‘Robust’ Policies Needed to End Racism-driven Inequities, Say Speakers as General Assembly Marks Day for Elimination of Discrimination

21 March 2014
GA/11489

‘Robust’ Policies Needed to End Racism-driven Inequities, Say Speakers as General Assembly Marks Day for Elimination of Discrimination

21 March 2014
General Assembly
GA/11489
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Plenary

76th Meeting (AM)

 ‘Robust’ Policies Needed to End Racism-driven Inequities, Say Speakers

as General Assembly Marks Day for Elimination of Discrimination

First Sharpeville Massacre Remembrance Death of Nelson Mandela

As the General Assembly began a special commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today, United Nations officials and human rights experts alike called for robust strategies and policies to end socioeconomic disparities among racial groups as well as hate crimes and institutionalized discrimination, emphasizing that racism remained pervasive.

“Racism is a global problem and requires global action,” declared Collin D. Beck (Solomon Islands), Acting Assembly President.  Recalling the 69 anti-apartheid protestors who died during the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s ground-breaking work to end that country’s racist system, he said that despite near-universal ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, too many individuals and communities — mostly the poor and vulnerable — still suffered from the stigma and systemic effects of racism, persecution and inequality before the law.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called upon all people, especially political, civic and religious leaders, to strongly condemn the growing level of racist messages and ideas that incited hate crimes, xenophobia and related intolerance.  All parts of the United Nations system must join forces for the greatest possible impact, he said.  He hailed the United Nations Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minorities for having brought more than 20 of the Organization’s entities together in an important common cause, as well as the Assembly’s decision to designate the International Decade for People of African Descent.

Gay McDougall, United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, said the global financial crisis, food shortages and climate change had exacerbated the woes of disadvantaged racialized communities, which tended to be “scapegoated” during economic crises.  Noting that discrimination was now more seen as a key culprit of poverty, she called for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, strong enforcement institutions as well as social and labour protections for low-wage and informal-sector workers.  Moreover, policy choices should be made in meaningful consultation with disadvantaged groups, she said, adding that they should be transparent and supported by disaggregated data that revealed existing equalities.

Delegates also hailed the commemoration as an opportunity to make collective efforts to raise awareness of racism’s impact, to assess progress in the fight to eradicate it, and to enforce the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other human rights instruments.  They also reaffirmed their commitment to implement in full the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action aimed at ending racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  Some speakers expressed concern that many hate crimes went unreported and perpetrators unpunished.

Also among today’s speakers were representatives of Guinea-Bissau (on behalf of the African Group), Tonga (on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group), Bulgaria (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Chile (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), New Zealand (on behalf of the Western European and other States), South Africa and Brazil.

Background

The General Assembly held a special meeting this morning to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination under the theme “The Role of Leaders in Combating Racism and Racial Discrimination”.

Statements

COLLIN D. BECK (Solomon Islands), Acting President of the General Assembly, recalled the 69 people killed in the Sharpeville massacre, saying they had lost their lives in the quest for equality and dignity.  They had galvanized world action to end apartheid as well as the great spirit of Nelson Mandela.  “Today is a reminder that the elimination of racial discrimination is possible, and indeed some might say inevitable,” he said.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 50 years ago, had inspired a growing body of human rights instruments, but poor, vulnerable, marginalized populations and minorities still faced continual discrimination based on race, colour or national origin.  Too many suffered persecution and were denied equal access to, and recognition before, the law, he said, adding that one positive step would be full implementation of the instruments already in place.

Despite three International Decades for action to combat racism and racial discrimination, the relevant action programmes had not been fully implemented and their aims remained unrealized, he said.  “In spite of near-universal ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, too many individuals and communities still suffer from the stigma and the systemic effects of racism.”  Failure to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had hindered efforts to effectively eradicate racism.  “Racism is a global problem and requires global action,” he emphasized, adding that he looked forward to seeing the draft programme for implementing the International Decade for People of African Descent, to be developed by the Intergovernmental Working Group established to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

That Decade, to begin in 2015, would create an opportunity to mobilize the world’s energy to promote equality for people of African descent and contribute to greater socioeconomic development, social justice and inclusion, he said.  Next week’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade would be a reminder that contemporary forms of racism remained all too pervasive in society.  The international community should redouble its efforts to ensure that all people were free from servitude and slavery, he stressed.  Today’s debate could also contribute to the post-2015 development agenda, which should emphasize the need to eliminate discrimination in laws, policies and practices, including by combating all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and eliminating hate crimes against particular groups.

JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, shared Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message commemorating the first International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination since the death of Nelson Mandela.  “This sad reality is also a reminder of his courageous struggle against apartheid and his inspiring victory over the racist forces that had imprisoned him for 27 years.”  The General Assembly, in a show of solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement, had established the International Day to commemorate the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which 69 people were killed and many others injured when police opened fire on a peaceful protest in South Africa.  “I call on all people, especially political, civic and religious leaders, to strongly condemn messages and ideas based on racism, racial superiority or hatred as well as those that incite racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Delivering his own statement, the Deputy Secretary-General said that since Sharpeville, the United Nations had initiated many powerful efforts to prevent and combat racism and racial discrimination, which threatened the dignity, well-being and physical safety of too many people.  It was a collective responsibility, but primarily that of States, to address such issues before they exploded into open conflict.  Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance were on the rise in communities across the world, he noted.  “We see violent attacks, incitement to hatred and hate speech against people of different ethnicities or perceived races.”  All parts of the United Nations system must join forces for the greatest possible impact, he stressed, expressing satisfaction that the United Nations Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minorities had brought together more than 20 entities of the Organization in an important common cause.  The General Assembly’s decision to announce the International Decade for People of African Descent was testimony to the collective resolve to unite against racial discrimination, he said.  “As we discuss international efforts to address racial discrimination, we must never forget that ultimately this is a scourge that strikes at the dignity and rights of individuals — and that tears at the fabric of our societies.”

GAY MCDOUGALL, United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, noted that 176 countries had ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination since Sharpeville.  The 2001 Durban Conference had made a critical contribution by defining racial discrimination not solely as a matter of “bias” in the sense of personal prejudice, but one of socioeconomic exclusion, thereby placing the focus more fundamentally on socioeconomic rights and squarely in the context of globalization and the economic disparities existing alongside racial lines within and between countries.  New civil society networks had been born and new momentum created.  Global challenges such as the financial crisis, food shortages and climate change had exacerbated the problems faced by racialized communities.

Times of economic crisis increased social pressures to blame those with the least power, she said.  That led to hate speech and violence against disadvantaged communities, and threatened democracy by giving rise to racist policies and political parties.  Discrimination was now more broadly recognized as a key determinant of poverty.  In societies with endemic racial prejudice, it became self-perpetuating within institutions that determined socioeconomic advancement.  “This key understanding about the structural nature of racial inequality must be central to fashioning remedies,” she said, calling for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and strong enforcement institutions with procedures that victims or their representatives could initiate themselves.  There should also be a comprehensive approach that recognized the importance of tackling legal regimes, policies and practices with negative, disparate effects on communities disadvantaged by racial discrimination.

She said Governments should take robust steps to address disparities in the economic life of disadvantaged racial groups and develop aggressive programmes in the areas of employment, education and training, financial services, land tenure, and property rights.  Labour protections and social security policies should be extended to low-wage and informal-sector workers.  She also called for affirmative action within a broader comprehensive equality strategy covering a spectrum of legislative initiatives with targeted budgetary support, including benchmarks and quotas.  Decisions on policy choices should be made in meaningful consultation with disadvantaged groups, she said, emphasizing that they must be transparent and supported by disaggregated data that revealed existing equalities.  The growing consensus within global development institutions about the importance of addressing the current extremes in income inequality and poverty levels was encouraging.

JOÃO SOARES DA GAMA (Guinea-Bissau), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, welcomed the event as an opportunity not only to join collective efforts to raise awareness about the impact of racism, but more importantly, to assess the progress made in the common struggle to combat racism and racial discrimination.  While some may argue that there was still a long way to go, all would agree that without strong and sustained leadership, all the best blueprints, legal instruments and intuitions would remain blunt tools.  The African Group supported the commemoration’s goal, which was to mobilize political will at the national, regional and international levels and to reaffirm the political commitment to full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, he said.

MAHE’ULI’ULI SANDHURST TUPOUNIUA (Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said it was clear that international human rights instruments placed obligations on States to work towards eradicating discrimination in the public and private spheres.  The principle of equality also obligated States to adopt specific measures to eliminate conditions that sustained or contributed to the prevalence of racial discrimination.  The commemoration and observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination must serve as a reminder of the need to persevere and further invigorate collective efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, he said.  Traditional manifestations of racial discrimination took the form of war and conquest, slavery, oppression of indigenous peoples, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities.  However, there were also more subtle expressions of racial discrimination, such as discriminatory laws and social practices that affected the lives and livelihoods of whole communities around the world, he pointed out.  They resulted in continued poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, and socioeconomic exclusion.  Racial discrimination could not simply be wished away, but must be seriously addressed with the accompanying political will and action, he said.

STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, said they had repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to the fight against racism and racial discrimination, which remained a priority in their human rights agenda.  The Convention should remain the basis for all efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate racism, he said, reiterating the fundamental importance of ratifying and fully implementing the instrument as a priority for all countries.  The European States had adopted several policies and legislative measures to fight racism and racial discrimination, and to penalize and ban incitement to racist or xenophobic violence or hatred.  He expressed particular concern that several hate crimes remained unreported and unprosecuted, thereby leaving the perpetrators unpunished.  The European States also supported the activities of civil society organizations intended to raise public awareness on the importance of fighting racism and xenophobia, he said.

EDUARDO GÁLVEZ (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Countries, stressed the need to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and to address new forms of discrimination.  Describing the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) countries as multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual societies, with a growing population of Afro-decent totalling 150 million people, he pointed out that despite progress in promoting their rights, important challenges remained.  Latin American and Caribbean countries had proclaimed 2014 the beginning of the Decade of the Latin American and Caribbean People of African Descent, which would seek to strengthen regional and international cooperation to guarantee their human rights, including the rights to health, identity, dignity, cultural values and socioeconomic development.  Brasilia had recently hosted a regional meeting of Latin American and Caribbean States on the Decade of People of African Descent with the aim of promoting cooperation among the region’s countries, he said.

JIM MCLAY (New Zealand), speaking on behalf of the Western European and other States, said racial discrimination struck at the heart of the idea that all men and women were born free in dignity and rights.  The story of Nelson Mandela was a reminder that political and community leaders had an important role to play in the fight against racial discrimination.  However, the world was still a long way from eliminating the scourge.  It must find ways to talk to young generations and educate them to better understand and celebrate the world’s diversity, he said.  The anti-racial-discrimination social media initiative “Let’s Fight Racism” was an effective global mechanism for combating discrimination, particularly since it promoted personal and civil society involvement.  “We must join forces, and we must do so at international level, at national level and on a personal level.”

THEMBELA OSMOND NGCULU (South Africa) said that since 1994, 21 March had been celebrated as a national holiday in recognition of the events at Sharpsville.  It commemorated the lives lost in South Africa.  Nelson Mandela represented the millions enslaved by racism, which the international community could no longer pretend was a figment of the imagination, he emphasized.  The stage had been set for Mr. Mandela to play his historic role and he had done so with extraordinary grace and success.  South Africa’s constitutional democracy was Mandela’s greatest monument, and the best way to honour his work would be to stay true to his ideals.  In memory of those who lost their lives, “let us build a better world together, using the lessons learned over the years”, he urged.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) paid tribute to Nelson Mandela and his legacy of racial tolerance and reconciliation, saying that, through his message of forgiveness, he had built one of the world’s most multi-racial democracies.  Still, racial discrimination persisted, he said, citing the myriad national and international laws, as well as the Durban Conference and its review conferences, aimed at ending discrimination.  Brazil had created a Ministry of Racial Equality, but the effects of centuries of racial discrimination were still visible.  The country’s Afro-descendant population totalled 100 million and was expected to rise to exceed 115 million, he said.  However, they remained largely marginalized and their sons and daughters entrenched in poverty.  Notwithstanding the fact that more than 36 million people had been lifted out of extreme poverty, of whom 75 per cent were Afro-descendants, the legacy of slavery’s past atrocities remained in Brazil.  The old and new avatars of intolerance were the enemies of equality.  He welcomed the International Decade for People of African Descent, while pointing out that the other populations — like the Roma, indigenous peoples, and migrants as well as victims of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia — also suffered and deserved redress.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.