Header image for news printout

Racism plagues every society, says UN expert

NEW YORK (1 November 2010) – “Racism and xenophobia are not yesterday’s problems, they remain an immense challenge for today,” the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Githu Muigai, said Monday while presenting two reports* to the UN General Assembly.

“Be it the member of an ethnic minority who is attacked or killed in the context of a conflict due to his or her minority status; the individual subjected to stop and searches, interrogations or arrests, solely because of his or her perceived religious or ethnic background; the migrant, the refugee or asylum-seeker who faces daily discrimination due to his or her status as a non-citizen; or the football player who is insulted because of his skin colour - all these people unfortunately demonstrate the validity of my statement,” he said.

On the question of incitement to racial or religious hatred, Muigai stressed that “vigorously interrogating and criticizing religious doctrines and their teachings is thoroughly legitimate and constitutes a significant part of the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”

He, however, expressed concern about acts of violence, discrimination against individuals on the basis of their religion or belief; attacks on religious sites; religious and ethnic profiling; and negative stereotyping of religions, their followers, sacred persons, and symbols.

He called for a focus on how to effectively combat advocacy of racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

“It is vital to anchor the debate, and subsequent action, in the relevant existing international legal framework,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about the “deeply marked tendencies to characterize migration as a problem and threat to social cohesion.”

“Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to have all their human rights protected by the State where they live without discrimination,” Muigai said. He urged States to ensure that migration policies are “at all times consistent with international human rights instruments.”

Noting that no state is immune to extremist political parties, movements and groups, Muigai warned that racism may lead to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

“Relying on the dehumanization of the other, hate speech may indeed become an effective tool in times of conflict to incite people to commit acts of violence, including killings, against specific individuals or groups of individuals.”

He called on states to be vigilant against extremist groups. “Countering extremist political parties, movements and groups requires a solid legal framework,” he said. “As such, States must ensure that their legislation fully incorporates the provisions of article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.”

The article requires States to condemn and outlaw organizations and activities that promote or incite racial discrimination. He noted, however, that fighting racism requires more than the enactment of anti-discrimination laws.

“Overcoming racism also requires addressing public and private attitudes which justify and perpetuate racism at all levels and in all areas of life,” he said, highlighting the potential of sport as a means to combat racism and discrimination.

Mr. Githu Muigai, a Kenyan national, was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur in August 2008. He is a lawyer specialized in international human rights law. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on racism was established in 1993 by the former Commission on Human Rights to examine incidents of contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as governmental measures to overcome them. It was further extended by the Human Rights Council in 2008.

(*): Get the full reports:

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/racism/rapporteur/index.htm or write to racism@ohchr.org.

For press inquiries and additional information please contact: Nathalie Rondeux (Tel: +41 79 444 4078 / email: nrondeux@ohchr.org) or Fred Kirungi (Tel: +1 917 367 34 31 / email: kirungi@un.org).