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Ms. Navi Pillay
High Commissioner for Human Rights

22 September 2011

  • Statement: English (Check against delivery)

Statement Summary

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, saluted the vast majority of Member States that were showing their support for the Durban outcomes — important achievements intended to combat racism and make a difference in the lives of so many victims worldwide. The lead-up to the commemoration had undoubtedly been challenging, in no small part because the issues were complex and sensitive. No country could claim to be free of racism, but all nations must stand resolute in finding the courage to unite and move ahead together, she said.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, as well as the outcome of the 2009 Review, provide a comprehensive framework to address the scourge of racism, she continued. Crucially, both documents placed victims at the centre of efforts against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. “They contain a genuinely universal condemnation of racism, which acknowledges the injustice of the past and forewarns against both resurgent manifestations and new forms of racism and intolerance.” The Durban outcomes listed a wide range of victims and grounds, citing the plight of the Roma, people of African and Asian descent, migrants and indigenous peoples. They also included condemnation of stigma and discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS, based on descent, and the multiple forms of exclusion faced by women.

“In sum, the documents encompass victims, sources, causes and forms,” she explained, adding that it also dealt with racism in the media and new information and communication technologies, trafficking, migration, conflict, poverty and displacement. They covered both private and public spheres and considered legal assistance and effective remedies for victims and those affected by racism. The outcomes also made clear that the anti-discrimination agenda “belongs to all of us, irrespective of race, colour, descent, ethnic or national origin, affiliation, religion or belief”. Their principles were the reliable foundations for action and continued to provide guidance in the face of changing circumstances and new challenges.

“Today we must confront the regrettable gap between commitments made at the time and the concrete and effective action actually undertaken,” she continued, noting that some States had made incremental progress in combating racism and xenophobia, largely by enacting or amending constitutional protections and domestic legislation. While such actions were crucial in providing avenues for remedy and redress, tangible progress could not be attained without the political will to implement and enforce such laws. “Let us pledge here and now to revitalize our efforts nationally, regionally and globally to combat the scourges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” she said, urging delegations to begin that effort today by underscoring that equality and non-discrimination were fundamental principles of the international community, thereby giving hope to victims.

Warning that the road to a world free of racism was not an easy one, she said anti-discrimination work required careful planning and a long-term focus. “It requires commitment and persistence,” she emphasized, highlighting the importance of developing the national action plans envisaged by the Durban outcomes, with the participation of victims and affected groups. The Office of the High Commissioner had been providing training and technical assistance in that area and stood ready to do more, she said. It would also continue to serve as a forum for dialogue and research on anti-discrimination issues while also continuing to support such mechanisms as the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and the Special Rapporteur dealing with racism and racial discrimination.

In conclusion, she said few people in the world today would openly deny that human beings were born with equal rights, and yet far too many were still victimized because they belonged to a particular group. The Durban outcomes provided a comprehensive framework for translating that sentiment into action. However, much remained to be done, she said, urging everyone to summon the political will to unite on the issue. “So far, we have done too little, too slowly,” she said. “We have allowed the global response to racism to be clouded by politics.” Urging Member States to do better, she stressed that the victims of racism demanded and expected that of the United Nations.

Source: GA/11149

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