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

1 October 2020

Hears Presentations by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Systemic Racism and on the International Decade for People of African Descent

The Human Rights Council in a midday meeting today held a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance after hearing presentations by the intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights about systemic racism and about her activities within the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent. 

Refiloe Litjobo, Chairman-Rapporteur of the intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, presenting the Working Group’s report, said the pandemic had particularly hit groups that already faced discrimination, including people of African descent.  In this regard, the massive demonstrations around the world of solidarity with George Floyd had shown that all countries were concerned by the problem of racism.  He stressed that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action contained concrete recommendations for national action plans in favour of victims of racism and for enhanced action to prevent this scourge.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting her oral update on system racism, said her Office continued to receive reports of police brutality and racism against people of African descent, underscoring the gravity of the crisis.  Law enforcement officials carried out some of the most necessary and challenging work in all societies.  They had a duty to perform their functions in line with human rights law, while respecting equality and dignity.  In every State where there was rule of law, there must also be oversight – and an absolute commitment to ending impunity. 

Turning to her report on the International Decade for People of African Descent, Ms. Bachelet noted that structural inequalities and racial discrimination had been manifest in violence against people of African descent, including by police.  The disproportionate and devastating severity of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of African descent also exposed their marginalisation.  Ending these and other harms caused by entrenched racial discrimination in institutions was crucial.  The International Decade for People of African Descent constituted a key framework to focus such efforts – primarily by States, but also intergovernmental organizations and civil society. 

In the general debate, speakers recommended that States raise awareness on the importance of combatting racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, and refrain from taking legislative measures that resulted in the stigmatization of Muslims or other minorities.  It was unacceptable to publish cartoons offensive to Muslims or to burn copies of the Koran.  Some speakers denounced the political instrumentalization of racism in Western countries.  Others called on States to address violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, which they considered to be another form of racial discrimination.  The Office of the High Commissioner showed little interest in the activities of the Decade for People of African Descent.  Eradicating racism required education, speakers said.

Speaking in the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance were Germany on behalf of the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Kuwait on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan, Qatar, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Armenia, Bangladesh, Namibia, Venezuela, Bahrain, Nepal, Spain, Sudan, Nigeria, Israel, United Kingdom, State of Palestine, Djibouti, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Maldives, Greece, Cuba, Morocco, South Africa, China, Botswana, Iran, Switzerland, United Nations Population Fund, Costa Rica, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Georgia, Myanmar and Chad.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : American Civil Liberties Union, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Synergie féminine pour la paix et le développement durable, Sikh Human Rights Group, Global Action on Ageing, International Federation for the Protection of the Rights of Ethnic, Religious, Linguistic and Other Minorities, Villages Unis (United Villages), Minority Rights Group, Zero Poor in Africa, Centre for Justice and International Law, European Union of Jewish Students, Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights Watch, Institut international pour les droits et le développement, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Service for Human Rights, Association pour l'intégration et le développement durable au Burundi, Servas International, Human Rights Information and Training Centre, Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l'homme, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, World Jewish Congress, Universal Rights Group, World Muslim Congress, Solidarity Switzerland-Guinea, International-Lawyers.Org, Association Ma'onah for Human Rights and Immigration, Al Baraem Association for Charitable Work, Association d'Entraide Médicale Guinée, Global Welfare Association, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, Mother of Hope Cameroon Common Initiative Group, World Barua Organization, Liberation, Centre for Gender Justice and Women Empowerment, Conseil de jeunesse pluriculturelle, Al Mezan, Commission Africaine des promoteurs de la santé et des droits de l'Homme, Conselho Indigenista Missionário, Africa Culture Internationale, Centre for Organization Research and Education, African green foundation international, International Career Support Association, International Buddhist Relief Organisation, Association Elmostakbell pour le développement, and Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights.

Speaking in right of reply were India, Japan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Brazil, South Africa, Namibia and Pakistan.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-fifth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet to hold an interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

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For use of the information media; not an official record