Inter-American Commission Hearing Explores the Right to Education for Afro-Descendant and Indigenous Communities
For Immediate Release
Related to Hearing: Report: Right to Education of Afro-Descendants and Indigenous Peoples in the Americas (also available in Spanish)
(Washington D.C. -- March 11, 2008) The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on the state of the right to education for Afro-descendant and indigenous communities in the Americas on March 12, 2008.
The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights worked with grassroots advocates Angélica Macario Quino of Guatemala and Diego Escobar Cuellar of Colombia, as well as researchers from international human rights law clinics at the Cornell University School of Law and the University of Virginia School of Law to testify at the hearing. These testimonies focused on the situation in Guatemala, Colombia and the Dominican Republic to exemplify the state of education in the Americas. The information presented in the hearing was based on interviews with the affected populations, their community representatives and government officials in all three countries conducted over the past year by RFK Center and its partners, including RFK Human Rights Award Laureates Amílcar Méndez Urízar(Guatemala), Berenice Celeyta (Columbia) and Sonia Pierre (Dominican Republic). These specific case studies provide evidence of structural discrimination and a lack of access to education throughout the Americas.
“Most of the problems these populations face as they seek to access education are directly related to structural discrimination not being effectively addressed by States,” said Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Program Officer with RFK Center and hearing witness. “Adhering to international and Inter-American human rights norms provides a pathway for member states to work toward the realization of the right to education.”
In most Latin American and Caribbean countries, lack of access to education for Afro-descendants and indigenous people is a significant problem. Though their countries’ constitutions and membership in the Organization of American States (OAS) guarantees the right to education, the majority of Afro-descendant and indigenous people have little to no adequate primary or secondary education. Facing centuries-worth of entrenched, government-condoned discrimination, very few, if any, in these communities enjoy access to higher education.
In Guatemala the right to education is guaranteed constitutionally, in its 1996 Peace Accords, and in national and international law such as the American Convention and its Protocol. With the wealthiest 20% of the population holding two-thirds of all income, Guatemala suffers from dramatic inequality both economically and in terms of access to education. Indigenous Guatemalans, some 3.5 million people, are one of the groups most affected by the education system’s shortcomings and from a lack of enforcement of the right to education.
“Guatemala has failed to implement these laws and to provide education that is appropriate, available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable to the country's indigenous population,” said Angélica Macario Quino, an indigenous Mayan grassroots leader.
Roughly one-third of Colombia’s indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations in the Americas are illiterate, a rate nearly three times that of the rest of the population. Moreover, 35.8% of indigenous people have never received any formal education and only 2% of Afro-Colombians who enter university receive their degrees.
“Colombia’s constitution guarantees free education to those who cannot afford to pay but a wide gap still exists between these laws and their implementation on the ground,” said Diego Escobar Cuellar, a Colombian union leader.
Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the Americas, the Dominican Republic has one of the hemisphere’s lowest investment rates in education. Only one-fifth of the rural population has attended secondary school. Additionally, the Dominican government refuses to provide identity documents or recognize the citizenship of Dominican children born to undocumented residents, predominantly persons of Haitian ancestry. Because government-issued identification is required for most public services, including education, Haitian immigrants and their Dominican-born descendants are essentially barred by the state from attending school beyond the fourth grade.
The RFK Center and its laureates, with assistance from clinics at University of Virginia School of Law and the Cornell University Law School, have conducted a thorough legal analysis of this data and Member States’ education systems and human rights obligations. This analysis takes into account structural discrimination and following the Inter-American Commission’s Guidelines for Preparations of Progress Indicators in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other relevant frameworks.
After the hearing, participants presented a joint-report to the Commission which lays out the legal obligations of OAS Member States and brings to light violations of the right to education across the Americas by providing specific examples in Colombia, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Source: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial www.rfkmemorial.org
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