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Objectives of the Observatory of Justice for Afrodescendants in Latin America (OJALA)

OJALA's comprehensive objective is to contribute to, and facilitate the creation of, comparative and critical knowledge about Afrodescendants' interactions with Latin American justice systems, as these deal with Afrodescendants' collective rights, and their right to live lives free from racial discrimination.  That comprehensive objective is grounded on the fundamental premise that any production and accumulation of knowledge about Afrodescendants and Latin American justice systems cannot be but beneficial for the recognition, promotion, and defense of Afrodescendants' rights across the region.  We foresee that OJALA’s comparative research projects and its targeted production of knowledge will be of use to community-based and/or national activist organizations, policy makers, law practitioners, scholars, government organizations, and others.

OJALA's focus is on the adoption of what we call "ethnoracial law" in Latin America since the late 1980s until the present. OJALA's comparative approach aims to evaluate the practice of ethnoracial law in its current forms in the region for Afrodescendants.  We understand "ethnoracial law" to encompass: 1) the articles of constitutions and special laws that recognize and define identity-based collective rights (generally over land or "territory," cultural practices, and perspective), and which form what are usually called "multicultural legal instruments" (the right to be different); and 2) the constitutional articles and special laws often referred to as "racial equality law" or "anti-discrimination law" adopted by constituent assemblies as well as municipal or departmental, national, and international or multilateral governing bodies, which criminalize hate crimes and discrimination to guarantee the protection of Afrodescendants’ rights and remedy wrongs they have endured (the right to be the same).

 OJALA proposes to reach this far-reaching objective through three major activities:

1) Creation of a Regional Repository of Legal Archives in Spanish and Portuguese (with User Guides in Spanish, Portuguese, and English)

OJALA works to establish in the Florida International University's Law School Library, a Repository of Legal Archives regrouping all archives of relevant legal cases from all national contexts in the Latin American region in which a) multicultural legal instruments, b) anti-discrimination law (sometimes called "racial equality law"), and/or c) any other relevant legal instrument(s) have been in use for the promotion and defense of Afrodescendants’ human rights. As it reaches various stages of completion, the Repository will be made available digitally to attorneys from the region as they litigate new cases, to researchers (mostly graduate students and professional researchers) interested in the systematic practices of the Latin American legal systems as they engage with Afrodescendants, to activists in search of documentation about related legal cases in other countries of the region, and to reformist policy makers.  Such an easily reachable online repository will contribute to the making of a regional jurisprudence about Afrodescendants' rights in the region's justice systems.

The repository will have its own professionally designed website that will facilitate users' navigation to specific litigations on the list of relevant cases in each Latin American national context.  We plan to design user guidelines that take into consideration the particularities of archiving systems in each national context.  We imagine these guidelines as also facilitating online linkages within the repository to the archives of other litigations from across the region that our system will have identified as sharing similarities with the first case in a search.

We are currently looking for funding to support the building of this Latin American repository.  As we conduct specific research projects in the region, we have begun collecting the relevant legal archives in--and this is our ultimate goal--all Latin American national contexts.  The Repository will include scanned legal archives not available online in the countries where each case unfolded.  It will also redirect specific searches to national archives available online in each country of the region.

2) The Conduct of Research Projects about Afrodescendants and the Contemporary Latin American Justice Systems

We plan to design and conduct research projects in specific national contexts.  Some of these projects will be comparative and include multiple countries from across the region.  This research will be aimed at producing knowledge about ethnoracial law and its usage to protect the rights of, and provide remedies for, Afrodescendants in Latin America.

We were already awarded seed funding through a Ford-LASA Small Grant in 2018, and an Initiative Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Initiatives grant in 2019 to develop The Observatory of Justice for Afrodescendants in Latin America (OJALA) at Florida International University.  We have published a special issue of Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies (LACES) entitled "Justice for Afrodescendants in Latin America: An Interrogation of Ethnoracial Law" (volume 14, nº 3, 2019).  We are currently preparing a special issue of the journal, Abya-Yala: Revista sobre Acesso à Justiça e Direitos nas Américas, published by the University of Brazilia, Brazil.  That special issue is entitled: "Afrodescendants' Rights, Ethnoracial Law, and the Practice of Justice Systems in the 2020s' Latin America."  We recently (August 2020) submitted a research proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF), in the USA.

 3) The Dissemination of Existing Knowledge about Afrodescendants and the Contemporary Latin American Justice Systems through the Development of Workshops and Symposia

We envisage to disseminate the comparative, regional, and critical knowledge produced and gathered by OJALA and others through the design of workshops and symposia that target a varied audience of stakeholders in the region: 1) operators of the justice systems (prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and attorneys) to emphasize the spirit and importance of ethnoracial law across Latin America for the defense of Afrodescendants' rights, and inform about ordinary challenges for its application; 2) Afrodescendant social movements to contribute to, and support the improvement of, their politico-legal strategies aimed at triggering and securing the application of ethnoracial law for the benefit of Afrodescendants' collective rights and protect them against discrimination.