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General Assembly plenary meeting in observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination.
Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
New York, 20 March 2018

Thank you, Vice-President,
And to the people of the world who are viewing this webcast, my warmest greetings

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 70th year we are commemorating, begins with a clear statement in Article 1 of both principle and fact. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

This is underscored by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: " Any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous...there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere."

These fundamental texts have helped millions of people to obtain freedom from violence, injustice and impoverishment based on the repugnant idea that there are "lesser races" of human beings.

But today, xenophobia and discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic or national origin and religion are rising to acutely disturbing levels – often actively promoted, for political profit, by politicians and officials. Hatred is being directed against migrants. Muslim communities are being stereotyped, vilified and attacked. The ugly slurs of anti-Semitism are again on the rise; and other religious minorities, such as Christians, are also suffering rising discrimination and violence in some regions. And meanwhile, even in some of the most prosperous societies, deep-seated structural racism continues to be inflicted on indigenous peoples, people of African descent and other minorities.

Wherever a child is humiliated and made to feel unworthy of equal treatment because of the colour of her skin or the community of her birth; wherever whole groups of people are treated with contempt and denied equal access to justice, employment, housing, voting rights or citizenship; wherever there is discrimination and incitement to hatred, a fundamental premise of the UN Charter – “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” – is being denied.

Racial discrimination is not only a matter of individual injustice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights warns very clearly that if rights are not protected, conflict may follow. Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that discrimination, intolerance, prejudice and scapegoating not only lead to disastrous splintering within societies – endangering national cohesion; they also frequently generate threats to regional peace and lead to conflict.

I encourage all decision-makers to reflect on their commitments to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which in 2001 reaffirmed that “Preservation and promotion of tolerance and respect for diversity can produce more inclusive societies.”

The history of every State in these United Nations has been shaped by the shifting forces of human movement across borders and oceans. Every society is multifaceted, with different communities standing proud in their identity and contributing to common goals. The active embrace of diversity – which we term tolerance – is the great marker of strong and stable societies where every individual is empowered to contribute her full participation.

I call on the memory of that giant of human rights, Nelson Mandela, who led his country away from the brink of catastrophe by the sheer force of his principled leadership and the power of his ideas. Together with my predecessor, Mary Robinson, Nelson Mandela set out a vision for Tolerance and Diversity in the 21st Century which I urge all leaders to consult.

We can push back against the forces of hatred, bigotry and violence, and build instead societies that rest on equality and justice. To free ourselves and our fellow human beings from the crushing injustice of discrimination, we need to dismantle attitudes of racial, ethnic and religious prejudice in our societies; we need to embark on truly constant prioritisation of messages and policies that uphold mutual respect. We need to live up to the promises of inclusion which are at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There is no more urgent task, for the sake of humanity's survival on this planet which we all share.

I thank you Mr. Vice President.