Yesterday Colombia’s congress approved an anti-discrimination bill that levies prison sentences of one to three years for acts of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political belief, or sexual orientation. The bill, Ley 08 in the Senate and Ley 165 in the House of Representatives, was authored by Senator Carlos Baena of the Partido Mira. It now awaits a signature from President Juan Manuel Santos.
Passage of the bill is considered a landmark victory for Colombia’s minorities, including Afro-Colombians, Indigenous populations, and LGBT groups, and had the backing of many NGOs supporting greater rights for these traditionally excluded populations. According to the 2005 Colombian census, 10.5 percent of the Colombian population self-identifies as “black, mulatto, or of African descent.” The Comisión Intersectorial Afrocolombiana reports that 80 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the line of extreme poverty.
During legislative consideration, observers debated whether jail time was the most effective form of punishment. Some, including the former Deputy Attorney General Francisco José Sintura, argued that prison sentences were excessive and opted for other means like education. The bill also received criticism—and its passage delayed—for not specifying what constitutes an act of discrimination. Before yesterday’s final vote, however, Partido Mira refined the bill’s language to define six circumstances that could be considered discriminatory under the law, including physical assault, employment discrimination and refusal of admittance to movie theaters, bars, etc.
In a statement, Senator Baena said that the new law will “settle a historic debt with the Afro-Colombian population that continues to face racism.” Baena added that “the Afro-Colombian role is essential to the economic, social and political reality of our country.”
Colombia is a focus country for the Americas Society Social Inclusion Program.