Header image for news printout

Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

AFTERNOON
 
Begins General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance
 
GENEVA (26 September 2016) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and then started its 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.
 
Ricardo A. Sunga III, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, noted that 15 years after the Durban Conference, the international community was facing an alarming increase in racism, Afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  Systemic racial discrimination faced by people of African descent stemmed from the fact that their history and their contributions to the development of civilization were not properly documented, and were at times rewritten, falsified and not made known at all. 
 
Italy and the United States spoke as concerned countries.
 
During the ensuing discussion delegations expressed appreciation for the focus on the interlinkages between recognition, justice and development. Several underlined the importance of raising awareness and thus countering rising populism, extremism and racial intolerance.  The long shadow of the transatlantic slave trade was noted, with some delegations observing that it continued to have repercussions on people of African descent as many still struggled to gain acceptance in the communities within which they lived.  They faced challenges such as workplace discrimination, limited access to justice, and racial segregation and profiling.
 
Speaking in the debate were the delegations of European Union, Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Peru, Cuba, Libya, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Spain, Kenya, Venezuela, Egypt, China, Costa Rica, Botswana, Nigeria, Iran, Uruguay, Mexico, and Bahamas.
 
The following non-governmental organizations spoke: Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, Iraqi Development Organization, International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (joint statement), Commission africaine des promoteurs de la santé et des droits de l’homme, Arab Commission for Human Rights, United Nations Watch, and the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (joint statement).
 
Following the conclusion of its interactive dialogue with the Working Group, the Council began its 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.
 
During the general debate, delegations opined that ignorance had to be confronted with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with generosity.  Others expressed concern about the rise and spread of racist and xenophobic platforms in the programmes of populist and nationalist political parties.  The plight of migrants was noted by several delegations, who expressed concern about anti-migrant sentiment they were meeting in their countries of destination.
 
Speaking during the debate were Slovakia on behalf of the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Sudan on behalf of the Arab Group, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Cuba, Algeria, Venezuela, China, Namibia, Bolivia, Turkey, Sierra Leone, Greece, Sudan, Iran, Bulgaria, Bahrain, Egypt, and Azerbaijan.
 
The Human Rights Council tomorrow has a full day of meetings, beginning at 9 a.m. to conclude its 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.  The Council will then hold interactive dialogues on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Ukraine, and on his report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
 
Documentation
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its seventeenth and eighteenth sessions (A/HRC/33/61).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its seventeenth and eighteenth sessions – Mission to Italy (A/HRC/33/61/Add.1).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its seventeenth and eighteenth sessions – Mission to the United States of America (A/HRC/33/61/Add.2).
 
Presentation of Reports by the Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
 
RICARDO A. SUNGA III, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, noted that 15 years after the Durban conference, the international community was facing an alarming increase in racism, Afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  Hate speech was not used only by extremist groups, but also by politicians from across the political spectrum and in social media.  The challenge was in ensuring effective implementation and maintaining a focus on people of African descent as a particular victim group.  The interlinkages, interrelationship and interdependence among the three pillars of the International Decade for People of African Descent – recognition, justice and development – were inextricable.  The Working Group urged Member States to implement fully the programme of activities of the International Decade. 
 
Systemic racial discrimination faced by people of African descent stemmed from the fact that their history and their contributions to the development of civilization were not properly documented, and were at times rewritten, falsified and not made known at all.  Justice was essential and included the totality of reparations, incorporating elements of restitution, compensation and satisfaction.  In that light, the 10-Point Action Plan CARICOM was seen by the Working Group as a creative way of weaving together different elements of reparatory justice.  The 10 points of the plan were: apology, repatriation, indigenous peoples' development, cultural institutions, public health, illiteracy eradication, African knowledge, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and debt relief.  Development was key as there was a clear connection between poverty and racism.
 
During the mission in Italy from 1 to 5 June 2015, the Working Group recognized the Italian efforts in relation to the migrant crisis and in particular the increase in search and rescue operations carried out which had saved thousands of lives.  Despite the positive measures taken by the Italian Government, there was a discrepancy between the official discourse and legal framework to counter racism and the experience of racial discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech.  The Working Group urged the Italian Parliament to publicly condemn racist and xenophobic acts, and it urged the Government to ensure accountability and an effective remedy to counter any tendency, especially by politicians, to stigmatize and negatively stereotype people of African descent. 
 
As for the visit to the United States from 19 to 29 January 2016, the Working Group welcomed the recent opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  However, it strongly condemned the continuing police killings and violence against African Americans.  It urged the Government to take serious action to prevent any further killings as a matter of national priority.  The legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remained a serious challenge.  Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they created were reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching. 
 
Statements by Concerned Countries
 
Italy, speaking as a concerned country, said that the principle of equality was inscribed in article 3 of the Constitution, adding that the National Office against Racial Discrimination was now responsible for protecting individuals against all forms of discrimination.  The Office carried out a number of relevant initiatives, including with the Observatory for Protection against Acts of Discrimination, which specifically trained law enforcement officials.  Public and elected officials had been prosecuted or condemned for racism in public discourse or sports events, when criminal content was substantiated.  The Carta di Roma an ethical code for journalists and media representatives focused on migration had been adopted.  The legislation in place envisaged the suspension of sports matches in cases of racist incidents.  Italy had redoubled its efforts to accommodate migrants and had transposed the main provisions of the European system of asylum, and had introduced standard operating procedures at all hotspots.  Free legal aid was available to asylum seekers, and victims of abuse, violence, torture, and female genital mutilation.  No migrant with irregular status could be reported to the police by health facilities.
 
United States, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Working Group’s visit had addressed a range of issues impacting African-Americans within the United States, including issues related to the criminal justice system, barriers to political participation, disparities in access to education, health, housing and employment, and multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.  The Working Group was encouraged to devote more attention to issues surrounding racism such as police brutality and racial profiling.  The Department of Justice had opened numerous civil rights investigations into police departments that might have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprived people of their rights.  Regarding prison conditions, recommendations had been adopted including ending solitary confinement for juveniles.  The United States reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion of racial and ethnic equality to mark the International Decade for People of African Descent.
 
Interactive Dialogue
 
European Union said it continued to support a rights-based approach to development cooperation as a way to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Could the Working Group elaborate on ways to overcome differences of views on concepts and definitions, including the definition of people of African descent?   Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, agreed on the importance of establishing a standing discussion forum to discuss the rights of people of African descent, and the development of a draft resolution on their rights.  It urged the General Assembly to convene the Fourth World Conference on Racial Discrimination.  South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, appreciated the focus on the interlinkages between recognition, justice and development.  The promotion of the human rights of people of African descent should be holistic and no parts should be neglected or minimized. 
 
Peru noted the contribution of the African population to the economy, culture and society of Peru and this could not be neglected.  However, many among that population suffered from exclusion and discrimination.  Cuba voiced its support for the Working Group and shared its appeal to categorically reject negative stereotypes of persons of African descent.  What actions did the Working Group think that the international community could take to reverse that negative trend?  Libya stressed the need for combatting hate speech, introducing measures to fight negative stereotypes, and carrying out the aims of the International Decade on People of African Descent.  It was essential to raise awareness and thus counter the rising populism, extremism and racial intolerance.  Brazil commended the debate advanced by the Working Group on the reciprocal interrelation between the themes of the International Decade: recognition, justice and development.  Sierra Leone emphasized that the transatlantic slave trade continued to have repercussions on people of African descent as many still struggled to gain acceptance in the communities within which they lived.  They faced challenges such as workplace discrimination, limited access to justice, and racial segregation and profiling. 
 
Spain said that the international community needed to recognize the needs of the population of African descent to overcome structural invisibility, and designing and implementing development programmes was an essential component.  Kenya said that the report raised pertinent issues on the International Decade for People of African Descent, and added that States should implement comprehensive national action plans.  Venezuela expressed strong support for the mandate, and noted that in many countries of the north, there was harsh treatment of people of African descent.  Egypt expressed concern that despite efforts made, racism had resurfaced through widespread practices in the media and in daily life, and the victims were people of African descent.  China commended the efforts of the Working Group, noting that racism threatened harmonious social development, and adding that China had participated in international efforts for the elimination of racism.  Costa Rica said that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement were landmarks, but expressed concern about the lack of visibility of the implementation of the provisions of the International Decade for People of African Descent.
 
Botswana said that interlinkages between recognition, justice and development were key in understanding structurally and institutionally organized invisibility of people of African descent by analysing the interrelatedness of the three pillars of the International Decade and how to develop relevant responses.  Nigeria condemned the increasing trend of Afrophobia in Europe and the national response to the migration crisis there.  It called for reparations as a means of justice for years of slavery and exploitation on the continent of Africa.  Iran agreed with the Working Group on the importance of the full implementation of General Assembly resolution 69/16, including its provisions for the establishment of a consultative forum and for the drafting of a United Nations declaration on the promotion of the human rights of people of African descent.  Uruguay reaffirmed its commitment to fight racism, discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.  Uruguay noted that its region had been particularly active in the implementation of the International Decade.  Mexico had a community of people of African descent and it was making efforts to gather more information on their needs.  What was an appropriate measure for gaging their level of social participation?  Bahamas noted that while historical legacy of the transatlantic slave trade continued to challenge the contemporary reality, it could also be instructive for improving responses to burgeoning modern forms of slavery. 
 
Rencontre Africaine Pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme said that 15 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, people of African descent continued to suffer from discrimination, isolation, marginalization, and a life of poverty in a number of countries.  There had been no tangible action taken to make the International Decade for People of African Descent an opportunity to correct social injustice.  Iraqi Development Organization drew attention to the institutional racism and discrimination experienced by Bahrainis of African descent in all sectors, and called upon all States to combat institutional and structural racism against people of African descent.  International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism noted with urgency the persistent racial discrimination in the judicial system in the United States, resulting in continuing use of excessive force by the law enforcement officials, perpetrated with impunity.
 
International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, on behalf of severals NGOs1, noted with concern in a joint statement that the last session of the Working Group was the least attended by civil society organizations in the history of the Working Group, also because the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had not sent out the invitations.  Serious reforms should be considered to return the Working Group to its original state.   
 
Commission africaine des promoteurs de la santé et des droits de l’homme stated that the Durban Declaration had been adopted 15 years earlier in a most democratic manner.  It was surprising that the Council had not adopted any document on the implementation of the Durban Declaration this year.  Arab Commission for Human Rights was deeply troubled by recent developments in the Working Group of Experts for People of African Descent.  In November 2014, the Group had decided to start to scrutinize the internal situation in African countries and even to use it meagre resources for inspection visits.  UN Watch referred to the important victories won by the African-American community in the United States over the previous decades.  Why was the Council silent on countries where there was racism and no protection mechanisms, such as Sudan or Mauritania?  International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination said that colonial history, the legacies of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation remained a serious challenge in many countries.  The spreading of Islamophobic ideologies across Europe was another danger.   It was regrettable that ever less resources were dedicated to the anti-racism activities of the Office of the High Commissioner.
 
Concluding Remarks by the Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

RICARDO A. SUNGA III, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said that challenges could be overcome through continuing dialogue and discussion.  The use of racial profiling in criminal justice systems was deeply troubling, as there was a presumption of guilt rather than innocence.  There was a need to address discrimination on all grounds.  The situation of women should be given special attention.  Regarding civil society participation, it was crucial to the Working Group’s work.  The mandate was clear; issues of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance were considered.  On the issue of hate speech, he noted that he had received messages over social media.  People of African descent should be protected from hate speech.  Concern was expressed over the invisibility of people of African descent in Arab States.  States were encouraged to invite the Working Group officially for a country visit.
 
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
 
Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, recalled the provisions of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action which encouraged States to invest in and create opportunities for human rights education and training in order to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, and said that the European Union was willing to engage with all so that the Council could take steps to improve the effectiveness of its mechanism in the fight against racism and racial discrimination.  Ignorance must be confronted with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with generosity.   
 
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that it was important to monitor the rhetoric and manifestos of political parties and their leaders that promoted extreme nationalist agendas.  The pervasiveness of racist and xenophobic platforms in the programmes of ostensibly democratic parties and their whole hearted acceptance and promotion by political leaders were of concern.  Another concern was the misuse of cyber platforms by extremists and nationalist groups to spread hate messages and exploit the socio-economic frustrations of the people and incite them to violence, in particular against immigrant communities.      
 
South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed concerns about the persistence of acts of racism and racial discrimination around the world, and the fact that it particularly impacted people from vulnerable groups, such as people of African descent, Roma people, minority communities, and migrants.  In some cases, racism took an institutional nature, when discriminatory practices were tolerated or when the State did not appropriately assume its role to combat this destructive phenomenon.  It was important to strengthen the legal framework, and the implementation of the text and the effective fight against all forms of racism and racial discrimination.
 
Sudan, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that among the best achievements of the international community was the work to combat racism in all its forms, including declarations on the independence of peoples and nations against colonialism, which was the very essence of discrimination, and the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  The Arab Group was concerned about the resurgence of hatred towards Muslims in Western societies; such trends had become somewhat institutionalized, which was particularly worrisome.  The implementation of the Durban Declaration was supported by the Arab Group.   
 
Russian Federation believed that the very history of colonization and the legacy of enslavement still presented serious problems for many countries in the world.  Racial profiling by the police in the United States was a serious concern.  The persecution of several hundred thousand citizens of the European Union on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds was discomforting.  In Ukraine, extremist nationalistic groups continued to use the lawlessness to operate freely, while freedom of speech had ceased to exist.  
 
Ecuador said that racial discrimination continued to be a source of major human rights violations in many countries around the world.  The premises of the Durban Declaration had to be kept relevant.  One of the most important duties of States was securing respect for diversity and human rights.  Ecuador had established five cross-cutting equality councils comprised of members of both the State and civil society, with the aim to foster social and political inclusion and further the fight against racism and discrimination.
 
Cuba said the Durban World Conference had marked a new stage in the work against xenophobia.  Nevertheless, work remained to be done in implementing the agreements reached in Durban.  In developed countries, there was a growth in anti-migrant parties.  Gypsies and Roma continued to be discriminated against.  Fatal use of police force against people of African descent was of particular concern.  International cooperation was a vital part, if it was borne in mind that most victims belonged to historically marginalized groups.
 
Algeria reiterated its view that there needed to be more attachment to current international binding instruments.  All discrimination was opposed; Algeria had criminalized discrimination in its criminal code.  Algeria’s consolidated report had been submitted to the relevant authorities.
 
Venezuela reiterated its commitment to fight for the eradication of xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, adding that it was alarming to see the abuse and persecution of migrants in various countries of the north.  Ill-treatment was often reported, as well as the excessive use of force.  There had been a number of incidents of police excesses in the United States, and there was increasing xenophobia speech in the Western world.  Venezuela reiterated its attachment to the Durban Declaration.
 
China said that racism and racial discrimination remained rooted in some countries and that although the international community had made progress, various forms of racism were worsening in some countries, including against migrants and people of African descent.  Incitement to religious and racial hatred was on the increase.  The international community must take measures to eradicate racism, and support the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  All countries must adopt a zero-tolerance policy to the problems of racial discrimination.
 
Namibia said that racial profiling was a violation of human rights and had been a long-standing issue of concern within the Council.  It was unfortunate that racial and ethnic profiling in a discriminatory manner by the police and border officials continued with impunity.  The international community should acknowledge the underlying causes of the phenomena, and address the gaps which existed in institutional and legal frameworks.
 
Bolivia said that although the collective relationship of people with history should not be limited to the past, hashing it up would not help with establishing linkages between recognition, justice and development.  Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance were the results of cumulative processes of colonialism, and were not dissipating; hate speech was cementing the hostility based on ethnic, cultural or any other diversity, and was being abused by political parties and government administrations.
 
Turkey said racism and racial discrimination continued to represent a challenge to human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The tendency to stigmatize migrants and refugees as scapegoats was dangerous; a comprehensive approach was needed in order to counter current threats.  Political leaders should strongly condemn all ideas based on racial discrimination and Islamophobia. 
 
Sierra Leone stated that 15 years since the adoption of the Durban Declaration, the document still provided an essential blueprint for the combat against racism and racial discrimination.  Attacks on refugees, asylum seekers and migrants underlined the reality that there was still much more left to be done.  Sierra Leone applauded the work of the Working Group and called for greater participation in its work and follow-up on its recommendations.
 
Greece believed that the fight against racism should be fought effectively at all levels; no complacency in that regard was acceptable.  Greece was constantly improving its legal framework to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.  It was one of Greece’s top priorities in the first National Plan of Action on Human Rights. 
 
Sudan reaffirmed its support for the Durban Declaration.  Sudan’s constitution made it a crime to engage in any form of racial discrimination.  Sudan was very alarmed at the increase in situations of racial discrimination throughout the world.  Outrage was expressed at political leaders’ calling for hatred and discord.  Sudan called for the implementation of programmes against racial discrimination.
 
Iran expressed concern at attacks on migrants and refugees, and racist language being used by politicians from across the political spectrum.  There was a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes.  The international community should not neglect the suffering of migrant Muslims, which served to ignite the flames of extremism.  Fifteen years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration, it was shameful that there was an upsurge in racism.
 
Bulgaria said that racial discrimination was an international phenomenon and the international community needed to face the problem together.  Bulgaria was pursuing a policy of eliminating intolerance, and the country had a solid legal framework for that purpose.  Bulgarian authorities were closely monitoring cases of intolerance against persons on Bulgarian territory, and had zero tolerance toward vigilante groups.  
 
Bahrain was extremely concerned about the persistence of racism, racial discrimination and Islamophobia in Europe and the United States, as well as continuing forms of slavery.  The rise of anti-Islamic movement in Czechia was an issue of concern, and the authorities should ensure the protection of minorities from persecution.  The excessive use of detention of migrants including children in some cantons of Switzerland was another issue of concern.
 
Egypt said that the groundwork for the protection of human rights had been laid through the two International Covenants and important achievements had been made in confronting racial discrimination.  However, there was a new wave of racism which was affecting Muslims, Arabs and people of African descent, which was taking an institutional and structural nature in some countries, as evidenced by the practice of law enforcement agencies in the United States.  The practices of Israel the occupying power must not be forgotten either.
 
Azerbaijan attached great importance to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue and stressed that more than one million Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons were unable to return home because of Armenian’s occupation of its territories.  It was regretful that racial hatred and superiority over others had become a State policy in Armenia, and that the racist ideology of the Government based on fascism was included in the school curriculum, which ensured that new generations were being raised with the same spirit.

__________ 
 
1. Joint statement: International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations; International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD); International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); December Twelfth Movement International Secretariat; African Canadian Legal Clinic; International Association Against Torture; Comité International pour le Respect et l'Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (CIRAC); Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs; Arab Commission for Human Rights; International-Lawyers.Org; Association Dunenyo;  Indian Council of South America (CISA); and BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

__________________

For use of the information media; not an official record