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General Assembly Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

19 March 2021

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Excellencies,

I am honoured to join you in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Racism violates everything we stand for and everything we do.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed just how threatening and pervasive this human rights violation is and how deeply rooted inequalities and discrimination are in our societies.

The disproportionate health impact and massive loss of lives of people of African descent, ethnic minorities, other marginalized and disadvantaged groups were powered by decades of unequal health care and inadequate living conditions.

The overwhelming economic and social burdens they are suffering reflect systemic obstacles to their education, employment and opportunities.

Generation upon generation of deprivation, discrimination and injustice shaped the fractures that the pandemic revealed, exploited and amplified.

And all of us have a responsibility to help mend these fractures. For that, we must eliminate racial discrimination.   I welcome the theme of this year’s International Day celebrating “Youth standing up against racism”.

Last year, the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, USA, led to global protests against racism and racial discrimination and prompted important discussions on the legacies of enslavement and colonialism.

It also triggered an urgent debate at the Human Rights Council last June -- and the subsequent adoption of a resolution mandating my Office to prepare a comprehensive report on systemic racism; human rights violations against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies; accountability and redress for victims; and Government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests. 

Earlier today, I updated the Human Rights Council on the preparation of my Office’s report.

Despite the heightened visibility around this issue, and many police reform initiatives and commissions, use of force violations and racial discrimination by law enforcement officials against people of African descent continue to occur.  This must stop.

Law enforcement officials responsible for human rights violations must be held to account, and measures of redress for victims and their families must be provided.

Working with States and people of African descent and other affected communities to achieve racial equality and justice is a priority for my Office, and as the Secretary-General has pointed out, it is key to the core values of the UN.

Systemic racism needs a systemic and comprehensive response. This cannot be done without acknowledging and addressing the linkages between its current manifestations and the lack of accountability and redress for the legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade and colonialism, as well as successive racially discriminatory policies and systems, which compound and ensue disadvantages in all spheres of life. 

States need to take a hard look at these matters and dig beneath the surface to uncover the depth of discriminatory practices. By stopping its denial, embarking on reforms that address its causes; empowering the victims and addressing their cry for justice through effective accountability and programmes of individual and collective reparations are ways to address this challenge.  

Colleagues,

The link between past and present forms and manifestations of racism and racial discrimination was explicitly made in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by consensus at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in 2001.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of this conference, where States acknowledged that “slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so”.

They agreed on the need to achieve justice for victims of the human rights violations, which result from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Acknowledging this, and calling for recognition, justice and development, the General Assembly established the International Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015 to 2024. Allow me to commend the President of the General Assembly for soon convening its midterm review.

The issues discussed earlier have yet again brought home the need to step up implementation of the Decade’s Programme of Activities, which calls on Member States to take concrete measures to stop discrimination and promote full inclusion of people of African descent.

My Office has advised, assisted and supported a great number of initiatives, which I highlighted in my report presented to the Human rights Council in March last year. As the Coordinator of the Decade, I would like to reiterate my major recommendations: to urgently conclude the establishment of the Permanent Forum on people of African descent and to develop a draft United Nations declaration on the promotion and full respect of human rights of people of African descent in full collaboration with people of African descent.

My Office stands ready to support initiatives to eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and advance equality and dignity.

Thank you for standing up for human rights.