IACHR and REDESCA call to guarantee the efforts of higher education institutions to preserve Afro-descendant memory

March 22, 2024

Washington, D.C. - In commemoration of the International Days for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights(REDESCA) recognize the role of higher education institutions in the preservation of and access to accurate historical memory of Afro-descendants, and call on the States of the region to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that these institutions can maintain these efforts, as well as all the educational activities that contribute to the fight against racial discrimination.

Institutions of higher education in the region have implemented strategies for the recognition of the contributions of the African diaspora in the Americas through research and teaching on the transatlantic slave trade. However, regressive initiatives have been noted that run counter to the promotion of historical awareness of the impacts of colonization and slavery in the region, as well as the need for reparations for slavery in the hemisphere. Such initiatives include, for example, budget cuts to universities and proposed legislation to prohibit teaching about the impacts of racial discrimination.

The inclusion of educational programs on Afro-descendant historical memory within higher education curricula is essential to ensure a comprehensive and holistic education, which should extend beyond the primary and secondary levels. Universities and other institutions of higher education play a significant role in the recognition of the accurate historical memory of black communities in the Americas through research and teaching. Along these lines, in the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy, the Commission, and its Special Rapporteurships emphasized that States have the duty to promote and implement the design and application of comprehensive educational programs that promote a culture of human rights, counteracting all prejudices and practices that reinforce, promote or instigate discrimination against individuals and groups in situations of special vulnerability or historical discrimination.

Likewise, in the report Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights of People of African Descent (2021), the IACHR and REDESCA stressed that States, both in public and private education systems, must guarantee the right to Afro-descendant historical memory through the implementation of a specialized course of study that accounts for the history of the African Diaspora and its processes of resistance, reclamation and advancement. Furthermore, the Plan of Action for the Decade for People of African Descent in the Americas of the Organization of American States (OAS) highlighted the importance of the collaboration of universities in state initiatives to strengthen the inclusion of the history of Africa and the Afro-descendant population in the Americas, as well as an intercultural approach in educational curricula.

The Commission and REDESCA call on States to continue adopting measures to encourage institutions of higher education to consolidate their efforts to combat racial discrimination and disseminate the legacy of Afro-descendant persons and peoples, in the exercise of their academic freedom and in observance of principles of equality and non-discrimination. States must guarantee that universities are safe spaces for all ethnic-racial groups; as well as support affirmative actions to ensure the representation of people of African descent in all centers of higher education.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to strengthen the promotion and protection of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas, leading the Commission's efforts in this area.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the OAS, whose mandate arises from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission is mandated to promote the observance of human rights in the region and to act as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 057/24

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