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High Level European Conference on "Protection from Racial Discrimination and related intolerance"
(Organized by Portugal EU Presidency 2021)

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

20 April 2021

Minister Santos Silva,

Vice-President Schinas,

Distinguished participants,

Colleagues, Friends,

I am pleased to join you in this conference.

Last year was an important global milestone against the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Across Europe and the world, we saw an uprising of anti-racist movements and human rights defenders, among them many young people, who courageously took to the streets demanding racial justice, equity, equality and human rights for all.

After decades of struggle, their voices have been heard.

I am encouraged that worldwide, at many different levels, significant steps are being taken to address systemic racial discrimination and related intolerance.

In that regard, there are several encouraging measures recently taken by the European Union.

That includes the EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025, which calls on all of its member States to adopt national action plans against racism by next year, as well as the declaration on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policy areas in various levels of government.

I also welcome the EU Roma Strategic Framework to fight against anti-Gypsism and promote truth and reconciliation, as well as the related recommendation by the EU Council in early March.

I also commend the first EU commemoration of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery last December and the subsequent discussions on the legacy of colonialism and the slave trade, especially on recognizing the past, repairing the present and building the future.

I encourage you to continue the crucial work of addressing the root causes of racial discrimination and related intolerance, in partnership with concerned communities and civil society.


The killing of George Floyd has become emblematic of the pattern of racial injustice faced by people of African descent in many countries across the globe. In June 2021, I will present a report on systemic racism and use of force violations by law enforcement, pursuant to the Human Rights Council's request.

The report will present a transformative agenda for racial justice, which, I hope will contribute to assisting States to dismantle systemic racism; to end impunity for police violence; to reimagine policing and reform the criminal justice system; and confront the legacies of the past by adopting measures to achieve reparatory justice.

The human rights situation of Roma worldwide has also long been a matter of serious concern. For centuries, they have faced discrimination, social exclusion and marginalization in all areas of life. The alarming rise of hate speech and scapegoating against the Roma in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly troubling. My Office has issued guidelines in response to widespread reports of violence, in addition to several other discrimination-based negative impacts of COVID-19 on different minority groups.

In all of them, the core message is: States must place human rights at the centre response and recovery efforts.

Behind today's manifestations of anti gypsyism, like other forms of hatred and discrimination, lies a failure to acknowledge and confront the legacy of the past, which is fundamental to achieving genuine inclusion, reconciliation and social cohesion.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the International Roma Day. My Office is strongly committed to working together with Roma civil society and other partners in strengthening the protection of their human rights. We will continue to speak out against anti-Gypsyism and support efforts to secure the genuine inclusion of Roma in societies across the globe.

Antisemitism also poses a threat to all societies. A recent survey from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that nine in 10 (89 %) respondents feel that antisemitism increased in their country and more than eight in 10 (85 %) consider it to be a serious problem.

Indeed, the past year has seen an increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe.

Under international law, people are entitled to legal protection from incitement to hatred and violence. The rise in attacks targeting Jews, Muslims and other groups targeted because of their race or religion, is gravely concerning.

Twenty years ago, the World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in Durban acknowledged and profoundly regretted the untold suffering and evils inflicted on millions of men, women and children victims of slavery, the slave trade, apartheid and genocide. They also agreed on the need for justice and to address the legacy of these crimes against humanity, including current manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

I join the Special Rapporteur on Racism, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and other Durban follow-up mechanisms who are calling for reparatory justice. This requires making amends for centuries of violence and discrimination, including through formal apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms.

Meaningful apologies require a genuine acknowledgement of responsibility for wrongdoing by the State. It is important to ensure that the process for addressing historical crimes starts with comprehensive and inclusive consultations with those affected by the inflicted harms.

This year's mid-term review of the International Decade for People of African Descent is also an opportunity for States to renew their commitment to address the root causes and current manifestations of racism.

The International Decade provides an important framework for taking action on structural issues of access to justice, racial profiling and recognition of both the contributions of people of African descent and the deep-seated socioeconomic disparities that affect them.

We must now conclude negotiations to establish the Permanent Forum on people of African descent and develop a 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.

As the Coordinator of the International Decade, I welcome steps taken by the Co-Facilitators towards the establishment of the Permanent Forum this year.

We must seize this moment to address historical injustices and combat impunity for racial discrimination and related intolerance.

For that, we must implement international human rights norms and standards.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination, and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), are internationally agreed commitments against racial discrimination in all spheres of life. They commit States to take targeted steps – in law, in policy and in practice – to ensure full and equal rights to those who have faced discrimination in the past and today.

The Declaration details actions that States should take in collaboration with parliaments, national institutions, civil society and other partners. It also contemplates strategies of enhanced international cooperation and mainstreaming which involve the United Nations and other international mechanisms.

As you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and magnified racial discrimination and inequalities on a wide scale.

We must recover better.

The first step is adopting a human rights-based approach to recovery that puts people at the centre of all efforts.

Recovering better will require concerted efforts to rebuild trust in the institutions of governance, with a renewed commitment to eliminating racism and racial discrimination, promoting meaningful participation and accountability, and protecting fundamental freedoms.

We must bridge the gap between law and policy and take concrete action to implement these commitments with adequate resources and effect real change.

Policies and programmes need to use disaggregated data in order to identify who is being left behind.

The situation is urgent and we must act now.

My Office stands ready to support all efforts to eliminate the root causes of racial discrimination and related intolerance to make real progress towards equality and human rights for all.