Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
21 November 2021
Amid the turmoil and crisis the world is experiencing as a result of the pandemic, there also appears to be a rising tide of racism and xenophobia across every region, with frightening implications.
Despite the commitments made by governments – and the principled work of many activists and human rights defenders – racism and other forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, are an everyday experience for many people.
Racism does not only permanently, and unfairly, harm the individuals who are targeted. It does not only create terrible inequalities and grievances. It impedes the fullest possible contributions by everyone to society's goals. Discrimination and hatred have negative impacts on development and the formation of a cohesive, resilient society based on mutual respect.
Faced with humanity's triple environmental crisis of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change – and hampered by the social, economic and health impacts of the pandemic – our only hope to survive and thrive is to come together across all continents, nations and perceived differences. These massive and global problems need a One Humanity approach – one humanityunited by awareness of the need to protect our shared future.
I am grateful to the Russian Jewish Congress for organizing this event, because it so effectively frames some of the world's most serious and pressing concerns today.
The United Nations deeply opposes all forms of racism and discrimination. Both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were conceived out of the Holocaust and two World Wars, driven by the urgent need to forever prevent such horror.
In these two great founding documents, the world's leaders acknowledged that only justice and respect for human dignity, equality and rights can ensure enduring peace, and that notions of State sovereignty must never again be used as an argument to mistreat any people.
Antisemitism, which has given rise to centuries of pogroms and Holocaust, must never again be allowed to harm our fellow human beings. Yet the Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has noted that “ manifestations of antisemitism can be found in the deep layers of many cultures, in the traditional platforms of extreme right-wing parties, in the statements and writings of political, intellectual and artistic figures, and in the increase in the number of attacks on places of worship and culture.”
The current pandemic has further increased manifestations of antisemitism and other forms of discrimination. A survey across 16 countries in Western Europe commissioned this year by the Action and Protection League found that almost one third of respondents in several countries felt that Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society; a similar number agreed that there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs.
The spread of COVID-19 has been fuelled precisely by the inequalities that are generated by discrimination. And in a frightening feedback loop, it is also further exacerbating discrimination. Countries in every region have seen a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes, including a rise in violent attacks on people of East Asian and Southern Asian descent, in many regions.
Online hate and racist conspiracy theories are where this violence begins. Words have consequences. Just like in the 1930s, lies, hatred, scapegoating and dehumanisation are a grave threat our social fabric today. We need to push back against hatred. Against lies. We need to ensure that public discourse is based on facts, which objectively reflect the truth – including the fundamental truth of our equality and universal rights as human beings.
Even today – and perhaps especially today – this message is yet to be fully absorbed by a growing number of leaders. Nationalists are once again stirring up discrimination, hatred and violence against vulnerable scapegoats. Ordinary people openly follow their example – from classrooms and work places to sports venues.
We at the United Nations will continue to oppose incitement to hatred and violence, and to stand up for the rights of every human being.
For example, the “Faith for Rights” framework supported by my Office aims to encourage religious leaders of every faith to work together, to foster respect for diversity in societies that uphold the dignity and equality of everyone.
We have also developed a four point agenda on transformative change towards racial justice and equality. It makes urgent recommendations to dismantle systemic racism, and to ensure the accountability of law enforcement officials and in criminal justice system. It adds concrete measures to make sure that the concerns of people of African descent and all those who stand up against racism are heard and acted upon, and that legacies are confronted, including through accountability and redress.
We must learn the lessons of past tragedies, such as the Holocaust. We must push back against today's monstrous denials of human rights, which create more victims and generate more threats to peace.
The solemn promises made by every State to respect the rights of minorities, and uphold fundamental freedoms and protections, are the only way to build and protect a future that is peaceful and prosperous.
I take this opportunity to commend the Russian Federation's clear stance on the inadmissibility of racism, antisemitism and xenophobia. I encourage sustained efforts to ensure that everyone in the Russian Federation is effectively protected from discrimination and intolerance.
Every individual is worthy of rights. And every society needs to be able to count on the full contributions of all of its people.