Sur 28 – Letter to the Readers

Thiago Amparo & Maryuri Mora Grisales

Editors – Sur International Journal on Human Rights

Sueli Carneiro

Guest Editor / Geledés – Black Woman Institute

Sur File on Race and Human Rights: Moving Structures

Data on racial inequality demonstrate the persistence of racism in the world. In 2018, 17 years after the III World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, and 130 years after the end of slavery in Brazil, still inconclusive; the legacies of Jim Crow, slavery and the apartheid continue and proliferate in the United States of America, Brazil and South Africa.11. OXFAM, A Distância Que Nos Une, 2017, Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, Um Retrato da Violência contra Negros e Negras no Brasil, 2017, disponível em: In other parts of the Global North and South, the situation of historically discriminated groups is no different. Europe has been the stage for xenophobia cases in the context of migration.22. See, The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism – one of the authors of Sur’s present edition – has reported on racism in countries as diverse as Australia, Mauretania, Hungary and Colombia.33.

To do justice to the complexity and urgency of today’s fight against racism, this edition of Sur aims to serve as a space for voices pursuing ways to reposition race at the centre of the human rights agenda. In its 14 years of existence, Sur has published only two articles on racism. This special edition kicks off a new trajectory for the Journal linking racism to other grave human rights violations. We, therefore, acknowledge that race is a structuring element of how rights are historically conceived, denied and exercised unevenly in Brazil — and in the world. The articles published herein share the need to rethink human rights movements – including their strategies, narratives and funding models – if we want to effectively build a new world where racial inequality does not exist.


For the first time, Sur Journal awarded three writing fellowships to black authors. The goal of the fellowships was to encourage and support black activists and researchers to write about their experiences and/or research on racism and human rights in the Brazilian context. Each fellow received for three months, between October and December 2018, a stipend equivalent to graduate scholarships granted in Brazil. The authors selected for the 28th edition writing fellowships were: Megg Rayara Gomes de Oliveira, Aline Maia Nascimento, and Rosane Viana Jovelino, whose articles Sur Journal is honoured to publish. This edition also features an article from the executive editor, Thiago Amparo, presenting a more detailed overview of the 803 applications received for this edition’s writing fellowship, to foster the establishing of similar initiatives to support black authors.


(De)criminalising black bodies

Institutional violence and criminalisation of black bodies constitute the theme of the first set of articles in this edition of Sur Journal. Albeit being recurring topics in the debates on race and human rights – given the persistence of the cruel forms of punishment to black bodies – the contributions in this section show a new perspective on how activists and academics can fight institutional violence. In this regard, Sur Journal opens this edition with the research from sociologist Aline Maia Nascimento (Brazil), one of the persons selected for the writing fellowship, on people’s tribunals – in special, the Winnie Mandela People’s Tribunal and the People’s Tribunal of Baixada Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro – as forms of political action on the lethal violence perpetrated against black individuals. Aline describes with singular sensibility how institutional violence manifests itself through small losses, regular sundries (as she calls them – miudezas corriqueiras in Portuguese), comprised by the daily violations to which victims and their families are exposed in the quest for their rights.

Likewise attuned to the regular violence imposed by the genocide against the black population in Brazil, film director Natasha Néri (Brazil) gifts this edition with a mini-documentary Mourning has Always been a Verb to Us (Luto para Nós Sempre Foi Verbo44. The title is a play on words, considering that the Portuguese word for “mourning” (luto) is equal to the first-person singular tense of the verb “to fight” in Portuguese (luto). in Portuguese). Through interviews with the mothers of young black people killed by police forces, Natasha reveals how the pain is transformed into political struggle, such as in the case of Mães de Maio, a group of mothers whose children have fallen victim to State lethal violence. The documentary concludes in a visceral manner with a call to a mobilisation for the dignity of black lives.

Attentive to the view that great part of State violence against black bodies in many countries happens under the banner of the so-called war against drugs, Nathália Oliveira and Eduardo Ribeiro (Brazil) – founders of the Black Initiative for a New Policy on Drugs (Iniciativa Negra Por Uma Nova Política sobre Drogas – INNPD in Portuguese) – reflect on the creation of such Initiative in 2015 as an important stakeholder in the design of drug policies. The authors understand the question of racism as a key part of ill devised punitive drug policies. Racism begins to be seen, therefore, not as a collateral damage of the war on drugs but a means for the maintenance of an economy based on violence against the black body.

Judicialising race

Another set of articles question the effectiveness of the judicialisation of racism, evidencing its potential and limitations. By analysing the case of racial discrimination in the work environment suffered by John Jak Becerra, Maryluz Barragán González (Colombia) analyses the institutional barriers which render the antidiscrimination instruments existing in Colombia inefficient, including the lack of capacity of companies and civil servants to look into such complaints. Maryluz narrates Becerra’s case tried by the Colombian Constitutional Court in light of these institutional shortcomings, which the Court attempted to overcome by ordering a list of corrective measures to be adopted by companies and the Colombian Labour Ministry in cases of harassment in the work place for racial reasons.

Colombia and Brazil have detailed norms against racial discrimination, but both countries still lack effective implementation of such rules, often because of each country’s flawed judicial narrative on discrimination. To tackle the issue, Thula Pires (Brazil) questions how the standard of humanity determined by the sovereign subject (male, white, cis/straight, Christian, owner and able bodied) defines the legal narrative on race. Based on legal decisions on racism and racial slur usage, the author shows how the Judiciary openly displays in its narrative historical processes of dehumanization of blacks, not considering them as legal subjects with the same ideal standing of the sovereign subject.

Sometimes, it is the Judiciary itself that perpetuates racism. Livia Casseres (Brazil) writes about the crime of abortion in Brazil according to the perspective of black women. The author argues that the criminalisation of abortion represents a policy of death for black women. Through the study of the case pending before Brazil’s highest court, in which the constitutionality of abortion caused or consented by the pregnant individual and of the abortion caused by a third party is analysed, the author contends that the antiracism discourse should have a central role in the constitutional interpretation of equality.

Rethinking narratives and funding

Four articles in this edition question to what extent the strategies, narratives and funding of organisations and human rights movements take race seriously. Two articles look deeply into the matter of funding in human rights. In an article inspired by personal experiences such as being “the only Black woman at the social justice philanthropy dinner party”, Nicolette Naylor (South Africa), Regional Director of Ford Foundation’s South Africa, questions whether social justice foundations in fact practice what they preach. Several recent cases of sexual harassment, intimidation and racial discrimination in human rights organisations suggest that, according to the author, we have not reflected enough on our values and practices in the philanthropy sector.

Continuing the conversation on the roles foundations play in tackling issues related to race and human rights, Sur Journal features and article written by six authors who work at Open Society Foundations – Mariana Berbec-Rostas, Soheila Comninos, Mary Miller Flowers, Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Michael Heflin, and Nina Madsen (United States). The authors employ a racial equality perspective on the challenges of financing human rights. Taking the lessons learned from their professional activities as a starting point, the authors suggest a series of precious recommendations to improve the financing of the fight against racism, among them: redistribution of resources to organisations and movements directly affected by racism; developing a frank and open dialogue on diversity and inclusion with civil society organisations, and also ways for donors to take intersectionality seriously.

In order to rethink the connection between race and human rights, it is necessary to also reassess the narratives of human rights movements. A. Kayum Ahmed (South Africa) and Denise Carrera (Brazil), in each of their articles, analyse critically the ways social movements and civil society organisations talk about racism and human rights. Kayum analyses the #RhodesMustFall, a radical black student movement which seeks to address the systemic racism in a white liberal university by demanding the institution’s decolonisation. From interviews with student activists, the author reveals how the movement conceives race in post-apartheid South Africa, favouring a decolonising approach focused on black consciousness, and rejecting a human rights perspective. Denise Carrera, on the other hand, analyses the role white activists play in the fight against racism. Denise argues that it is not enough for white activists to support the fight against racism they also need to join the fight against racism by critically questioning their own privileged condition. In this context, Denise recommends a greater engagement from white individuals and institutions committed to the promotion, defence and guarantee of human rights in the fight against racism.

Repositioning race in the international agenda

In order to rethink race and human rights, it is necessary for international and regional human rights agendas to put race in their centre. Two articles in this edition are proposing this exact reflection. E. Tendayi Achiume (Zambia) – current United Nations Special Rapporteur on All Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance – questions why are people of colour who are at forefront of racial oppression excluded from decision-making and the production of knowledge on human rights? Tendayi argues that the global human rights agenda needs to commit itself clearly to substantial racial equality. Therefore, it is necessary to recognise that racial discrimination is a theme which runs across the whole human rights field, in a structural and intersectional manner. It also means that, according to Tendayi, the role of communities of persons of colour and their defenders should be taken seriously not only in the fight against racial inequality but also in defining the very nature of human rights.

Roberto Rojas Dávila (Peru) contributes to this debate by rescuing the historical fundaments of racism in the international and regional agenda. Coordinator of the Section on Vulnerable Groups of the Organisation of American States (OEA), Roberto argues that the inclusion of the topic of afro-descendants in Human Rights International Law is relatively new, it is 18 years old counting from the Regional Conference of the Americas held in 2000. Roberto recollects that in 2013 OEA’s General Assembly approved the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention Against all forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, although few Member States have so far ratified these conventions. In this sense, the author considers fundamental to perceive the International Decade for People of African Descent (2016-2025) as the perfect opportunity to debate racism and racial discrimination in the Americas earnestly, repositioning the question of race at the centre of the regional agenda on human rights.


A series of articles seeks to question a singular vision of blackness, introducing some intersections between blackness and other markers of difference. Two writing fellows do exactly this in this edition, by talking about black travestis and trans women and quilombola communities. In her article, Megg Rayara Gomes De Oliveira (Brazil) problematizes the process of invisibilisation of black travestis and trans women in black social movements in Brazil. Megg rescues the history of many black travestis and trans women in the struggle for rights, as well as addresses the problem with masculinity inside the black movement. Because she is black and travesti, and because she studies in depth the participation of black travestis and trans women in the fight against racism, Megg offers a singular point of view on the contradictions within the black movement, and concludes by proposing new ways to alter the invisibilisation of black travestis and trans women in black social movements.

Also offering a unique perspective, Rosane Viana Jovelino (Brazil), the third author to be awarded a writing fellowship in this edition, makes us look in detail into the process of social, political and economic organisation of quilombola communities in the Iguape River Basin in the municipality of Cachoeira, in the state of Bahia (Brazil’s northeast). A lot has been written about quilombolas – descendants from enslaved Africans who have for centuries preserved their cultural, social and economic traditions, as the author describes therein –, very few articles, however, bring the view of an author who is a quilombola herself, based on an in depth knowledge on how quilombola communities exercise their knowledge and ancestral practices, and their sense of belonging to the lands they have traditionally occupied. Rosane argues that, by having their identities precariously acknowledged, these communities see their land tenure and possibility of rights compromised.

Another article that links race and gender in this edition was written by Juliana Borges (Brazil). Juliana offers a broad analysis on how black women have been punished in Brazil since the days of slavery when they were subjected to systematic rapes. The author focuses then on the impact of punitive drug policies, observes that 62% of the women currently incarcerated have been arrested on drug charges. The article concludes by inciting black females researchers to amplify the voice of incarcerated black women, as well as set the human rights agenda with a radical racial equality view, aiming at a future where there will be no prisons.

Art as a Form of Fight

In addition to the video directed by Natasha Néri (introduced above), this edition also features three other contributions on art, race and human rights. Sur Journal has the honour to publish a selection of 18 works from the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibit, curated by Hélio Menezes and Lilia Schwarcz (Brazil). Recently considered the best exhibit in the world in 2018 by The New York Times, Afro-Atlantic Histories proposes dialogues and flows between several parts of the Black Atlantic: between Africa and the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe. The exhibit, which remained open until October 2018 in São Paulo (Brazil), gathered a selection of 450 works of art from 214 artists, between the 16th and 21st centuries, having being organised jointly by the Museum of Art of São Paulo (MASP) and the Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo, Brazil. By featuring in this edition eight different subthemes from the exhibit, we hope that these images reproduced herein may inspire a dialogue on race and human rights among the different regions the journal reaches.

This edition of Sur Journal does not only brings art in its pages, but also suggests two reflections in the form of articles on the role of art in the fight against racism. The young Rhuann Fernandes (Brazil) brings to Sur Journal the poetry of the Rio de Janeiro slams. Rhuann compares the social relationships developed between the slams and the rap cultural circles (rodas culturais) no Rio de Janeiro. The author shows the elements of blackness present in the poems and rhymes of these two forms of artistic expression. More than denouncing racial inequalities, the slams and rap cultural circles claim a place for the positive affirmation of black culture and identity in Brazil. Such vision of affirmation of other aesthetic discourses is present in the article written by Diane Lima (Brazil). By reflecting on how the arts traditionally legitimise beauty standards, who deserves and who does not deserve to be seen, just like other notions of true and false, Diane uses her own experience as an art curator to suggest a curatorial practice from a black woman’s perspective. Diane, however, goes further: she calls upon artists and curators to think of new forms of self determination as complex as black bodies and their desires, intersectional as their agendas are, beyond the strict laws of raciality.

Placing race at the centre of the debate on human rights was the main objective of this edition. However, we hope that the reader will see in this edition of Sur Journal something more: the birth of a new generation of black thinkers, with unquestionable ability to re-signify not only the meaning of race but also what will human rights become.


Conectas would like to emphasize that this edition of Sur Journal was made possible by the support from the Ford Foundation, by means of its Brazil’s office. Furthermore, we would also like to thank Open Society Foundations, the Oak Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, as well as the individual donors who institutionally support the organization’s work.

We are also extremely grateful to the following people for assisting with this issue: Adriana Guimarães, Barney Whiteoak, Carlos José Beltrán Acero, Celina Lagrutta, Christine Puleo, Fernando Campos Leza, Fernando Sciré, Jane do Carmo, Karen Lang, Laura Eskudlark, Lilian Venturini, Luiza Bodenmuller, Pedro Maia Soares, Raquel Lima Catalani, Renato Barreto, and Sebastián Porrúa Schiess. Additionally, we would like to specially thank the authors for their collaboration, as well as the editorial ream and the Journal’s executive board for their arduous work.

As ever, the members of Conectas’ communication team deserve great for their dedication to this issue.