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Counter-terrorism measures are fuelling racism, UN rights expert warns

Racism risk

20 June 2017

GENEVA (20 June 2017) – States must do more to combat racism, Islamophobia and discrimination which are worsening amid the ongoing terrorism threat and are in some cases being fuelled by anti-terror policies, according to a United Nations Special Rapporteur.

Mutuma Ruteere told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that hate speech and security measures were exacerbating racism, xenophobia and discrimination based on people’s ethnic origin, migration status or religion.

“After recent terrorist attacks, I have witnessed the proliferation of anti-Muslim rhetoric and the rise of right-wing extremist parties,” said Mr. Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, in a new report. “This has led to an atmosphere of fear towards Muslims in countries where they are seen as a separate ethnic group or viewed as foreign.

“Meanwhile counter-terrorism policies have disproportionally affected people from Middle Eastern countries, considerably restricting their freedom of movement. Several countries have amended legislation to make it easier to strip citizens of their nationalities if they are suspected of terrorist-related activities,” he noted.

Mr. Ruteere said addressing economic inequalities was key to meeting the challenge of countering terrorism without fuelling racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

“With the onset of economic crises worldwide, populist parties have gained support by capitalizing on constituents’ concerns over the financial burdens of migration and their belief that migrants engage in crime, take jobs away from nationals, pose a threat to national identity or have religious practices that are incompatible with modern societies,” the expert explained.

The Special Rapporteur also noted the particular challenges to human rights and democracy being posed by neo-Nazis, skinhead groups and other extremist movements.

“Consistent vigilance against racist and xenophobic crimes is required,” he stressed. “States must do more to combat the rise in extremist groups, and highlight good practices developed by each other and by other stakeholders.

“Extremists continue to blame vulnerable groups for society’s problems and incite intolerance and violence against them. States and other relevant groups must ensure better protection for victims and prevent future crimes,” the expert stressed.

Mr. Ruteere’s report also looked at racism in sport, the internet and social media, the role of education in the prevention of racism, and the use of racial profiling in law enforcement.

He said new technologies including the internet were key tools in preventing racism and discrimination, but noted: “The intersection of poverty and racism means that excluded minority groups might have less access to the internet. States should therefore adopt measures to make the internet widely available, increasing opportunities for meaningful interaction and participation.”

Sports could also play a dynamic role in promoting tolerance and racial and cultural understanding, he noted.

The Special Rapporteur also updated the Human Rights Council on Monday 19 June with further findings on glorification of Nazism, as well as reports on his visits to Australia, Argentina and Fiji. Check all the reports here. Mr. Ruteere will present a detailed report to the UN General Assembly later this year.


Mr. Mutuma Ruteere (Kenya) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in November 2011. As Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. 

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