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The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these efforts

22 February 2021

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46th session of the Human Rights Council
Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

22 February 2021

Distinguished President of the Council,
Excellencies, Friends,

Twenty years ago, States met in Durban – in a newly freed South Africa – to adopt a detailed, concrete action plan to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – issues that are still of burning importance today.

In many ways, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action created a prescient framework.

It acknowledged that past and contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance continue to victimise Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent and indigenous peoples.

It urged States and law enforcement agencies to eliminate racial profiling and ensure accountability for misconduct by law enforcement personnel motivated by racism and related forms of discrimination.

It required States to address religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

It demanded recognition of the multiple and aggravated discriminations suffered by many women and girls worldwide.

Across the landscape of new technologies; in health care; in barriers to education and employment opportunities – in short, across all areas in which discrimination deprives people of their human rights – the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) set up a comprehensive framework that demanded change.

I pay tribute to the civil society organizations who have stood up – often in the face of threats – to demand equality and implementation of the DDPA. I emphasise the importance of ensuring that they participate, and that their efforts and activities are supported and strengthened. 

Because although some States have made incremental progress in pushing back against racism and discrimination – often through constitutional amendments or domestic laws – we still have much to do.


The COVID-19 pandemic again reminds us that racism has devastating impacts, as certain communities have been disproportionately affected.

It again demonstrates that racism, discrimination and poverty form a vicious cycle, as discrimination leads to economic deprivation, while poverty heightens the multiple impacts of bigotry.

Racism constitutes a major obstacle to development, and combatting racism and all other forms of discrimination must be integral to our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The DDPA details actions that States should take in collaboration with parliaments, national institutions, civil society and others – as well as strategies of enhanced international cooperation and mainstreaming, which involve all members of the United Nations family.

Over this past momentous year, I know that all UN bodies, and Governments in every region of the world, have also seen the solidarity and moral power of the movement for equality.    

We are called upon to act.  It is time to revitalize our actions – as multilateral bodies, and as nations – for racial justice.

We can begin by showing leadership, and speaking and manifesting our commitment to equality and non-discrimination.

But there must also be far more concerted action – from the grassroots to Parliaments, corporate boardrooms, schools, streets, sports areas, hospitals and more – to seriously address systemic discrimination.

Implementing the DDPA can only be achieved through joint efforts taken by all of us – the United Nations, States, national human rights institutions, civil society, businesses and others.

We need to address underlying – and often structural causes - of racism and related forms of discrimination, and focus on education and awareness raising.        

We need to take action to end discrimination's role in manufacturing poverty.

We need to enhance accountability for this work.

My Office will work with all our partners to advance these efforts. But above all, I hope we can leverage the power of international bodies and all States to ensure increased support for the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and greater cooperation and synergies for implementing the Programme of Activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

This is central to the purpose of the UN and this Council. Ending racism and all related forms of discrimination is vital. And it will help build a better world for all of us.

Thank you, Madam President.