Colombia must be accountable to people of African descent in conditions of risk and “resistance”, say UN experts


UN experts today urged the Government of Colombia to address systemic and institutional racism people of African descent in the country have endured for centuries.

“Colombia must engage in effective transformative change, to restore dignity, repair invisibility and uphold the recognition and human rights of people of African descent,” said the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, in a statement following a 10-day visit to the country.

“With a new government committed to justice and human rights, Colombia has a unique opportunity to break the cycle of centuries of institutionalised, structural and systemic discrimination and racism against people of African descent in Colombia,” the experts said. “Discrimination and racism are characterised by state abandonment on one hand and lack of autonomy and self-governance on the other.”

Colombia has adopted legal provisions, policies and strategies and set institutions to protect human rights and address violations, the experts said, adding that Colombian courts have also passed rulings in favour of people of African descent.

However, the experts said less has been done to effectively transform their daily lives, by alleviating poverty, ensuring their rights to security, education, housing, employment, access to basic services, freedom of movement, access to justice, participation in political and public affairs, adequate representation, self-governance and land rights.

“Colombia must guarantee these rights for people of African descent without violence and discrimination,” the Working Group said.

The experts heard testimony from people of African descent including women, youth, and human rights defenders and LGBTIQ+. Regions inhabited by people of African descent in Colombia are ‘race-sacrifice zones’ characterized by confinement. These testimonies detailed violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, rap as a weapon of war, macro-aggressions, kidnappings, feminicides, brutal killings in particular by armed groups and organised crime cartels, extortion, brutal dispossession of lands, forced recruitment of children in armed groups, enforced disappearances, enforced displacement, mutilation, utilisation of children for illegal activities, deterioration and destruction of livelihoods and their social fabric, generating a sense of depletion for the people of African descent. These issues had fostered mistrust against State and local authorities including the armed forces for failure to protect them and ensure adequate living standards, the experts found.

“We are violated and it’s time to stop,” said a woman of African descendant in her discussions with the experts. “Our hearts hurt”, “I speak of resistance not resilience”, explained another.

After centuries of rights violations, Colombia must ensure structure and institutional reform that will ensure people of African descent in the country can exercise their rights fully and freely, the experts said, urging authorities to foster differential ethnic approaches to level up redress.

The Working Group also called on Colombia to ensure meaningful participation and consultations for people of African descent in all processes and policies that may affect them, including in the context of the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement.

“People of African descent and their territories have been the biggest victims of conflicts in Colombia, giving these conflicts a racialised connotation,” the experts said.

The Working Group will present a report on its visit to the Human Rights Council in September 2025.

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