72nd Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 71st Session

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21-Mar-2017 02:17:42
The General Assembly commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and paid tribute to the memory of Vitaly I. Churkin, the late Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at 72nd meeting of the 71st session.

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The General Assembly commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination with a debate that focused on racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration, in which speakers underscored the responsibility of States to address a scourge seen to be on the rise worldwide.

The 193-member Assembly considered the issue in the context of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted by Member States on 19 September 2016, as well as the forthcoming start of negotiations leading to an international conference and adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that discrimination and violence were on the rise, borders were closing and vulnerable communities were being cast as scapegoats. Yet, at the same time, there were rays of hope, with millions of people speaking out against racism and intolerance.

“Many communities have opened their hearts and their doors to refugees and migrants, recognizing and appreciating migration as a part of the solution of our global problems,” he said. “Today is a day to pledge to build on this progress and do even more — to work even harder to close divisions, to combat intolerance and to protect human rights of all.”

Peter Thomson (Fiji), Assembly President, said political leaders must be role models for tolerant and respectful attitudes towards migrants. He also emphasized the role of education in fostering respect for diversity and understanding of the positive contribution made by refugees and migrants to societies and economies. Most critical, he continued, was supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to secure a safe, more sustainable and prosperous future for all.

“We must use this historic opportunity of the forthcoming negotiations on a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration to affirm universal respect for the rights of migrants,” he said, urging the international community to reaffirm its faith in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Also addressing the Assembly, Louise Arbour, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, said the New York Declaration and forthcoming global compact negotiations would show societies how to embrace diversity at a time when more than 240 million people were displaced. With pluralistic societies appearing to be the norm, she said her work involved supporting the “Together — Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” campaign, a new dialogue about refugees and migrants to foster social cohesion while countering negative stereotyping and falsehoods about them.

Anastasia Crickley, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said the international community already had at its disposal human rights guidance on addressing and eliminating racial profiling. Migration was a way to address racism in all countries, she said, calling on States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said the limits of human rights values were being tested daily, particularly with regard to migration and the treatment of those crossing borders. Encounters between migrants and law enforcement agencies had threatened the integrity of the international system of human rights law, he said, adding that racial and ethnic profiling in law enforcement was fundamentally discriminatory in nature and commonplace at official border crossings and transportation hubs. Given such a situation, he said, clear, enforceable regulations that provided guidance to law enforcement agencies were needed.

In the ensuing debate, speakers emphasized the need to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance with “the greatest determination and perseverance,” in the words of Malaysia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States. States needed to take active measures in line with existing human rights instruments, his counterpart from Germany, on behalf of the Western European and other States, added. Iran’s delegate said travel bans were an example of flagrant violations of international human rights law.

Susan Shebangu, Minister for Women in the Presidency of South Africa, said with regret that anti‑migrant sentiment was growing worldwide. State-sponsored xenophobia must end, she stated, urging all those with the courage and political will to combat the scourge of racism and take concrete measures to do so.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — proclaimed by the Assembly in 1966 — is observed annually on 21 March, the anniversary of the fatal police shooting in 1960 of 69 people during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid pass laws in Sharpeville, South Africa.

Today’s meeting began with the General Assembly observing a minute of silence in tribute to the memory of Vitaly Churkin, the late Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, in the presence of his wife and son.

Mr. Thomson remembered the veteran diplomat — who died on 20 February, a day before his sixty-fifth birthday — as a giant in the theatre of diplomacy who had served his country with passion and pride while making an outstanding contribution to the United Nations.

Mr. Guterres said that, in the short time he knew Mr. Churkin, he had quickly come to recognize the envoy’s formidable diplomatic skills. Other speakers acknowledged their late colleague’s wit, intelligence, negotiating skills and commitment to internationalism, adding that he would be greatly missed.

In other business, the Assembly noted that Vanuatu had made a payment necessary to reduce its arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the United Nations Charter.

Also speaking during the meeting were ministers and representatives of Cabo Verde (on behalf of the African States), Republic of Moldova (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Guatemala (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), United Kingdom (as Security Council President for March), United States (as Host Country), Russian Federation, Ecuador, France and Cuba.
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