79th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 72nd Session

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20-Mar-2018 01:34:22
Racial equality ‘Is Under Attack’, experts warn General Assembly, urging states to mark International Day by stamping out discrimination, intolerance at 79th plenary meeting.

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Speakers today called for urgent action to stop the rampant rise of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, as the General Assembly commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed on 21 March.

Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, stressed that “globally, racial equality is under attack”. Vile discourses of explicit hatred and ideologies of racial superiority had moved from the fringe to the mainstream, with bigotry fuelling human rights violations and extreme violence against minorities, refugees, migrants, stateless persons and those internally displaced.

Underlining its particular impact on women as well as sexual and gender diverse populations, she declared: “From crowds of youths marching to neo‑Nazi chants in Charlottesville, Warsaw and Berlin, to the racist and xenophobic attitudes of politicians in the highest levels of office worldwide […] the assault on the human dignity of millions around the world has reached alarming proportions.”

Emphasizing that the world could not afford to ignore any dimension of the problem, she underscored that “there should be no compromises in the pursuit of racial equality today”. Extremism and systemic racial exclusion threatened not only the specific groups they targeted, but also the very political and legal foundations of States.

“We need to stand up for the young man overlooked in a job interview because of the colour of his skin; for the girl excluded from society or suffering violence only because of her race,” said General Assembly Vice‑President Odo Tevi (Vanuatu), speaking on behalf of the world body’s President. Ill‑treatment of people based on their race did not occur in silos. It affected every aspect of life, from development to peace and human rights for all.

“We should speak openly about racial discrimination, and more importantly, we must listen to our neighbours and friends in this global village to hear the stories that reveal our common humanity, despite our own uniqueness and differences,” he said. The dialogue must include children and young people to equip them with the knowledge to combat racial discrimination.

Recalling that the International Day commemorated the Sharpeville massacre, a horrific killing of 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in South Africa, United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres said xenophobia, racism and intolerance continued in countries and communities around the world, pointing at the egregious treatment of the Rohingya community in Myanmar and an alarming resurgence of far right political parties and neo‑Nazi views.

Calling on all people to consider how they could better promote tolerance, inclusion and respect for diversity, he said messages of hatred and the concept of “us” and “them” must be eliminated. “Let us keep in mind the grave consequences of such thinking — discrimination, slavery and genocide,” he stressed. “We must always stand up to leaders who spread their toxic vision of racial superiority, especially when they couch it in sanitized language to denigrate migrants and foreigners.”

Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said deep‑seated structural racism continued against indigenous peoples, people of African descent and others. “Racial discrimination is not only a matter of individual injustice,” he pointed out, adding that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly warned that if rights were not protected, conflict might follow.

Gay McDougall, a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said that racist hate rhetoric was tolerated by political leaders at the highest levels, which had led to uninhibited expressions of hatred, including targeting of the most disadvantaged segments of the population. “Only a few years ago it would have been unthinkable that our Committee would have reason to adopt a statement as we did last November, denouncing the auctioning of black men, migrants, into slavery when they sought refuge in Libya,” she said, highlighting the importance of education to teach respect for diversity, as “one of the most important tools for inclusion”.

Member States shared their concerns and efforts to foster change. The representative of South Africa said “the world community, particularly children and youth, need to be taught that racism is a vice and not a value.” In honour of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, the South African Government had embarked on a year‑long programme to celebrate his life and legacy, both domestically and internationally.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Gambia (for the African Group), Qatar (for the Asia‑Pacific Group), Israel (for the Group of Western European and other States), Uruguay (for Latin American and Caribbean States), Belarus (for Eastern European States Group), Cuba, Turkey and Nigeria.
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