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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action"Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent"

22 September 2021

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Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights -- 22 September 2021



Twenty years ago the international community met in Durban, South Africa to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Eliminating these violations of human dignity, equality and rights was very clearly a matter of the greatest urgency.

But two decades on, the inequalities and suffering they generate for Africans and people of African descent; Asians and people of Asian descent; members of ethnic and religious minorities – including victims of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; indigenous peoples and migrants continue to hold back all our societies, and harm both sustainable development and social cohesion.

It is vital that we rise above past controversies and come together to combat racism and related discrimination in the world today.


We have taken steps that have laid a strong foundation for real change.

The proclamation by this Assembly of the International Decade for People of African Descent; establishment of a new expert mechanism to advance racial justice in law enforcement, and operationalization of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent further strengthen our global anti-racism architecture.

In July, following our comprehensive report on racial discrimination including in law enforcement, I put forward a four-point Agenda Towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality that I believe sets out building blocks for tangible and sustainable progress.

But millions of people continue to bear the burden of past and contemporary forms of racism and exclusion, including historical denial of their humanity; the legacy of colonial exploitation; and the inhuman and criminal enslavement of generations of women, men and children of African descent.

It is important to address these lasting consequences, including through appropriate forms of reparations.

Reparations should be broad-based, and need to include measures aimed at restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. These may include formal acknowledgment and apologies, memorialization and institutional and educational reforms. For reparations to be effective, all these elements are needed.

We should be clear though that these efforts must go beyond symbolism, and that they do require political, human and financial capital. Such costs should be seen alongside the enrichment of many economies through enslavement and exploitation – and recognition of this reality should encourage genuine consideration of substantive reparations.

As the DDPA recognizes, there is also a need to strengthen and enhance international cooperation to increase equality of opportunities for trade, economic growth and sustainable development.

To recognize the past and truly leave no one behind in future, it is essential to promote equality not only within, but also among countries – transforming our world towards social, economic and environmental sustainability, and I would encourage greater international engagement on these issues of reparatory justice.


We are at an important juncture to take the anti-racism agenda forward.

To effectively tackle racial discrimination and the inequality experienced by people of African descent requires a comprehensive approach – as set out by the DDPA and developed in my own Agenda for Transformative Change – with concrete strategies and actionable, time-bound targets.

It will also be important to address the multiple and intersectional manifestations of racial discrimination. A woman who is a migrant, who is a person of African descent, and who is poor starkly faces multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination – and this recognition of the DDPA of the realities of such multiple discrimination must be integrated into laws and policies to address and repair the inequality and racism faced by such victims, including by integrating a gender perspective.

My Office will continue to support domestic action and international cooperation to eliminate racial discrimination and achieve racial justice, including in coordinating the International Decade for people of African Descent.

But the anti-discrimination agenda concerns and belongs to all of us, irrespective of race, colour, descent, ethnic or national origin, affiliation, religion or belief. Stronger efforts must be employed by all stakeholders to implement the goals laid out at Durban.

I pay tribute in particular to the courage and resilience of civil society organizations combatting racism around the world. Today's mobilisation of activism brings further promise that racial justice can be achieved, for people of African descent and all others suffering racial discrimination.

Thank you.