The General Assembly commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today with a debate that focused on racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration, in which speakers underscored the responsibility of States to address a scourge seen to be on the rise worldwide.
The 193-member Assembly considered the issue in the context of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted by Member States on 19 September 2016, as well as the forthcoming start of negotiations leading to an international conference and adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that discrimination and violence were on the rise, borders were closing and vulnerable communities were being cast as scapegoats. Yet, at the same time, there were rays of hope, with millions of people speaking out against racism and intolerance.
“Many communities have opened their hearts and their doors to refugees and migrants, recognizing and appreciating migration as a part of the solution of our global problems,” he said. “Today is a day to pledge to build on this progress and do even more — to work even harder to close divisions, to combat intolerance and to protect human rights of all.”
Peter Thomson (Fiji), Assembly President, said political leaders must be role models for tolerant and respectful attitudes towards migrants. He also emphasized the role of education in fostering respect for diversity and understanding of the positive contribution made by refugees and migrants to societies and economies. Most critical, he continued, was supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to secure a safe, more sustainable and prosperous future for all.
“We must use this historic opportunity of the forthcoming negotiations on a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration to affirm universal respect for the rights of migrants,” he said, urging the international community to reaffirm its faith in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Also addressing the Assembly, Louise Arbour, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, said the New York Declaration and forthcoming global compact negotiations would show societies how to embrace diversity at a time when more than 240 million people were displaced. With pluralistic societies appearing to be the norm, she said her work involved supporting the “Together — Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” campaign, a new dialogue about refugees and migrants to foster social cohesion while countering negative stereotyping and falsehoods about them.
Anastasia Crickley, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said the international community already had at its disposal human rights guidance on addressing and eliminating racial profiling. Migration was a way to address racism in all countries, she said, calling on States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said the limits of human rights values were being tested daily, particularly with regard to migration and the treatment of those crossing borders. Encounters between migrants and law enforcement agencies had threatened the integrity of the international system of human rights law, he said, adding that racial and ethnic profiling in law enforcement was fundamentally discriminatory in nature and commonplace at official border crossings and transportation hubs. Given such a situation, he said, clear, enforceable regulations that provided guidance to law enforcement agencies were needed.
In the ensuing debate, speakers emphasized the need to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance with “the greatest determination and perseverance,” in the words of Malaysia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States. States needed to take active measures in line with existing human rights instruments, his counterpart from Germany, on behalf of the Western European and other States, added. Iran’s delegate said travel bans were an example of flagrant violations of international human rights law.
Susan Shebangu, Minister for Women in the Presidency of South Africa, said with regret that anti‑migrant sentiment was growing worldwide. State-sponsored xenophobia must end, she stated, urging all those with the courage and political will to combat the scourge of racism and take concrete measures to do so.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — proclaimed by the Assembly in 1966 — is observed annually on 21 March, the anniversary of the fatal police shooting in 1960 of 69 people during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid pass laws in Sharpeville, South Africa.
Today’s meeting began with the General Assembly observing a minute of silence in tribute to the memory of Vitaly Churkin, the late Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, in the presence of his wife and son.
Mr. Thomson remembered the veteran diplomat — who died on 20 February, a day before his sixty-fifth birthday — as a giant in the theatre of diplomacy who had served his country with passion and pride while making an outstanding contribution to the United Nations.
Mr. Guterres said that, in the short time he knew Mr. Churkin, he had quickly come to recognize the envoy’s formidable diplomatic skills. Other speakers acknowledged their late colleague’s wit, intelligence, negotiating skills and commitment to internationalism, adding that he would be greatly missed.
In other business, the Assembly noted that Vanuatu had made a payment necessary to reduce its arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the United Nations Charter.
Also speaking during the meeting were ministers and representatives of Cabo Verde (on behalf of the African States), Republic of Moldova (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Guatemala (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), United Kingdom (as Security Council President for March), United States (as Host Country), Russian Federation, Ecuador, France and Cuba.
Tribute to Vitaly Churkin
PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, remembered Vitaly Churkin, the late Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, as a dear friend and colleague. In the annals of the history of the United Nations, his name would be indelible. In the theatre of diplomacy, Mr. Churkin was a giant who served his country with passion and pride. He had made an outstanding contribution to the work of the United Nations and he would be sorely missed.
The General Assembly then observed a minute of silence in tribute to the memory of Mr. Churkin.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said Mr. Churkin passionately defended the Russian Federation’s interests while advocating for a strong United Nations. Mr. Churkin was a patriot, an internationalist and one of his country’s most able diplomats. In the short time he knew Mr. Churkin, he had quickly come to recognize his formidable diplomatic skills. He went on to note that it was Mr. Churkin, as Council President, who announced his nomination as Secretary-General. That was something he would never forget.
JOSÉ LUIS FIALHO ROCHA (Cabo Verde), speaking on behalf of the African States, said Mr. Churkin was greatly admired. He represented his country with steadfast dedication as the longest-serving Permanent Representative on the Security Council. Colleagues had literally assaulted social networks upon his death to remember him as a fine man who supported peace and multilateralism.
KENNEDY MAYONG ONON (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States, paid tribute to Mr. Churkin’s knowledge, experience, skill and exceptional leadership qualities. On issues where consensus seemed impossible, he was known among colleague as always wanting to engage in dialogue. He had left a huge imprint, and was a major driver of the United Nations contribution to the international community.
VLAD LUPAN (Republic of Moldova), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, noted that Mr. Churkin had devoted his entire life to the diplomatic service, holding several ambassadorial posts. At the United Nations, he had a precise command of the issues. His rich experience could be seen during discussions. In an organization with various cultures, his statements and approaches were uncommon yet powerful. He was a fierce advocate of his country, and an out-of-ordinary individual for an out-of-ordinary task.
JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States, said Mr. Churkin taught his colleagues how to think, to laugh and to see some questions from a different perspective. He always gave colleagues and friends his time and immense intelligence. He was not only affable, but also well versed in history and the circumstances that had shaped it. He set an example for others to emulate.
JUERGEN CHULZ (Germany) speaking on behalf of the Western European and other States, said Mr. Churkin was a landmark figure at the United Nations. His long tenure as Permanent Representative, as well as his knowledge, intellect and dry wit, made him an outstanding diplomat and effective representative of his country. He understood very well that diplomacy was defined and driven by the interaction between people. He had left an indelible mark on the Security Council and its work. His sudden death on the eve of his birthday would leave a huge gap on the Council, the Assembly and the wider community of Permanent Representatives.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), Security Council President for March, said it had been exactly one month since the first Council meeting without Mr. Churkin. Its members were still shocked and saddened by his sudden passing and his absence was still felt around the Council table. During his tenure as Permanent Representative, the Council was often divided, putting a diplomat’s skills to the test. Mr. Churkin was a tough negotiator whose knowledge of the working of the Council was the envy of his peers. He was a true professional who treated colleagues with respect.
MICHELE SISON (United States), speaking on behalf of the Host Country, said Mr. Churkin was truly one of a kind, an ever-eloquent voice and a consummate diplomat. His brilliance, wisdom and sharp sense of humour would be remembered, she said, noting also his eye for compromise and his ability to put knowledge into practice. The United Nations community had experienced a shock and a loss with his death and his presence was missed.
PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) expressed thanks for the sincere and heartfelt condolences. The book of condolences for Mr. Churkin at the Russian Federation’s mission now ran four volumes. These days were most difficult for his family and loved ones, he said, adding that Mr. Churkin’s death had shaken the Russian Federation, with thousands who never knew him personally showing grief. It was an irreplaceable loss for Russian foreign policy. He was a bright, subtle, and at the same time, a surprising powerful person, writing a number of important pages in the history of Russian foreign policy. He was a true leader and an example for those who worked with him. To those who spoke of a lack of effectiveness on the part of the United Nations, Mr. Churkin would say that the Organization could be no better than the world itself. He believed in the United Nations and the full General Assembly Hall today was the best demonstration that his work would be remembered for a long time.
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Mr. THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said that when the Assembly had first proclaimed 21 March as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, South Africa’s leadership had been determined not to let the injustices of apartheid ever be forgotten. The International Day memorialized the 69 unarmed people that police had killed during a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, he said, commending South Africa for its global leadership. Yet, it was challenging to see how far the world was from winning the global fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. Even though global migration had long been a feature of human history and forcible displacement had driven large number of people from their homes, refugees and migrants too often were met with suspicion, fear and intolerance. There were cases of hate crimes against them, attacks on places of worship and threats targeting migrants and minority groups.
The world must, he said, reaffirm its faith in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights called on the world to stand up against racism, xenophobia and hate where and whenever it appeared. Political leaders must be role models for tolerant and respectful attitudes towards migrants. Cross-cultural education in schools must foster respect for diversity and understanding of the positive contribution refugees and migrants made to societies and economies. Most critical was the need to fully support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to secure a safe, more sustainable and prosperous future for all. That included eliminating extreme poverty; building peaceful, inclusive societies; increasing prosperity; reducing inequality; and protecting the environment.
“We must use this historic opportunity of the forthcoming negotiations on a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration to affirm universal respect for the rights of migrants,” he said. Citing former South African President Nelson Mandela, he said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Mr. GUTERRES said that, 57 years after the Sharpeville killings, discrimination and violence were on the rise, borders were closing and vulnerable communities were being painted as scapegoats. Women and girls of minority communities were often targeted; racial profiling existed far too often; hate speech, stereotyping and stigmatization were becoming normalized; and fringe figures had moved to centre stage. Despite that dark picture, there were many rays of hope and millions of people were speaking out against racism and intolerance. “Many communities have opened their hearts and their doors to refugees and migrants, recognizing and appreciating migration as a part of the solution of our global problems,” he said. “Today is a day to pledge to build on this progress and do even more — to work even harder to close divisions, to combat intolerance and to protect human rights of all.”
The International Day, he said, was also a reminder of common obligations. States must take effective steps, be vigilant against hatred and profiling, and uphold the integrity of the international refugee protection regime. Politicians and leaders must speak up and counter hateful speech. “Every one of us needs to stand up for human rights,” he said. “We all have a role to play. By acting together to end discrimination, we can lift humanity as a whole.” As societies became multi-ethnic, multireligious and multicultural, there was a need for greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. “We can build communities that recognize that diversity is not a source of weakness, it is a source of strength and richness,” he said.
LOUISE ARBOUR, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, said the recently adopted New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the forthcoming negotiations on a global compact would show societies how to embrace diversity at a time when more than 240 million people were currently displaced. Yet, wide-spread hostility against migrants persisted and the positive contributions of migrants had been overshadowed by a trend of demonizing them. Efforts to halt migration existed and some had targeted migrants as the cause of and scapegoat for societal ills.
To address those intolerant views, she said, there was a need for a more open, balanced discourse that embraced diversity and viewed migrants as a contribution, not a burden, to economies. Migrants were, in fact, bridges between countries of origin, transit and destination, fostering innovation and propelling society forward rather than backward. As pluralistic societies appeared to be the norm and not the exception, she said her work was supporting the “Together — Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” campaign, a new dialogue about refugees and migrants to foster social cohesion while countering negative stereotyping and falsehoods about them.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said that while progress had been made, including commitments by States and civil society groups, racism persisted. Racial discrimination remained an insidious phenomenon, frequently targeted at migrants and refugees. Racial profiling had been an attempt to protect society while harming vulnerable groups. Migrants and refugees made positive contributions, however, there were persistent efforts to stigmatize and divide societies. States must recognize the existence of racism and take actions to stop it.
She said the international community already had at its disposal human rights guidance on addressing and eliminating racial profiling. General recommendations called on States to ensure that counter-terrorism efforts upheld human rights law. Efforts were needed at all levels and strong leadership must guide actions and address the root causes of incitement to hatred and hate speech. Migration was a way to address racism in all countries, she said, calling on all States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The upcoming discussions on a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration was another opportunity to address those ills, she said, drawing attention to the plight and rights of women and girls. While work was under way to address those challenges, individual achievements in towns and communities must be celebrated.
MUTUMA RUTEERE, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said that, despite progress, the world was still haunted and the limits of human rights values were being tested every day, particularly with regard to migration and the treatment of those crossing borders in search of safety or a better life. Indeed, when they adopted the New York Declaration, Member States had rededicated themselves to ensuring that human rights were integral to any measures to address and regulate migration and population movements.
Yet, since 2011, he, as Special Rapporteur, had followed and studied the phenomena of racism and racial discrimination. Encounters between migrants and law enforcement agencies had severely shaken the foundations and threatened the integrity of the international system of human rights law. Racial and ethnic profiling in law enforcement was fundamentally discriminatory in nature and commonplace at official border crossings and transportation hubs. New technologies used to create “risk profiles” for specific groups raised the possibility that racial and ethnic profiling could become a regularized and permanent fixture of immigration and border control management systems around the world.
In addressing profiling, he said, the value of legislative measures prohibiting racism and ethnic discrimination must be considered. Clear, enforceable regulations that provided guidance to law enforcement agencies were needed. Investigative oversight bodies must have the authority to address allegations and make recommendations. As the problem of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia was partly due to the invisibility of victims and the lack of data, a collection of law enforcement figures was a prerequisite to identify patterns and map existing gaps. Data collection was crucial to evaluate the impact of existing measures and the development of informed policies to redress the situation of vulnerable groups, he said, emphasizing that the Sustainable Development Goals had underlined its important role in that regard.
Referring to current challenges, he said migration, coupled with fears of terrorism and the pressures of struggling economies, had given fresh wind to racist and xenophobic movements that sought to exploit and turn the fears over the future into fears of migrants and strangers. Those movements and groups, previously existing on the fringe of politics, had in some places found their way into the mainstream political life and their leaders had provided a rhetorical and political justification for practices such as racial profiling. On the International Day, the world must reiterate that human rights values were a reminder that the stranger was no less deserving of freedom and equality. “Human rights speak to a notion of justice,” he said. “Not surprising, therefore, all major religions remind us that in the stranger is the face of God.”
Mr. ROCHA (Cabo Verde), speaking on behalf of the African States, said colonialism, apartheid and aversion of human diversity had contributed to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Freedom of expression could make a positive contribution to addressing the problem, he said, expressing concern, however, over the use of new information technology for purposes contrary to respect for human rights. In that regard, Internet providers should develop codes of conduct and abide by them. He went on to suggest the convening of another world conference on racism, building on synergies and partnerships created in implementing the Durban Declaration.
MUSTAPHA KAMAL ROSDI (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States, and noting the region’s diversity, underscored how increased movement of persons created a variety of challenges that called for action. Discriminatory laws and social practices must be phased out or abolished. Core international human rights instruments obliged States to work towards the eradication of discrimination in public and private spheres. “Together we must fight against prejudice with the greatest determination and perseverance,” he said, adding that breaking down prejudice would involve finding ways to address social discontent and to educate young people to enjoy the world’s diversity.
Mr. LUPAN (Republic of Moldova), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, said the recent economic crisis and the large movement of people had increased incidents that violated human rights. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action were leading directives for action at all levels. Promoting tolerance was essential for eliminating racism. In a globalized world, efforts must be joined and increased to ensure the sustainability and development of all countries. Cooperation with treaty monitoring bodies was crucial for promoting dialogue to address challenges. The International Day reminded States to recommit to build peaceful, secure and sustainable societies and end the scourge of racism.
Mr. SKINNER-KLÉE (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States, said that, while progress had been achieved, more remained to be done. Many countries in his region had multicultural populations and had benefitted from diversity. Sustainable development could only be achieved if everyone was included. Yet, acts of hatred and ignorance had exacerbated cultural divides. To free the region and the world of discrimination, attention must be paid to stamping out intolerance. States must promote societies that respected tolerance and did not foster fear. Building walls between peoples was an act of discrimination and ethnic rejection. The region’s countries represented an ethnic mosaic, he said, expressing concern over racist policies that had been adopted and justified as security measures and urging strong efforts to address violence, inequality and oppression.
Mr. SCHULZ (Germany), speaking on behalf of the Western European and other States, said racial discrimination was a global scourge and progress must continue nationally and internationally to address current challenges. Racial profiling was prohibited under several international human rights instruments and States should adopt such legislation and provide training to law enforcement authorities to implement it. States must take active measures in line with existing instruments, including the Durban Declaration. Cooperation with civil society should help to detect cases of racism and discrimination. However, incidents were on the rise, he said, urging States to remain vigilant to protect migrants and refugees, as outlined in the New York Declaration. Inclusive societies cherished diversity as an asset.
GUILLAUME LONG, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador, said racism and discrimination persisted, but human rights could not be trampled in the name of sovereignty. Respect for human rights must prevail. Humanity did not need high walls, but rather longer bridges. If conditions that generated war and poverty were removed, forced displacement would end. Ecuador recognized the principles of human citizenship, defending its migrants and welcoming the citizens of the world who wanted to enrich society in his country. Ecuador had welcomed and supported 60,000 refugees fleeing conflict. It had also provided assistance to its citizens that had migrated and had experienced vulnerabilities abroad.
SUSAN SHABANGU, Minister for Women in the Presidency of South Africa, said the International Day’s theme was very timely, given the current migration crisis. Now, more than ever, racism must be stamped out. Regrettably, growing anti‑migrant sentiments could be seen across the world. State-sponsored xenophobia must be addressed and must end. For its part, South Africa’s constitutional democracy had been founded on equality. She urged all those with the courage and political will to combat the scourge of racism and take concrete measures to do so.
Migrants could face multiple forms of discrimination and stigmatization, including for their religion and beliefs, which had resulted, in some cases, in the passage of xenophobic laws, she said. The international community had an obligation to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their immigration status, enjoyed their fundamental freedoms and rights. Legislation must be adopted to criminalize the worrying and growing trend of inciting hatred and violence, including through social media. South Africa was leading a process within the Human Rights Council to elaborate additional protocols to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that addressed xenophobia and incitement issues. All actions must be taken to end discrimination in every form, including in the context of migration. Only then could the global population benefit from a world that recognized human dignity for all.
GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said discrimination, including Islamophobia, against migrants occurred in a number of countries. The recent travel ban was an example of flagrant violations of the norms and principles of international human rights law. As that ban was based on nationality and religion, it also violated the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The release of a United Nations body report about the actions of Israel had reflected the current reality. Something must be done to tackle serious issues, such as racism and apartheid, and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action should continue to constitute a road map to combat intolerance.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said his country was working with international bodies to condemn hate speech against refugees and migrants. Freedom of speech was enshrined in the Constitution, but, like any freedom, it was not absolute. Hate speech targeting ethnic groups was not acceptable and racism was never an opinion that could be freely expressed, whether talking about anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. All partners must work together to ensure that the principles in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were upheld.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said it was now time for discrimination and violence against people based on their race, ethnicity or beliefs to stop. Racial and ethnic profiling must be prohibited and greater efforts must be made to address those phenomena. Discussions to shape a global compact were an opportunity that should be taken up by all States in their efforts to combat racism and establish cooperation to build a world where social justice prevailed. Cuba would continue to take action to combat racism beyond its own borders.