UN holds high-level event to mark 20th anniversary of adoption of Durban Declaration
United Nations, September 23: The UN General Assembly on Wednesday held a high-level meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and adopted a political declaration to carry forward the fight against racism and racial discrimination.
In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all member states to take concrete actions, including policy measures, legislation and more granular data collection, to build on the current momentum against racism.
"A movement for racial justice and equality has emerged with unprecedented force, reach and impact. This new awakening, often led by women and young people, has created momentum we must seize upon," he said.
"Together, we must work to recognize the contemporary resonance of past crimes that continue to haunt our present: the lingering traumas, the transgenerational suffering, the structural inequalities so deeply rooted in centuries of enslavement and colonial exploitation. And we must reverse the consequences of generations of exclusion and discrimination, including their obvious social and economic dimensions through reparatory justice frameworks," he said.
The 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action offers an important opportunity to reflect on the status quo and future actions, said Guterres.
Racism and racial discrimination still permeate institutions, social structures, and everyday life in every society. Structural racism and systematic injustice still deny people their fundamental human rights, he said.
Africans and people of African descent, minority communities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, displaced persons, and so many others, all continue to confront hatred, stigmatization, scapegoating, discrimination, and violence. Xenophobia, misogyny, hateful conspiracies, white supremacy and Neo-Nazi ideologies are spreading -- amplified in echo chambers of hate, he said.
From glaring infringements to creeping transgressions, human rights are under assault. Racism is often the cruel catalyst. The linkages between racism and gender inequality are unmistakable, said Guterres.
"We are witnessing a troubling rise in anti-Semitism, a harbinger throughout history of discrimination against others. We must condemn, without reservation or hesitation, the racism and discrimination of growing anti-Muslim bigotry, the mistreatment of minority Christians, and other forms of intolerance around the world."
The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was meant to break the vicious cycle, in which discrimination leads to deprivation, and poverty deepens discrimination, he said. "We can overcome these harmful afflictions and heal ... if, and only if, we stand together as one human family. Rich in diversity, equal in dignity and rights, united in solidarity."
Abdulla Shahid, president of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, said the international community has not done enough 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
"When the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted in 2001, it was done with emphasis to tackle racial discrimination and intolerance. Sadly, two decades later, the doctrine is still being pursued. This is not to say that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action has failed, but rather that we have not done enough," he told the high-level meeting.
"We, as a global community, have not done enough to tackle the pervasiveness of racism, racial discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia. Tackling racism in all its forms is a moral responsibility for justice. Racism begets violence, displacement, and inequality. It lives on because we allow it to. It penetrates society because we fail to acknowledge diversity," said Shahid.
The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action is a comprehensive toolkit to address racism. It makes references to various groups of people, such as Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, minorities, youth, women, and children, he noted.
He stressed the importance of acknowledging the past, whether in the form of a formal apology or through other means.
"You cannot move past what is not addressed," he said. "I encourage the international community, individuals, leaders, and stakeholders to engage in deeper and honest dialogue to address this global issue," said Shahid.
At the high-level meeting, the General Assembly adopted a political declaration to reaffirm that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and subsequent documents provide a comprehensive UN framework and solid foundation for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to reaffirm member states' commitment to their full and effective implementation.
The political declaration welcomes the progress made in many parts of the world in the elimination of the scourge in the past 20 years, while acknowledging with concern that the scourge still persists in all parts of the world and countless human beings continue to be victims to the present day.
It acknowledges with deep concern the rise in discrimination, hate speech, stigmatization, racism, systemic racism, stereotypes, racial profiling, violence, xenophobia and intolerance, both in-person and online, directed against, among others, Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, Roma and persons belonging to other racial, ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities, as well as motivated by prejudices against persons based on their religions or beliefs, such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Christianophobia, and against women and children, migrants, refugees, forcibly displaced persons, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities, older persons, youth and other persons in vulnerable situations.
The political declaration vows to pursue the common goal of ensuring the effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, while continuing to promote respect for human rights and to enhance democratic governance, the rule of law, independent judicial institutions and the fight against impunity nationally and internationally.
It reiterates that the primary responsibility for effectively combating acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance lies with states and affirms that, whenever such acts occur, they must be condemned and their reoccurrence prevented, and urges states to take appropriate preventive measures, including legislative measures, in this regard.
It reaffirms member states' strong determination to mobilize political will at the national, regional and international levels and to accelerate momentum to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the protection of the victims a high priority.