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Statements Multiple Mechanisms

Confronting the Two Faces of Racism: Resurgent Hate and Structural Discrimination

21 March 2018

International day for the elimination of racial discrimination
21 March 2018

Globally, racial equality is under attack. Vile discourses of explicit hate and ideologies of racial supremacy have moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Today, racial, ethnic and religious bigotry fuels human rights violations, including extreme violence against minorities, and against refugees, migrants, stateless persons, and internally displaced, with a particularly acute effect on women, and sexual and gender-diverse populations. This bigotry is unashamed. From crowds of youths marching to neo-Nazi chants in Charlottesville, Warsaw, and Berlin, to the racist and xenophobic attitudes of politicians in the highest levels of office world-wide; from the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, to the excessive use of military force to police communities of African descent in different parts of the world—the assault on the human dignity of millions around the world has reached alarming proportions.

The escalation of explicit racism and xenophobia makes celebration of the International Day Against Racism all the more important, especially in this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the year in which Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 100th birthday. This day calls for unity locally, nationally, and globally in the affirmation of principles of human dignity, substantive equality, and non-discrimination. Significantly, this day should also serve as a reminder that the problem of racism today remains larger and deeper than the shocking manifestations that are now common-place in the media and even in mainstream national political discourses. The fight against racial discrimination must be understood and waged at a structural level, even in the current alarming climate, which risks training global attention solely on the most explicit and individual occasions of discrimination and intolerance.

It is vital that states, civil society organizations, social movements and activists devote renewed energy and attention to the structural drivers of racial inequality, including, as recognized by the Durban Declaration, those rooted in the history and legacy of slavery and colonialism. At the same time, urgent global attention must also be paid to the structural economic, political and legal conditions that facilitate misplaced racial resentment and xenophobic scapegoating by national populations that perceive minorities and non-nationals as existential threats. For those committed to advancing human rights, this means taking seriously the grievances and economic marginalization of those that have been most harmed by globalized neoliberal policies that protect capital and neglect labor. It also means confronting the fact that the rise of populist nationalism has at least as much to do with widespread loss of faith in establishment politics that privilege elites, as it has to do with the offensive, xenophobic rhetoric of extremist ideologues. This is especially evident in the context of backlash in different regions of the world to refugees and involuntary migrants, where gaps in existing international legal frameworks combine with short-sighted national policies to reinforce chaotic and dangerous movements. This chaos heightens anti-migrant anxieties.

Human rights campaigns promoting cohesion in a broader context of escalating migration restrictions will not work. Combatting discrimination against migrants (and all other groups) requires structural reforms that incentivize cohesion, and that make this cohesion a fundamental logic of government policy and private sector involvement in any given community or society. It is incumbent on states, including through the ongoing negotiations for the Global Compacts for Migration and on Refugees, respectively, to provide legal pathways for migration and to take the other concrete steps necessary to create an international framework that prioritizes substantive equality for all.

States and other actors must also remain vigilant and redouble their efforts with respect to addressing structural manifestations of racial discrimination and inequality, all of which are prohibited under international human rights law. Putting an end to racial profiling by law enforcement agents is just as urgent as putting an end to violent hate crimes perpetrated by private actors. Denouncing xenophobic Muslim bans implemented through immigration policies that rely on offensive and flawed assumptions about entire religious groups, is just as urgent as denouncing explicit Islamophobic or antisemitic statements made by political leaders. Putting an end to the forced displacement and cultural extinction of racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples that results from government- and multinational corporation-driven extraction and construction projects, is just as urgent as addressing the resurgence of neo-Nazism. There should be no compromises in the pursuit of racial equality today. The world cannot afford to ignore any dimension of the problem of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, and especially not the forces that do the effective work of structurally subordinating groups on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or citizenship status.

Resurgent hate, and the structural racial and xenophobic discrimination that operates alongside it threaten more than the specific groups that are their direct target. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently cautioned: “[W]e are growing accustomed to the stoking of hatred for political profit […]. Cultivation of a siege mentality among majority populations is a marker of today's ethno-populism. It creates a sense of overwhelming grievance, with an indicated outlet for that rage. And it shores up power.” Extremism and systemic racial exclusion threaten the very political and legal foundations of every single state that forms a part of our international order.

An important purpose of the International Day Against Racism, is to create a platform for states to recommit to upholding the fundamental principles of human rights and to guaranteeing substantive equality to all, by eliminating all forms of discrimination intersecting with racial discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, citizenship and any other social category that is traditionally deployed to systemically subordinate groups in society. Other avenues for such recommitment include the International Decade on the People of African Descent, and through committed, good faith state engagement with anti-racism human rights processes within the United Nations such as through the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and at the regional, national and local levels. The time for action is now.


The UN experts: Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Michal Balcerzak, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Mr. Jose Francisco Cali Tzai, Acting Chairperson of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Ms. Alda Facio, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

TheInter-American Commission on Human Rights expert: Ms. Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur on the rights of Afro-descendants and against racial discrimination.