The Maré shantytown complex in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro, with 60% of its population composed of blacks and mulattoes, received, Monday, October 24, a visit from the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on Racism, Doudou Diène.
Diène is in Brazil to learn about what the government and civil society have done to combat racism and promote the social inclusion of Afro-descendants.
Diène observed the work of the non-governmental organization, Community Action of Brazil, which, for the past six years, has been teaching the Maré community to esteem Afro-Brazilian culture through classes in handcrafts, cooking, dance, theater, hairdressing, and literature.
The UN rapporteur was moved by the reception he got from a berimbau orchestra – the berimbau is a bow-shaped percussion instrument that produces a sound similar to a Jew’s harp -, and he said that life in the shantytown belies the image of blacks and poor people as dependents.
"They took the responsibility upon themselves and strive to discover their own answers to their problems."
Diène also affirmed that the few hours he spent in the Vila do João (one of the 16 shantytowns that form the Maré complex) were sufficient for him to comprehend that "the violence, hatred, and anger that exist in the shantytown mirror the racial discrimination to which residents of poor communities are subjected."
Diène has already traveled to Brasília, Salvador, and Recife. He is visiting São Paulo today and will return to Brasília tomorrow for a meeting with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Every year the UN prepares a report on Racism in the World. This is the second year in which Brazil is receiving a visit from the UN Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Intolerance.
Diène’s report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Commission in April, 2006. "In my report I plan to mention the experience I observed in the Maré complex, which deserves to be recognized, assisted, and promoted," Diène emphasized. Diène, who comes from Senegal, is a lawyer and political scientist.