General Assembly: 62nd Plenary Meeting, 76th Session

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18-Mar-2022 02:18:30
Speakers stress need to dismantle systemic racism worldwide, as General Assembly marks International Day for Elimination of Discrimination.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated rising, pervasive and deeply rooted systemic racism around the world that must be dismantled and exorcised — including through reparations — speakers said today as the General Assembly commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed annually on 21 March, date of the 1960 massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa.

Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, noted that since the International Day was proclaimed, the elimination of racial discrimination has remained elusive, with rising hate speech, intolerance and racism especially targeting minorities. That moral failure is also “a failure against everything we stand for in the Hall of this Assembly”, he said, emphasizing: “My friends, this must be changed.” He added: “We can and we must do better.” Stressing the international community’s moral obligation to tackle all forms of racism, he called for commitment to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which addresses discrimination against Africans and people of African descent, Asians and those of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, minorities, youth, women and children. He went on to describe the Assembly’s recent election of members of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent as another positive step towards full economic and social inclusion of that population as equal citizens.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the International Day is an urgent call to action, pointing out: “Racism continues to poison institutions, social structures and everyday life in every society.” Noting that the links between racism and gender inequality are unmistakable, he said women of colour and minority groups suffer some of the most severe discrimination. “No country is immune from intolerance, nor free of hate,” he emphasized, citing the many racial and ethnic groups confronting stigmatization, scapegoating, discrimination and violence. The theme of the 2022 International Day, “Voices for Action against Racism”, calls on everyone to listen closely, speak out loudly and act decisively, he said. Urging all people to extend solidarity to those fleeing conflict or persecution, he advocated for a renewed social contract, based on rights and opportunities for all. Reparatory justice is also crucial as historical injustices manifest in poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization and social instability for communities and countries, he said, adding: “Building a future of justice requires mending an unjust past.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned: “The banning of certain books, especially those about racial identity, from school curricula and school libraries also constitutes an assault against the right to education and efforts to recognize and combat past legacies of harm.” The civic space and safety of those who face and stand up against racism must be protected, and their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association safeguarded, she emphasized. Politicians bear a special responsibility to refrain from, prevent and confront incitement to hatred and discrimination, she stressed. Describing racism as an assault on human dignity, she expressed solidarity with all victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Other speakers warned that racism is deeply entrenched in Governments, social systems and even law enforcement, while calling for some form of reparations to correct historical injustices.

E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, paid tribute to victims and survivors of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa and called upon the international community to keep in mind the atrocities that the day was designed to commemorate. Referring to the murders of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and many others, she called attention to systemic racism against people of African descent within law enforcement, and to the oppression of racially and ethnically marginalized groups around the world. She went on to urge an end to “vaccine apartheid” and for efforts to fully address the racialized impact of the pandemic, including through a reparations lens.

Lesotho’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, emphasized that any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is false, morally condemnable, and socially unjust. There is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere across the globe, he asserted. Expressing alarm that manifestations of racial discrimination based on racial superiority or hatred still exist in some parts of the world, he said “we recognize that racism is a global concern, and that tackling it should be a universal effort by us all”. He demanded reparations for slavery and colonialism, including not only justice and accountability for historical wrongs, but also eradication of the scars of racial inequality, subordination and discrimination built under slavery, apartheid and colonialism.

Nauru’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, warned of an alarming surge in hate crimes against people of Asian descent, people of African descent, and particularly against women, children and older persons. It has been amplified by misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and racist remarks. He went on to point out that the Asia-Pacific region, comprising 55 countries, makes up 56 per cent of the total global population and is the most diverse in terms of ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures. The Asia-Pacific Group welcomes the establishment of an international independent expert mechanism intended to expand transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement globally, he said.

Verene A. Shepherd, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, reported that the body adopted a general recommendation (No. 36) on Preventing and Combating Racial Profiling by Law Enforcement Officials (2020). “But we cannot rest on our laurels,” she emphasized. The events of 2019, 2020 and the first few months of 2022 are timely reminders that intolerance for diversity, racism and racial discrimination are not only ideologies and practices of the past. “Let us commit ourselves anew today to the fight against racial discrimination and build bridges of understanding, and extend such bridges, across the human family,” she said. “We need a transformative approach that tackles the interconnected areas that drive racism and lead to repeated, wholly avoidable tragedies like the death of George Floyd.

Leyner Palacios of the Truth Commission of Colombia described himself as a Black man living on that country’s Pacific coast. He said the ancestors of Black people, enslaved through the transatlantic slave trade, were seen as things, not human beings. “They were considered chattel.” With the abolition of slavery came other forms of exclusion and racism, he added, pointing out that in Colombia today, exclusion is entrenched in people’s mindsets. Colombia’s Black communities are the most disproportionately affected by violence because armed actors see them as having lesser rights, he said, emphasizing that rural women suffer most from human rights violations. They are hunted and even mutilated in some cases, he added.

Also speaking today were representatives of Mexico (for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), Belgium (for the Western European and Other States) and the United States.

China’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene on a date and time to be announced.

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