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Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism Calls for a Moratorium on the Use of Surveillance Technology in the Immigration Enforcement Context

4 October 2021

Human Rights Council Starts General Debate on Racism and Racial Discrimination and Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, and started a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, presented two reports to the Council - one thematic report on “racial and xenophobic discrimination and the use of digital technologies in border and immigration enforcement” and another report on “combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. A key finding from the first report was that Governments and non-State actors were developing and deploying new technologies in the immigration enforcement context with little regard for the human rights abuses, racially discriminatory structures, and experimental risks engendered by such technologies. In her interim remarks, the Special Rapporteur said that a moratorium on the procurement, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and border enforcement would be better than doubling down and investing on these technologies.

Turning to her second report on combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and related ideologies, the Special Rapporteur said the COVID-19 pandemic had continued to contribute to anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic hate speech, conspiracies, and public rhetoric. There had been a recent global resurgence in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence and the Special Rapporteur urged States to seriously consider how to combat increasing expressions of such intolerance in their COVID-19 responses and recovery plans.

Speaking in the discussion with the Special Rapporteur, some speakers said that in many countries, surveillance technology was used as a system of control. States were reminded of their obligation to respect human rights and to refrain from using surveillance methods that violated international law. Speakers condemned racial discrimination and xenophobia and noted an increase in online abuse. Speakers also agreed that COVID-19 had worsened racism against migrants and refugees. They warned that the use of new technology tools could deepen racism and xenophobia. Some speakers said the use of digital technologies for racial profiling and segregation was symptomatic of long-standing xenophobia and racism. They echoed the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding discrimination against Muslims on social media.

Speaking in the discussion with the Special Rapporteur were European Union, State of Palestine, Israel, Australia, Ecuador, United Nations Children's Fund, Senegal, Armenia, Bangladesh, Luxembourg, Iraq, Indonesia, South Africa, Venezuela, Kenya, Cuba, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Belarus, Morocco, United States, India, Brazil, Namibia, China, Portugal, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Panama, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Belgium, Lesotho, Egypt, Mauritania, Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Chad.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, World Jewish Congress, American Civil Liberties Union, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Advocates for Human Rights, China Society for Human Rights Studies, Meezaan Center for Human Rights, Institute for NGO Research, Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland, and International Council of Russian Compatriots.

In the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, some speakers said that anti-Semitism was not a thing of the past; the venom still existed in the midst of societies and continued to blight the world. COVID-19 had diverted attention from anti-Semitism and tackling it. Some speakers said they stood united in fighting discrimination and tackling xenophobia as it continued to rise, including across Europe. Preventing discrimination and other forms of intolerance was a constant and ongoing commitment. COVID-19 had made things even more complicated, especially with regard to racism and racial discrimination. People of Asian descent were also exposed to increased racism. Education was once again suggested as a method to help educate people on racism and fighting it. Some speakers said that in certain countries, there was disinformation spreading racist ideas that had increased Islamophobia and racial discrimination towards ethnic groups. The prevalence of racial and xenophobic discrimination in the use of digital technologies was a new low. Some speakers regretted that in certain countries, the mistreatment of refugees and systemic discrimination led to violence against them. The use of security technology should be free of racial biases so that it was compatible with human rights obligations.

Speaking in the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, were Austria on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Slovenia on behalf of the European Union, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Iceland on behalf of the northern Baltic countries, Brazil on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Armenia, Germany, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Bahrain, Cuba, Russian Federation, Nepal, China, Pakistan, Sudan, Malawi, India, Philippines, Djibouti, Egypt, Costa Rica and Iraq.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

Speakers agreed that people of African descent continued to be victims of racism, including environmental racism. They were forced to live in vulnerable zones and therefore had their right to health trampled on. Economic alternatives should be found to end this discrimination. The climate crisis disproportionately impacted certain peoples and their fundamental rights. Climate change was unjust, including against communities in vulnerable situations, like those of people of African descent.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on people of African descent were Malawi, Mauritania, Tunisia, Egypt, Chad and Mauritius.

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Friends World Committee for Consultation, American Civil Liberties Union, Minority Rights Group, Advocates for Human Rights, Meezaan Center for Human Rights, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Africans in America for Restitution and Repatriation Inc.

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 5 October, to conclude its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance. It will then hear an oral presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, followed by an interactive dialogue.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

The interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent started in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers agreed that people of African descent continued to be victims of racism, including environmental racism. They were forced to live in vulnerable zones and therefore had their right to health trampled on. Economic alternatives should be found to end this discrimination. The climate crisis disproportionately impacted certain peoples and their fundamental rights. Climate change was unjust, including against communities in vulnerable situations, like those of people of African descent. One speaker asked the Council for transformative change to help achieve racial justice. The issue of the consequences of colonisation was also raised and how communities did not benefit from the profit of the mining industries in Africa.

Concluding Remarks

DOMINIQUE DAY, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said people of African descent must be part of the solution of climate change and other environmental crises. The leadership of affected communities must inform the discussion on climate justice and environmental justice and people of African descent should be involved in every stage of environmental policies and their implementation. People of African descent offered time-tested techniques to mitigate climate change and protect the environment which must be recognised, and these must inform policies to strengthen these communities and their ability to resist climate and environmental destruction. States should address ways that systemic racism and multiple and intersecting systems of discrimination had disproportionately affected people of African descent. A racial impact assessment should be part of human rights due diligence efforts for all climate and environmental action. Climate financing should be localised to support community-led solutions. The Working Group’s operational guidelines on the 2030 Agenda were a good resource and they should inform international efforts, offering a concrete and rich intervention contextualised within a framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Working Group was ready to offer technical assistance.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance

Presentation of Reports

TENDAYI ACHIUME, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, presented two reports to the Council - one thematic report on “racial and xenophobic discrimination and the use of digital technologies in border and immigration enforcement” and a report on “combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. A key finding from the first report was that Governments and non-State actors were developing and deploying new technologies in the immigration enforcement context with little regard for the human rights abuses, racially discriminatory structures, and experimental risks engendered by such technologies. These burdens were primarily borne by refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, stateless persons, and peoples with central nomadic traditions. In this regard, some scholars had coined the term “digital borders” to describe immigration enforcement schemes that depended on emerging digital technologies such as biometrics, GPS tracking, facial recognition, automated surveillance, algorithmic decision-making, and “Big Data.”

The application of these technologies to the border and immigration context posed unique risks because non-citizens, stateless persons, and related groups lacked the legal protections frequently granted to citizens, and Governments typically retained expansive discretionary, unreviewable powers in the realm of border enforcement. The Special Rapporteur also set out how private corporations increasingly played an active role in developing border enforcement technologies, creating what some had called a “border industrial complex” which had collapsed the boundaries between immigration governance, criminalisation, and militarisation. It was vital that States and non-State actors recognised that digital borders threatened human rights on a racially discriminatory basis and took immediate steps to mitigate these threats.

Turning to her second report on combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and related ideologies, the Special Rapporteur said the first half of the report summarised submissions on State efforts to combat the glorification and resurgence of intolerance and racial superiority ideologies, including Nazism and neo-Nazism. The second half of the report recalled the applicable equality framework contained in international human rights law and urged States and non-State actors to use this framework to guide action against the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism, and related practices. The report illustrated several trends, including how some States reported renewed efforts to monitor and combat hate crimes and hate speech, primarily through national institutions and coordinated policies. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur emphasised the importance of collecting reliable disaggregated data and statistics on racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes. The COVID-19 pandemic had continued to contribute to anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic hate speech, conspiracies, and public rhetoric. There had been a recent global resurgence in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence and the Special Rapporteur urged States to seriously consider how to combat increasing expressions of such intolerance in their COVID-19 responses and recovery plans.

Discussion

Some speakers said that in many countries, surveillance technology was used as a system of control. States were reminded of their obligation to respect human rights and to refrain from using surveillance methods that violated international law. States that had confronted racism and implemented inclusive frameworks were applauded by one speaker, who urged other States to do more. Speakers condemned racial discrimination and xenophobia and noted an increase in online abuse. Speakers also agreed that COVID-19 had worsened racism against migrants and refugees. The use of new technology tools could deepen racism and xenophobia. States were urged to train border control staff to use border technologies and help stem racism. Some speakers noted how racial discrimination hindered progress and how people of African descent continued to face racial discrimination.

Data collection to fight COVID-19 was also worrying, some speakers said. The development of digital technology had given knowledge to all but on the other hand, it was also clear that data collection had often adversely impacted diverse groups of people with COVID-19, adding another layer of challenges, including on privacy rights. Some speakers said that technology was excluding vulnerable groups and called on States to make any activities that fuelled contemporary forms of racism punishable by law.

Interim Remarks

TENDAYI ACHIUME, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, responding to questions and comments, said that while the European Union had impressive frameworks on combatting racial discrimination, unfortunately the resource expenditure of the European Union at present actually fell in the direction of dramatically undermining the rights of migrants and refugees and violating them, and doing so on a racial discriminatory basis. A moratorium on the procurement, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and border enforcement, would be better than doubling down and investing on these technologies. On what could be done to combat hate speech online, Ms. Achiume said there must be greater regulation of social media platforms to prevent hate speech online. The Special Rapporteur spoke of her report on the role of political leaders in stoking exclusionary popularist movements and said it included recommendations. In response to a question on why her report did not deal with violations against Rohingya in Myanmar, she said the report dealt with migrants and refugees. She acknowledged the important work that Bangladesh had done to protect refugees from Myanmar, adding that it was also important for her to share credible concerns about the experiences of some Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. On protecting the privacy of persons online, she said equality norms must be developed at the same time as privacy norms.

Discussion

Some speakers said the use of digital technologies for racial profiling and segregation was symptomatic of long-standing xenophobia and racism, and echoed the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding discrimination against Muslims on social media. One speaker fully subscribed to the Special Rapporteur’s central recommendation that States must comply with international human rights obligations to prevent racial discrimination in border and immigration enforcement.

Yet, they had found very few situations laid out in her new report on this issue that actually illustrated the confluence of border and immigration enforcement impacts of emerging technologies andracial or xenophobic discrimination. In most cases differences in treatments between persons of different national origins in a border enforcement context were based on the permissible distinction between citizens and non-citizens, inherent in the context of immigration. Another speaker said that racist speech, anti-Semitism, incitement to violence and xenophobic notions had to be combatted. Some speakers shared the sentiment on the risk that digital technology imposed on ethnic minorities. Other speakers spoke of their national plans and how legislation was being developed, along with codes of conduct on hate speech and online violence.

Some speakers said that racist speech and the incitement of violence must be stopped, noting that hate speech was also growing among law enforcement agencies. One speaker urged States to set up robust human rights frameworks to stop racial discrimination. Some speakers noted how racial discrimination was getting worse in many settings, including in the workplace. There was a shared concern over the use of digital technology at borders and how it was used to reject migrants.

Concluding Remarks

TENDAYI ACHIUME, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, thanked everyone who had engaged with her report.

Technical issues prevented the Special Rapporteur from continuing her concluding comments remarks.

General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, Follow-up to and Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

Some speakers said that anti-Semitism was not a thing of the past; the venom still existed in the midst of societies and continued to blight the world. COVID-19 had diverted attention from anti-Semitism and tackling it. Anti-Semitism was unacceptable as it threatened and fractured inclusive societies. Some speakers said they stood united in fighting discrimination and tackling xenophobia as it continued to rise, including across Europe. Preventing discrimination and other forms of intolerance was a constant and ongoing commitment. COVID-19 had made things even more complicated, especially with regard to racism and racial discrimination. Environmental and digital racism were also highlighted. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be self-evident, one speaker said. Whether it was racism because of the way one looked or whether one belonged to an ethnic minority, it was all unacceptable. People of Asian descent were also exposed to increased racism. Relevant countries were urged to implement appropriate measures to achieve racial justice and equality whilst protecting human rights. Every State must take a self-critical look at what it was doing to tackle root issues of racism. All countries must work together to counter disinformation and protect society from the disastrous impact of racism.

One speaker said that online hate speech should no longer be normalised and treated with impunity and encouraged accountability for perpetrators. Education was once again suggested as a method to help educate people on racism and fighting it. COVID-19 had exacerbated exclusion and migrants were subjected to all forms of racism, especially in capitalist countries, some speakers said. Delegations shared different interventions that had been implemented in their countries to try and create more inclusive economic growth. It was widely agreed that the fight against racism must continue to stop marginalisation, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Politicians and the media had a special responsibility. Some speakers said that in certain countries, there was disinformation spreading racist ideas that had increased Islamophobia and racial discrimination towards ethnic groups. Migrant workers should be treated equally, one speaker said, highlighting discrimination and violence towards migrant workers, with entrenched, deep divides. The prevalence of racial and xenophobic discrimination in the use of digital technologies was a new low. Computerised discrimination not only redefined discrimination but also institutionalised it. It was sad that situations had made it profitable for corporations to venture into border-control technologies that had elements of racism.

Some speakers regretted that in certain countries, the mistreatment of refugees and systemic discrimination led to violence against them. The use of security technology should be free of racial biases so that it was compatible with human rights obligations, another speaker noted. Racial discrimination and intolerance ran counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights despite States’ efforts to combat racism. Some speakers were deeply concerned about the persistence of systemic racism, racial discrimination and the increasingly serious hate crimes in some countries. Slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism were among the root causes of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and their negative impact on the enjoyment of all human rights continued to this day. Certain countries were urged to face up to history and their systemic racism and racial discrimination, and take concrete actions to fully and effectively implement the Durban Declaration and eliminate the legacies of slavery, transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, so as to achieve racial justice and equality and truly promote and protect human rights.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/10/la-rapporteuse-speciale-sur-les-formes-contemporaines-de-racisme