Page last updated at 05:23 GMT, Sunday, 29 November 2009

Peru apologises for abuse of African-origin citizens

Peru has apologised for the first time to its citizens of African origin for centuries of "abuse, exclusion and discrimination".

The government said racially-motivated harassment still hindered the social and professional development of many African-Peruvians.

A public ceremony will be held to apologise to African-Peruvians, who make up 5-10% of the population.

Their ancestors were brought as slaves to the region by Spanish colonisers.

Women's and Social Development Minister Nidia Vilchez said the government wanted the apology to promote the "true integration of all Peru's multicultural population," Associated Press news agency reported.

The time of the ceremony was not mentioned in the declaration published in the official newspaper El Peruano.

Years of denial

Peru is not the first Latin American country to apologise to its black population, but it went a step further in recognising that racist exclusion continues to this day.

Some human rights groups have said the recognition is an important political gesture after years of denial that discrimination existed.

But other experts have criticised the fact that the apology did not refer to slavery and say it makes no concrete promise to change the status quo for African-Peruvians in the present day.

The first Africans arrived in Peru in the 16th Century as slaves of the Spanish conquistadors.

Slavery was abolished in Peru in 1854.

Since then African-Peruvians have made an extremely important contribution to Peruvian culture, particularly in the arts, cuisine and sport, says the BBC's Dan Collyns in Lima.

Observers have pointed out that while the apology is significant, Afro-Peruvians are not the only ethnic group to face discrimination in Peru.

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