Racism and racial discrimination on rise around the world, UN expert warns

Doudou Diene

7 March 2006 – Racism and racial discrimination are on the upswing and becoming widespread throughout the world, with the current global situation confirming the worst expectations that man's worst tendencies are created in the womb, a United Nations expert on racism warned today.

While racial discrimination used to be the province of extremist far right political parties, it is now becoming a regular part of democratic systems, being blended in for example with the fight against terrorism, Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance told the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva.

Racism and xenophobia are coming out of the closet, in a sense, and gradually creeping into the policies of mainstream political actors, Mr. Diène said. That fact is manifest not only in the backing away from cultural diversity manifested by many States, but also in restrictive policies regarding immigrants and asylum-seekers.

Speeches against immigrants, foreigners and asylum-seekers are becoming popular and intellectual legitimization is being granted to those currents, he added.

Referring to the recent controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspaper cartoons and the violent reactions, he said the cartoons illustrated the increasing emergence of the racist and xenophobic currents in everyday life. But the political context in Denmark was what had given birth to the cartoons.

It was one in which an extremist political party enjoyed 13 per cent of the vote and had formed part of the governing coalition. The development of Islamophobia or any racism and racial discrimination always took place in the context of the emergence of strong racist, extremist political parties and a corresponding absence of reaction against such racism by the country's political leaders, Mr. Diène said.

There were other factors, including increased immigration flows, and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, but the political factor was an essential condition, he said.

He called for international mechanisms, including the UN General Assembly, to treat cases such as the Danish cartoons not as a clash of civilizations but as a debate on the balancing of two rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The law, he stressed, could not provide a satisfactory answer. It would have to be accompanied by a lot of thinking on the need for inter-religious, inter-ethnic and intercultural dialogue.

Special Rapporteurs, who are unpaid and serve in a personal capacity, receive their mandates from the UN Commission on Human Rights.

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