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Human Rights Council holds a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance

Human Rights Council

AFTERNOON

20 March 2017

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance after hearing the presentation of the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on combatting intolerance, negative stereotyping, and violence against persons based on religion or belief; and the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
 
Yury Boychenko, Chief, Anti-Racial Discrimination Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights titled “Combatting intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief”.  Intolerance, discrimination and violence on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality and religion were on the rise in all parts of the world.  States should consider undertaking systemic studies of the patterns, triggers, and manifestations of intolerance and incitement to violence to better understand how to reduce societal tensions and prevent religious intolerance.
 
Taonga Mushayavanhu, Chair-Rapporteur of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, presented the report of the eighth session of the Ad Hoc Committee.  The Committee had held substantive discussions on a number of topics, he said, discussing xenophobia, and racism and sport.  Looking ahead to the Ad Hoc Committee’s discussions in April 2017, topics would include the protection of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons against racism and discriminatory practices. 
 
In the general debate, delegates broadly condemned all forms of discrimination, racism and related intolerance, which constituted serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.   It was noted that racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia remained widespread, and that leadership, stronger political will and appropriate measures were needed to combat those trends.  Hate speech was a concern for some delegations; others focused on issues such as Islamophobia. 
 
Speaking in the meeting were Venezuela on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Iraq on behalf of the Arab Group, Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Malta on behalf of the European Union, Russia on behalf of a group of countries,  El Salvador on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Bangladesh, Iraq, Nigeria, Bolivia, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Israel, Sierra Leone, Iran, Colombia, Pakistan,  Ukraine, Singapore,  Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
 
The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Society for Threatened Peoples, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (in a joint statement), Advocates for Human Rights, World Muslim, World Jewish Congress, Association des étudiants tamouls de France, Association Soldiarité Internationale pour l’Afrique, Palestinian Return Centre and Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique
 
The Russian Federation exercised its right of reply.
 
The Human Rights Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 March to conclude its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance before holding four separate and consecutive interactive dialogues on the Central African Republic, Mali, Haiti and Libya under its technical assistance and capacity building agenda item. 
 
Documentation
 
The Council has before it Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/34/35).
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards on the eighth session (A/HRC/34/71).
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action on its fourteenth session -Note by the Secretariat (A/HRC/34/78).
 
Presentation of Reports
 
YURU BOYCHENKO, Chief, Anti-Racial Discrimination Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in the introduction of the report, said that tomorrow, 21 March, the world would commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as intolerance, discrimination and violence on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality and religion were on the rise in all parts of the world.  This was often provoked by normalization of hate speech and derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization.  There were reports of the desecration and destruction of religious sites, migrants were facing discrimination because of their status and their religion, and xenophobic sentiments against those perceived as “others” were gaining acceptance. 
 
Mr. Boychenko recalled that the Action Plan endorsed by the Human Rights Council in resolution 16/18 provided an important practical guidance for collective action to counter discrimination, intolerance and violence on the basis of religion or belief.  It was critical to do more to stem the tide of religious intolerance and to improve the implementation of the Action Plan; in this regard the High Commissioner for Human Rights had made several suggestions, highlighting benefits of national dialogues taking place through collaborative networks and engagement with multi-stakeholder platforms.  In the context of the “Faith for Rights” initiative, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was reaching out to faith and religious leaders to promote a collaborative definition of their role and responsibilities in promoting human rights.  States should consider undertaking systemic studies of the patterns, triggers, and manifestations of intolerance and incitement to violence to better understand how to reduce societal tensions and prevent religious intolerance.
 
TAONGA MUSHAYAVANHU, Chair-Rapporteur of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, presented the report of the eighth session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which was held from 17 to 28 October 2016.  The Committee had held substantive discussions on a number of topics, he said, including hearing a presentation on the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2007 report on complementary international standards and the issue of procedural gaps to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The Committee had discussed xenophobia, and racism and sport.  The Committee had also discussed effective and adequate remedies and the right to seek just and adequate reparation for victims.  The Ad Hoc Committee had agreed on a list of topics that would be discussed at the ninth session of the Committee; those topics included encouraging the Human Rights Council to invite the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Anti-Racial Discrimination Section to continue to address issues of racism in sport.
 
Looking ahead to the Ad Hoc Committee’s discussions in April 2017, Mr. Mushayavanhu said topics discussed would include comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, protection of migrants against racist, discriminatory and xenophobic practices, and protection of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons against racism and discriminatory practices.  Given that the Committee was almost a decade late as per the establishment of its mandate in 2007, he said there was a need for a change of approach.  A text should be proposed so text-based negotiations could commence.  He suggested that by the tenth session, the Committee needed to move on to a more concrete direction. 
 
General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, Follow-up to and Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
 
Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned all forms of discrimination, racism and related intolerance, which constituted serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Venezuela was concerned over the resurgence of contemporary forms of racism in various parts of the world; the rise of intolerance based on religion or belief was particularly worrying.  Religious and cultural prejudices were dismaying; all States were called upon to implement the Durban Review Outcome Document.
 
Iraq, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stated that despite the existing legal framework, discriminatory practices were still witnessed today, endangering peaceful coexistence in different parts of the world.  Such practices were even present in policies and administrative acts of a number of countries, and should be criminalized, and their perpetrators prosecuted.  The Arab Group invited the Human Rights Council to support the implementation of existing instruments to effectively combat racism.
 
Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed appreciation for those who worked tirelessly to combat racism and promote equality.  Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia remained widespread.  Leadership, stronger political will and appropriate measures were needed to combat those trends.  The African Group supported the elaboration of complementary standards to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 
 
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, stressed that the Council must address new challenges of racism, racial discrimination, racial profiling, xenophobia and incitement to hatred.  The rise of populism and equating nationalism with patriotism in many Western societies was a serious concern as it reminded of the dark days of the 1930s.  The very idea of “Europeanness” and its core concepts of tolerance and multiculturalism were under attack by those so-called populist politicians.  It was essential for all to reject the politics of hate and xenophobia, shun them and replace them with messages of peaceful coexistence and intercultural harmony.
 
Malta, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reiterated the European Union’s strong commitment to the total elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.  In June 2016, a new European Union high-level group on combatting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance had been set up to improve responses to all manifestations of racism and racial discrimination in all Member States.  The European Commission had agreed last year on a code of conduct on illegal hate speech with four major companies – Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube; the code was an important tool to address and combat hate speech and incitement to hatred online.
 
Russia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance was one of the most important areas of the United Nations work.  Understanding the root causes for the rise in intolerance and xenophobia was essential to the success of addressing the new challenges, said the group of countries, noting the important role of crimes of the past such as the transatlantic slave trade.  All States and United Nations bodies should take further coordinated global action to rid the world of racism and racial discrimination.  What was being done today was not enough.
 
El Salvador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reiterated the Community’s commitment to the protection against all forms of discrimination, racism and xenophobia.  Agenda 2030 should properly encompass targets to combat those scourges.  The Community stressed its support for the establishment of a forum for Afro-descendants with a wide-ranging mandate.  Complete respect for the people of African descent was an absolute priority.  The regional action plan in that regard would continue to be implemented in Latin America.
 
Venezuela said that the eighth session of the Ad Hoc Committee had been very conducive to the contemporary debate on effective remedies to secure fair reparation for victims of racism, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance.  It was vital to consolidate educational programmes, while a clear political will was also needed to combat those scourges.   Over the years, some countries had not provided necessary support for that very important mandate of the Council.  
 
China stated that racism was a criminal violation of human rights and human dignity, which continued to infringe on rights, especially those of migrants and minorities.  Violence caused by racism was constantly growing.  China was working actively on all international efforts to fight racism at both international and national levels.  Concerning victims of xenophobia, one of the problems was a lack of political will, stressed China. 
 
Cuba underlined that international cooperation was an essential element of the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination, particularly bearing in mind that victims were those most marginalized, such as indigenous communities, persons of African descent, migrants and ethnic minorities.  Cuba voiced deep concern over the rise of xenophobia and racial discrimination in developed countries.  Once and for all the Durban Declaration had to be implemented.
 
Bangladesh noted that 16 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community was encountering a frustrating surge in racial and religious discrimination, hate speech and xenophobia.  They were present in political discourse and somehow translated into State policies targeting mostly Muslims in the form of Islamophobia.  Bangladesh rejected all forms of racial profiling in the name of security concerns.
 
Iraq said that in light of the increased number of migrants, the international community should focus its efforts to fight discrimination, racism and intolerance.  The adoption of relevant laws and punishment of racially motivated crimes were preconditions for building tolerance.  Extremist movements which promoted the rhetoric of hate should be countered with determination, as well as hate speech and incitement to hatred to which no society was immune.
 
Nigeria was concerned about a rising tide of attacks around the world that targeted people on the ground of their religious belief, including horrific acts of incitement to hatred, and racial or religious profiling.  Even more troubling was the observation that those situations occurred despite the efforts of national governments to foster tolerance through constitutional provisions.  Nigeria wished to see in the next report a thorough evaluation on the increasing impact of external factors on the religious divides in multi-religious societies.
 
Bolivia stressed that racism and racial discrimination was not an abstract issue, but it was about the ways in which people related to each other.  More tangible measures were needed to address this issue.  Bolivia had adopted the law against racism and all forms of discrimination, based on the principles of interculturalism, cohesion and harmonious coexistence between all the peoples, and the principle of respectful equality and equity.  Bolivia reaffirmed its commitment to the drafting of complimentary standards to reinforce the existing international instruments. 
 
Brazil said that a key step in promoting racial equality in Brazil was the creation of the Special Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality, which identified main areas of action, including the adoption of the law that promoted teaching Afro-Brazilian history and culture, and the adoption of quotas for Afro-descendants in federal education institutions and in the federal executive.  Brazil called upon all States to strengthen efforts to promote a world free from racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.
 
Russian Federation noted serious discrepancies in the approach of Member States of the United Nations to the contemporary forms of racism.  Many Western States were failing to take appropriate actions, hiding behind claims of freedom of speech.  In the centre of Europe, Waffen-SS groups were holding marches. 
 
Mexico said that international standards established clear obligations to eliminate all racist practices.  However, there was a daily increase in voices stigmatizing vulnerable groups, including migrants.  Racism was a burden which weighed heavy across the world; education, combatting poverty and better recourse for victims needed to be promoted.  
 
Israel drew attention to the promotion of incitement and hate speech against Jews in the Middle East.  Israel believed that education and dialogue were fundamental tools to eliminating discrimination, fighting racism and encouraging a peaceful co-existence between different segments of society. 
 
Sierra Leone stressed that the enjoyment of all economic and social rights would only be possible if racism was addressed.  It welcomed the slow but steady progress which was being made to focus on people of African descent.  It urged all States to draw up plans to implement the activities of the Decade of People of African Descent.
 
Iran said that doctrines of racial superiority were scientifically and morally wrong.  The world was witnessing the rise of new Islamophobia, undermining all human rights.  Discriminatory behaviour against some minorities, such as those of African descent and Muslim religion, could result in further exacerbation of racial discrimination.
 
Colombia stated that it was committed to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  At the regional level, Colombia had acceded to the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Other Forms of Intolerance.  At the national level, the Government had taken important legal measures to criminalize acts of racism and discrimination based on race, religion, ideology and ethnic origin.
 
Pakistan said racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances were confronting the world.  It was regrettable that xenophobic political discourse and ideologically motivated hate speech was being practiced in the garb of patriotism and the promotion of democratic values in many parts of the world.  Pakistan’s commitment to the elimination of racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations was reflected in its Constitution and the country’s policies. 
 
Ukraine said that the Russian Federation continued to violate international law, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  Ukraine had initiated a hearing in the International Court of Justice to seek relief for those violations.  Ukraine requested the Court to, among other measures, ensure that Russia refrained from any act of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons, or institutions in the territory under its effective control, including Crimea.
 
Singapore said Singapore had hosted the sixth Istanbul Process meeting, where more than 100 practitioners, religious leaders, community leaders, civil society, government officials and academics from over 20 countries had taken part in the meeting.  The meeting had recognized that governments had to take active measures and intervene to promote religious tolerance, which did not always develop organically.  Political leaders also had to speak out against religious intolerance. 
 
Armenia shared the concern expressed by the High Commissioner over an increase in hate crime, which was sadly not a new phenomenon.  The inability to combat discrimination against minorities had led to the disappearance of a number of groups.  The promotion and glorification of racist crimes were early warning signs for the international community.  International and regional organizations had an important role to play. 
 
Turkey remained particularly concerned about rising xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe.  Such a dangerous trend pointed to a difficult future, and the tendency to stigmatize those groups as scapegoats for the ills of the society was dangerous.  A collective work was needed in promoting a culture of tolerance, which could be achieved through a global dialogue.
 
Azerbaijan said that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism were growing around the world.  In the Caucasus region, Armenia was promoting the myth of ethnic incompatibility, leading people to kill and expel their Azerbaijani neighbours.  Armenia’s consistent ignorance of relevant United Nations resolutions was not allowing for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
 
Society for Threatened Peoples voiced concern over the attacks on the Rohingya people in Myanmar.  They lived in constant fear and anti-Rohingya sentiments were spreading all over the country.  Human rights defenders who raised their voice against the oppression of the Rohingya were silenced and killed.  The organization called on the Council to end the violence against that community.
 
International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, on behalf of severals NGOs1, welcomed the invitation to States to submit nominations for positions in the Group of Experts for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  It also welcomed the recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Working Group for the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action on the establishment of an inclusive Forum on People of African Descent within the framework of the Intergovernmental Working Group.
 
Advocates for Human Rights voiced deep concern over the rise in hate crimes and incidents of bias targeting racial, ethnic and religious minorities in the United States.  Racial and national origin bias pervaded the criminal justice system in the United States, including widespread use of racial profiling and stark racial disparities in arrests, convictions and sentencing.
 
World Muslim Congress said hate crimes and nationalist Hindu actions had increased dramatically.  There were ill-defined laws and there was a lack of judicial consistency which had affected all aspects of life in Indian-occupied Kashmir.  At issue was not just the rights of minorities, it was about “normal Indians” who believed in freedom and human rights.  All elements involved in hate speech to incite violence were now ruling the country.
 
World Jewish Congress said attacks in European cities were part of a world-wide trend.  Radicalization was profoundly concerning, and the Human Rights Council and all concerned States were urged to combat the phenomenon.  There was also a need to include youth in all work against extremism.  Member States needed to lead by example and build respect, solidarity and inclusion.
 
Association des étudiants tamouls de France said Sri Lankan forces had caused the loss of life.  Tamils were struggling for equal opportunities.  There had been extrajudicial killings, and Tamils had been detained under acts giving extra powers to the military.  Since 1990, thousands of people had been living in internally displaced persons camps.  The Government of Sri Lanka was called on to reaffirm the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
 
Association Soldiarité Internationale pour l’Afrique said that in the island of Sri Lanka, the State itself had been the party committing the crimes against the Tamil people.  The recently established “Office of Missing Persons” had already lost its credibility like all other commissions created in the past.  There was no political will to ensure accountability.
 
Palestinian Return Centre stressed that a recent United Nations document confirmed that the Israeli Government was in fact institutionalizing racism against the Palestinian people. Israel had established an apartheid regime that dominated the Palestinian people as a whole.  Israel was enforcing policies in place to prevent the Palestinian right to return, describing Palestinians as a “demographic threat”.
 
Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique stated that some developed countries were experiencing growth in racism, which was institutionalized in some cases.  The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action contained proper tools to combat those scourges, but the suffering of the blacks in some African countries, such as South Africa and Algeria, was continuing.   
 
Right of Reply
 
Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, stated that yet another statement by Ukraine was an attempt to distract the attention of the international community from human rights abuses in Ukraine itself.  The Russian Federation called on the Government of Ukraine to turn attention to itself and to cooperate with human rights monitoring missions in its country.  The Russian Federation confirmed its commitment to human rights obligations across the entire territory of its country.

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1Joint statement: International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations; Comité International pour le Respect et l'Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples; African Development Association; Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs; Association Dunenyo; and Servas International.

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