?
Based on the Report on the Situation in Colombia of Doudou Diène, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and All Related Forms of Intolerance, who visited the country on a Special Mission in 2003, CIMARRON makes the following conclusions and recommendations, in order to improve the human rights situation of the Afro-Colombian population.
1) Ten years after the recognition of the diversity of the nation, and despite the existence of an enormous legislation that protects and defends the human rights of all Afro-Colombians, their social situation is still the worst in the country, and it continues getting worse every day.
2) Racial discrimination is one of the worst human rights violations. However, in Colombia, the mestizos (who actually call themselves “white people”) fail to recognize racial discrimination as a human rights violation. Moreover, the mestizos promote the exclusion of the Afro-Colombian population in all relevant socio-economic spaces and spheres; especially the spheres of employment in customer services, the mass media, and all the crucial positions at both public and private levels. This discrimination is a form of segregation that makes more difficult the development possibilities of both Afro-Colombians and Colombians in general.
1) It is necessary to create a normative framework that clearly defines and helps people to recognize the existence of racial discrimination practices when they occur. As the ILO says, a strategy should be established that guarantees the elimination of racial discrimination, and that also improves the social situation of excluded communities, in this case the Afro-Colombian communities. This framework should start with the approval of a law against racism and racial discrimination, which promotes the creation of a national commission on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination that interacts with the Presidency, the Ministries and the private sector, and encourages the current Government to recognize the competence of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to examine communications from persons that have suffered racism and/or racial discrimination practices against them, in accordance to the Article 14 of the International Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
2) We invite the Government to implement an intellectual, political and ethical strategy to end racism and racial discrimination against Afro-Colombians, in order to build a democratic, participative and interactive multiculturalism that truly makes effective the diversity proclaimed in the Article 7 of the Constitution. In doing so, the Government must demand that all schools include Afro-Colombian studies into their curriculums. It also must prohibit the discriminatory language utilized against Afro-Colombians in the mass media. Last but not the least; it should promote affirmative action policies that guarantee the Afro-Colombian presence at all levels.
3) Finally, the current Government should encourage the creation and implementation of a law that promotes racial inclusion, in order to have a better investment in Afro-Colombian human capital, and eliminate racial discrimination in labor markets and occupations in general. This would produce a positive and constant impact on the quality of life not only of the Afro-Colombian communities, but also of all Colombians. The same law should promote the creation of a national state institution dedicated to study and find solutions for the Afro-Colombian social problems. This institution should be led, contrary to what the current Government has done with the Direction of Ethnic Groups in the Ministry of Interior, by Afro-Colombian researchers that are clearly committed to the respect of human rights and the development of Afro-Colombians.
 This Report presents a general overview of the human rights situation of the Afro-Colombian population for the last ten years (1994-2004), as a result of an extensive compilation of research. The final document was written by political scientist, historian, and storyteller Leonardo Reales Jiménez, who acted as head researcher to the project. Mr. Reales, who is a candidate to a Master’s in International Affairs, has been elected many times to represent the Afro-Colombian Movement CIMARRON, of which he is Coordinator, in human rights and development programs in Canada, Mexico, the United States, Brazil, Colombia and Switzerland. The final version of the document was revised by Juan de Dios Mosquera, Director of CIMARRON, and approved by the Board of Directors in July 2004. Bogota, July 30th 2004. Note: This Human Rights Report can be consulted on www.mnacimarron.org.
 The legal abolition of slavery in Colombia was approved by the Congress through the Law of Freedom of Slaves of May 21st 1851, but it only was effective as of January 1st 1852.
 The Afro-Colombian population found itself in the lowest level (the base) of the socio-racial pyramid created by the Spaniards during the colonial age, and kept by both the white and mestizos elites during the republican age.
 The Law 114 of 1922 on immigration clearly established that “the Executive Power will encourage the immigration of those individuals that don’t represent a concern for the social order because of their racial conditions, in order to promote the empowerment of the ethnic conditions of the nation.”
 National Plan of Development of the Afro-Colombian Population (1998-2002). Department of National Planning. Bogota, 1999.
 National Plan of Development of the Afro-Colombian Population (1998-2002).
 Interview to Betsy Romaña, Coordinator of the Afro-Colombian Women’s Network. Medellin, March 2004.
 El Tiempo. Sports Section. Bogota, September 18th 2000.
 See the Law 22 of 1981 that adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Law 74 of 1968, that adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Constitution also prohibits all forms of racial discrimination, through its Article 7, by which the State guarantees the protection and respect of the cultural and ethnic diversity of the nation.
 Interview to Jorge Rojas, President of CODHES, the most active NGO in terms of studies about displacement in Colombia. Geneva, November 2003.
 Opinion of Afro-Colombian community leaders from the Pacific Coast. Interviews done in small towns and villages of the Pacific Coast, February 2001.
 Emperatriz Mosquera, an Afro-Colombian leader, also points out this fact in a virtual interview in 2004.
 The Geneva Conventions (the International Humanitarian Law) were effective for the country in May 1962, through the Law 5 of 1960, and its Additional Protocol, relative to the protection of the victims in armed conflicts without international status (known as the Protocol II) was effective for Colombia in February 1996, through the Law 171 of 1994. See the book “Compilación de Instrumentos Internacionales” of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bogota, 2002.
 International Mission. Human Rights and the Situation in Prisons. Report, 2001. See “Sistema Judicial y Racismo contra Afrodescendientes”. Center of Judiciary Studies in the Americas. Santiago, 2004.
 Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Report 2003. Vice-presidency of the Republic of Colombia. Bogota, March 2004.
 This Committee was created as a result of the Convention, which was ratified by the Colombian state in 1981.
 The Special Rapporteur, who visited Colombia in 2003, held a meeting with the Human Rights Committee of the Afro-Colombian National Movement CIMARRON, which gave him documents on the Afro-Colombian situation to help support his final report on Colombia, which was presented in February 23rd 2004 in Geneva.
 The Time for Equality in Work. Global Report on the Following Measures to the Declaration of the International Labor Organization relative to the principles and basic rights in work. Geneva, 2003.