Record 48 Million People Internally Displaced Due to Conflict, Special Rapporteur Tells Third Committee as Delegates Tackle Human Trafficking, Entrenched Racism
Special Rapporteurs presented reports on internal displacement, human trafficking and modern slavery today, warning that the number of people forcibly displaced within their own countries due to conflict is the highest on record, at 48 million, as Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) delegates engaged in interactive dialogues on human rights matters.
“Liberty of movement and freedom to choose one’s residence are rights protected under international human rights law,” declared Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, pointing to COVID‑19 and its far‑reaching effects as recent drivers. Recalling States’ primary responsibility to prevent arbitrary displacement, she said prevention measures should tackle the drivers that prompt people to move, and likewise address secondary displacement, enabling people to find safe havens while they await conditions conducive to their safe return.
During the interactive dialogue, the United States’ delegate registered alarm that the number of internally displaced persons has risen by almost 50 per cent over the past year alone, due in large part to armed conflict, natural disasters and climate change. Georgia’s delegate, meanwhile, underscored the dire needs of people unable to return to their homes in the Russian‑occupied regions of her country.
Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, highlighting the intersection of trafficking and terrorism, emphasized the plight of victims caught in the crosshairs. “Too often, where trafficking takes place in the context of terrorism, the testimonies of victims are questioned and the harms and trauma they have endured are denied”, she said. States should provide trained professionals to identify both victims and potential victims and ensure that they are protected rather than punished.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the Philippines noted that a council of elders was established to expose the acts of terrorists who victimize children, while an observer for the European Union asked about measures to ensure that victims receive appropriate assistance.
Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, said criminal networks often engage their victims in drug production, theft and forced begging on their own behalf, subjecting them to slavery‑like practices such as debt bondage. These networks often infiltrate the legal economy, laundering money, which makes it easier for them to elude detection. He urged financial institutions to prevent such transactions.
Opening the afternoon session, Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary‑General in the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented two reports, one exploring the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on people of African descent, and the second recommending measures to eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
In the subsequent dialogue, delegates denounced instances of racism and racial discrimination, with China’s representative underscoring the case of George Floyd in the United States and other deaths of African Americans as a result of police brutality. Cuba’s delegate pointed out that a country claiming to be a champion of human rights in fact carries out extrajudicial without explanation. Meanwhile, the representative of the United States cited reprisals against people engaging with the United Nations in 45 countries, from Afghanistan to Venezuela.
Rounding out the day, Marie Chantal Rwakazina, Chair of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action ‑ adopted at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance ‑ pressed States to adopt anti-discrimination legislation, hold offenders to account and provide compensation for victims.
Also briefing the Committee today were the Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 October to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.
Interactive Dialogues ‑ Internally Displaced Persons
CECILIA JIMENEZ-DAMARY, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, presenting her report (document A/76/169), said the number of people living in internal displacement because of armed conflict and violence reached 48 million globally at the end of 2020, the highest number ever recorded. Amid the increasingly complex nature of armed conflicts and generalized violence, it has become more difficult to enhance compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights. Political solutions have become more elusive and displacement increasingly protracted. Situations of conflict and violence can also be compounded by disasters as drivers of displacement and, since 2020, by the COVID‑19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects.
She went on to underline that preventing arbitrary displacement in line with international standards is the primary responsibility of States. However, “preventing arbitrary displacement does not mean preventing people from moving,” she explained. “Liberty of movement and freedom to choose one’s residence are rights protected under international human rights law.” Preventive measures must address the conditions that lead to displacement and protect people from being forced to leave their homes. Putting in place the appropriate legal, policy and institutional framework at the domestic level, in line with international law, is key to preventing arbitrary displacement, she emphasized, pointing to relevant treaties on international humanitarian and human rights law and, at the regional level, the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa ‑ also known as the Kampala Convention. Further, Governments should establish monitoring and early warning mechanisms that incorporate human rights and displacement risks.
She emphasized that prevention is relevant to all phases of displacement ‑ not only before it occurs. Humanitarian and protection measures prevent secondary displacement by creating the conditions for people to stay in safety in an area pending a solution to their displacement. States must therefore facilitate conditions for effective and safe humanitarian access by both international and local actors to populations in need. Moreover, a preventive perspective is important in finding durable solutions and engaging in development processes, she said, warning that return, relocation and resettlement programmes that do not meet the required standards may amount to arbitrary displacement. “Lack of political will, reluctance to acknowledge risks at early stages of crises and resource constraints can unfortunately divert actors from taking preventive measures,” she said.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, an observer for the European Union echoed the Special Rapporteur’s call “to prevent and avoid deportation and forced displacement of civilians under all circumstances, unless the security of civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand”. He asked about the number of Member States that still lack national focal points for internal displacement, about efforts to assist them and about best practices in terms of early warning mechanisms. Along similar lines, the representative of the United States said armed conflict, natural disasters and worsening climate change are driving record numbers of people to flee their homes, with the current global estimate of 55 million internally displaced persons representing “an alarming increase” of nearly 50 per cent over the past year alone. He asked about the steps United Nations agencies will take over the next year to mainstream the protection of ‑ and durable solutions for ‑ internally displaced persons.
Outlining a focus on solutions, an observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta said his organization provides displaced communities with shelter, food, medical and hygiene supplies, COVID‑19 vaccinations and personal protective equipment, along with medical and psychosocial assistance. She asked the Special Rapporteur to what extent the United Nations is engaging young members of internally displaced persons communities.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation recalled that any international assistance to help States address internationally displaced persons must be provided only with the consent of these countries, based on the principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality.
The representative of Syria called for tackling the deeper causes of displacement, such as terrorism, human rights violations, violations of the Charter of the United Nations and the imposition of unilateral coercive measures. The situation in occupied regions has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and she condemned the occupation of her country by Turkey and the United States.
The representative of Georgia said despite national efforts to meet the needs of internally displaced persons, they remain deprived of their fundamental right to return to their homes in the Russian occupied regions of her country. Unfortunately, no major changes were observed during the reporting period, she said, underscoring the importance of meaningful participation by internally displaced persons in peace processes as a way to resolve internal displacement.
Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, Austria, Switzerland, Armenia, Cyprus, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco and Norway.
Ms. JIMENEZ-DAMARY, responding, stressed the need for greater implementation of measures to protect internally displaced persons. Underscoring the importance of political will by leaders in the protection of internally displaced persons, she encouraged Member States to adopt laws and policies to that end. She also suggested designating focal points ‑ either from an existing administration ‑ or by establishing them outright. If focal points are established, it will encourage the institutionalized protection of internally displaced persons, she added.
She went on to stress the impact of the pandemic on the ability of displaced persons to access health services and vaccines, noting that many countries reported difficulties in ensuring the temporary security of internally displaced persons, due to their insufficient access. At the United Nations, she said it is time to enhance the regional monthly review mechanisms and advocated for a strengthened role for the resident coordinator in his or her engagement with the Government, to identify risks and ensure early action.
Trafficking in Persons
SIOBHÁN MULLALLY, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, presenting her report (document A/76/263), said that it focuses on the intersection of trafficking and terrorism, and the failure to protect the human rights of victims who have been trafficked by terrorist groups. Measures to prevent trafficking are limited and often ineffective, and impunity persists. Trafficking by terrorist groups serves multiple purposes, with some using it as a means to raise revenue, or as a war tactic, recruitment strategy or to achieve territorial control and to embed their networks within communities. Noting that the contexts of terrorism, conflict and forced displacement contribute to heightened risks of trafficking, these risks are “rooted in continuums of exploitation linked to structural discrimination, violence, poverty and exclusion”, she explained. “The structural, sex‑based discrimination, constituting gender‑based violence ‑ as a root cause of trafficking - is exacerbated in contexts of forced displacement, armed conflict and terrorism.”
She also highlighted that discrimination is linked to trafficking in persons and to terrorism. Persons at a greater risk of trafficking in conflict and terrorism settings include irregular migrants, stateless persons, non-citizens and asylum‑seekers, members of minority groups and internally displaced persons ‑ all of whom are also those most likely to experience discrimination. “It is a very serious concern that, where trafficking occurs in the context of terrorism, discrimination by States leads to a failure to identify victims of trafficking as such, and to consequent failures of protection”, she said. In addition, human trafficking is understood as affecting women and girls, in particular, and as being predominantly concerned with sexual exploitation. While men and boys are more likely to be viewed as autonomous agents, women and girls are more likely to be seen as vulnerable to being coerced into exploitation. The perpetuation of gender stereotypes in anti‑trafficking responses hinders the identification of victims and reinforces the invisibility of certain categories of trafficked persons, including men and boys. Children are targeted by terrorist groups for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour, she continued, as well as perpetrators or accomplices in criminal activities. Of particular concern is the impact on children of the denial of humanitarian access.
She said States must ensure that actions taken to address trafficking in the context of terrorism comply with international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and that human trafficking is not instrumentalized to enhance counter-terrorism measures that undermine rights. “Too often, where trafficking takes place in the context of terrorism, the testimonies of victims are questioned and the harms and trauma they have endured are denied”, she said. States must guarantee that trained professionals are engaged in identifying victims and potential victims and ensuring effective protection, including through non‑punishment of victims.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegates noted the need to help victims, with the representative of the United States asking the Special Rapporteur about members of marginalized groups and the best practices to assist those individuals. Racism and discrimination against minority groups and gender discrimination are among the root causes, he continued, noting that the administration of President Joseph R. Biden has established a task force to address the risk of trafficking among indigenous peoples. An observer for the European Union asked about measures that States should take so that victims can receive appropriate assistance. She also outlined the European Union’s new anti‑trafficking strategy, with a particular focus on women and girls, noting that such measures must be gender‑responsive and child sensitive. The representative of the Philippines outlined strategies to prevent the victimization of children by terrorist groups, who target those from indigenous communities. A council of elders and leaders has continually exposed the terrorists’ acts. The representative of Mexico meanwhile wondered how toxic masculinity affects trafficking by terrorist groups. It is crucial to distinguish between criminal groups and terrorist groups, she added.
Several delegations asked about trafficking in the context of the pandemic, with the representative of Liechtenstein enquiring how it has impacted women and children. The representative of Qatar said his country is preparing to convene a high-level event on 22-23 November, along with other States, on the commitment to fight to combat human trafficking during the pandemic.
Offering a differing view, the representative of the Russian Federation expressed serious concern about the work of the Special Rapporteur encroaching on that of the Security Council. His country has an interest in considering the problem of human trafficking and advocates for a balanced approach. Every State has the right to set up its own mechanisms that are ideal for it to combat the practice, he observed.
Also speaking were representatives of Switzerland, Luxembourg, Greece, Ireland, Syria, France, Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, Bahrain, Dominican Republic and China, along with a representative of the Sovereign Order of Malta.
Ms. MULLALLY, responding to the question about good practices, said there are normative frameworks, international law and policy guidance from United Nations agencies that should be implemented on the ground. In addition, victims need to be recognized as victims. Trained professionals should be stationed at border control points and elsewhere so that they can recognize victims of trafficking. There is a need to engage with military actors and peacekeepers so they have the skills to identify victims and refer them to protection.
On the Security Council, she emphasized that human rights must be integrated into the links between peace, development and humanitarian action. In the context of the pandemic, there are lower numbers of victims being identified as resources are directed elsewhere, she explained. It is also difficult for civil society to function. With children out of school and increasingly online, they are being further exposed to terrorist groups.
Contemporary Forms of Slavery
TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, presented his report (document A/76/170) on the role of organized criminal groups in contemporary forms of slavery, with the aim of shedding light on an under‑researched theme. He found that the involvement of these groups in contemporary forms of slavery is evident in all regions of the world. “Highly structured groups to loosely connected criminal networks actively commit these crimes,” he explained. Their activities extend beyond national borders, making it difficult for States to hold perpetrators accountable, while their use of modern technology, corruption and money‑laundering makes their crimes difficult to identify. Victims are often forced to engage in drug production, theft and forced begging, or subjected to slavery‑like practices like debt bondage.
He went on to stress that criminal networks often penetrate the legal economy, compounding the difficulties for law enforcement to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. Private actors may become complicit in contemporary forms of slavery through their actions or inactions. Drawing from his analysis of legislation in the areas of criminalization in contemporary forms of slavery, intelligence‑led law enforcement and financial confiscation of criminal proceeds in 193 Member States, he presented examples of best practices. For instance, many legislative frameworks for surveillance and interception of communications contain safeguards, like judicial authorization and oversight. In addition, States have been stepping up their efforts in undertaking financial investigations and criminal asset recovery.
Despite the progress made, he urged Member States to do more by enhancing labour inspections and reinforcing actions against corruption and obstruction of justice. While recognizing the usefulness of intelligence‑led law enforcement, he said there is still room to improve the safeguards against abuse through legislative means. Turning to financial investigations and the confiscation of criminal proceeds, he called on financial institutions to prevent money‑laundering transactions. Finally, he requested that the non‑punishment principle be extended to victims who are forced to engage in criminal activities and may be subjected to sexual or labour exploitation, in addition to the victims of human trafficking.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates praised the Special Rapporteur’s report, underlining the importance of addressing criminal organizations. In that context, Liechtenstein’s delegate highlighted the private sector’s role in preventing organized crime.
In line with the report, an observer of the European Union expressed concerns about the integration of organized crime into the legal economy, calling for stronger legislative frameworks to ensure effective access to justice, in particular for women and girls. The representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom also pointed to the issue of child labour, noting an aggravation of the situation during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
At the same time, China’s representative said Western countries are responsible for the causes of contemporary forms of slavery. The report contains misleading information, he said, expressing regret that the Special Rapporteur did not reach out to States before citing country examples. In the same vein, the Russian Federation’s delegate considered the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice a better platform for discussing this matter.
Mr. OBOKATA, in response, acknowledged the good practices implemented in several Member States, urging all nations to provide access and remedies to justice. It is critical for law enforcement authorities to build knowledge and understanding in order to design tailored solutions to local situations.
He agreed with the comments made about ensuring the participation of the private sector in efforts to prevent corruption and related crimes. Learning from each other is essential, he stressed, inviting countries and civil society groups to seek technical assistance through workshops and training. Turning to systematic law enforcement, he considered that criminal proceedings should be better reflected in sentencing.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York, presented two reports. The first ‑ the Secretary‑General’s report on the Programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent (document A/76/322) ‑ refers to the recent adoption of the General Assembly resolution establishing the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, a crucial achievement in addressing the gap within the United Nations anti-racism architecture. The report considers the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on people of African descent and on the global movement against systemic racism, particularly by law enforcement. It presents an overview of progress made in implementing the International Decade’s activities, she said, adding that much remains to be done, especially in the areas of justice and development.
She then drew attention to the Secretary‑General’s report titled, “A global call for action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow‑up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (document A/76/287), which recommends taking all appropriate measures to eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It also calls for implementing recommendations contained in the High Commissioner’s report on racial justice and equality. Finally, she presented the Secretary‑General’s report on “the right of peoples to self-determination” (document A/76/276), which provides a summary of developments relating to the realization of this right within by the main organs of the United Nations since the submission of the previous report (document A/75/240), demonstrating the United Nations engagement in efforts to realize the right to self‑determination. The report also summarizes related developments in the Human Rights Council and outlines recommendations by the Human Rights Committee.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the United States voiced concern over the military take-over of the transitional Government in Sudan, as well as reports of reprisals against people cooperating with the United Nations on human rights matters occurring in 45 countries, including: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Egypt, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. He registered disappointment that the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen was not renewed and urged the High Commissioner’s Office to increase reporting on violations in Yemen until a new mechanism is put in place. He asked how States can better address the risks to human rights defenders emerging through digital surveillance and online attacks.
In response, the representative of Cuba rejected the mention of his country by the United States, pressing that country instead to address the many challenges within its own territory. The country that claims to be a champion of human rights and gives lessons to Cuba is actually responsible for many abuses of those same rights, as documented: extrajudicial executions or acts of torture maintained for years, without any guarantee or explanation. The United States finances the change of legitimately established constitutional orders, destabilizes and imposes unilateral coercive measures, he warned, adding that if the United States was truly concerned about human rights in Cuba, it would have eliminated the blockade imposed upon it for more than six decades.
The representative of China stressed that people of African descent have long been victims of racism and racial discrimination. The tragedy of George Floyd highlights the urgency of combating racism globally, she said, calling on countries that engaged in and profited from slavery to demonstrate political will to bring justice to the victims. She opposed the abuse by the United States and the United Kingdom of the Third Committee platform to spread “political viruses”, stressing that the former has committed ethnic cleansing against “Indians”, while Asian Americans have been assaulted in public areas and police brutality has led to the deaths of African Americans.
Meanwhile, the representative of Iran expressed deep concern about country‑specific resolutions by the West as they are seriously detrimental to human rights and counterproductive to their promotion. Reiterating Iran’s commitment to protection of human rights, rooted in its historical, religious heritage, he called for a constructive dialogue between Member States and human rights mechanisms.
The representative of Algeria said the right to self‑determination has always been the driving force of liberation movements within decolonization processes. Similarly, the United Nations has always constituted the appropriate forum to complete the processes of decolonization through the full exercise of the right to self‑determination, including by the Palestinian people. She asked about activities the High Commissioner’s plans to carry out to ensure that the right to self‑determination is mainstreamed into its mandates.
Also speaking were representatives of Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Indonesia, India, Algeria, Latvia, Egypt and Morocco.
Ms. BRANDS KEHRIS, responding, stressed the importance of carrying out the Durban Programme of Action as well as maintaining focus on ending racism. Highlighting the need to treat all Member States equally, she drew attention to the legal architecture and human rights framework that are universal. Pointing to the digital surveillance or other digital aspects in the COVID‑19 environment, she drew attention to rights to privacy, participation, protection and safety of those who engage with the United Nations, adding that self-censorship and reprisals lead to diminished participation, and calling for a consistent approach to recording and preventing reprisals.
People of African Descent
DOMINIQUE DAY, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, presented her report entitled, “The urgency of now: Systemic racism and the opportunities of 2021” (document A/76/302), stressing that people of African descent face racism and structural discrimination worldwide. “Systemic racism is a public health crisis, just as COVID‑19 has become a racialized crisis”, she said. Noting that people of African descent suffer from a culture of denial, she underlined that “human rights are for everybody”.
She pointed out that the vaccine testing regarded as most successful and effective was developed by a woman of African descent in the United States, Kizzmekia Corbett, an accomplished doctor whose “excellence was unacknowledged until it became unavoidable”. She questioned whether “the next Dr. Corbett” would be able to access the COVID‑19 vaccine. Turning to the recent Human Rights Council report on “Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and People of African Descent” (document A/HRC/48/78), she expressed concern that people of African descent are subjected to environmental racism and disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. She urged States to protect the human rights of people of African descent who are at particular risk of environmental harm, noting that genuine climate solutions must also address historical inequities and racialized mindsets.
Turning to the new tools adopted by States, she welcomed the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) 10‑Point Reparation Plan, and more broadly, the decolonization of public spaces, schoolbooks and national memories, and the return of African cultural heritage. She praised the European Union’s anti‑racism action plan and launch of a “whole-of‑Government equity agenda” in the United States “that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face”. She similarly regarded the International Day for People of African Descent and establishment of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent as positive steps. She urged Member States to take unequivocal steps to tackle the root causes of systemic racism and to end impunity. In that context, she referred to civil society efforts to eradicate systemic racism locally and globally and pressed for funding and public recognition so they can continue their work.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegations underlined the importance of the report, with the representative of the United States stressing that the specific impact of COVID-19 and climate change on people of African descent should be recognized, requesting the Chairperson to provide best practices that promote access to health care and education. Similarly, Mexico’s representative pointed to initiatives his country has taken to support people of African descent while requesting equal vaccine distribution.
Recognizing the disproportionate impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on people of African descent is a priority, according to the representative of Cameroon. Brazil’s delegate meanwhile cited the commemoration of the Durban Declaration and the International Decade for People of African Descent as opportunities to step up efforts against racism.
An observer of the European Union reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment towards ending all forms of racism and discrimination, expressing satisfaction at the reference of its efforts within the report. The representative of China expressed regret that racial discrimination remains a challenge, urging the international community to make an “honest assessment” of the impact of colonialism.
Also speaking were representatives of Algeria, Japan and Morocco.
Ms. DAY, in response, welcomed questions on the means to approach this fundamental issue, noting that building knowledge in the areas of health care and economics would be a first step to understanding the magnitude of the discrimination against people of African descent. She also underlined the need to understand actions taken in a local context, inviting Governments to welcome country visits as a way to identify problems and their remedies.
Turning to the legacy of colonialism, she emphasized that racism involves decision‑making in all individual situations. She noted that vaccine equity was not achieved despite pledges of the international community, and more broadly praised the initiatives of athletes who use their bodies to promote racial equality.
Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
MARIE CHANTAL RWAKAZINA, Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, introducing her report (document A/76/287), said that during the eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Working Group, held in Geneva from 12 to 23 October 2020, members discussed the situation of racial discrimination worldwide, reviewed progress related to the activities for the International Decade for People of African Descent and proposed activities for commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, both of which were adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
She expressed concern that the COVID‑19 pandemic has disproportionately affected individuals and groups facing racism and exposed underlying structural inequalities. Systemic and structural racism exacerbate inequality in access to health care, leading to racial disparities in health outcomes and a higher mortality rate among people of African descent, indigenous peoples, migrants and other persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The widespread closure of schools caused an unprecedented disruption of learning for millions of children globally. Many children, particularly those facing racism, lack equal access to remote learning tools, the Internet or adequate parental support. States should ensure that online learning tools do not exacerbate existing racial inequalities.
She requested States to adopt comprehensive anti‑discrimination legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices on the grounds of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, providing appropriate penalties for offenders, as well as remedies and adequate compensation for victims. They should also address systemic racism and racial bias in the administration of justice systems, notably by designing effective policies to prevent, detect and ensure accountability for misconduct by law enforcement personnel motivated by racism. They should also prosecute perpetrators by launching independent investigations and ensuring accountability in cases of excessive use of force by police and other law enforcement officials.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegates referred to specific forms of discrimination, with the representative of the Russian Federation expressing his concern over the situation in Latvia and Ukraine, where discrimination related to minorities is brought to the level of State policy. “There is daily interference in people using their own language”, he said. The representative of Syria noted the rise of demagogues and extremist ideologists in certain States and the unleashing of a “tsunami” of discrimination and Islamophobia during the pandemic. The representative of China meanwhile noted that some States boycotted the high‑level meeting commemorating the anniversary and asked about the biggest challenge in the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
The representative of Algeria, referring to the previous dialogue, accused Morocco of not shouldering its responsibilities related to the colonization of Western Sahara, after which the representative of Morocco said it is unacceptable that Algeria recommends a racist policy against migrants in sub‑Saharan Africa.
Ms. RWAKAZINA replied that the Working Group is concerned by all forms of discrimination, including against linguistic and ethnic minorities. On the fact that not all countries participated in the twentieth anniversary commemoration, she encouraged all States to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
E. TENDAYI ACHIUME, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said her thematic report titled “Twentieth Anniversary of the Durban Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” highlights the important contributions of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to the human rights framework. Stressing that this ground‑breaking document explicitly fuses decolonial, anti‑racist and anti‑xenophobic commitments into a single human rights instrument, and shares a common lineage with other international conventions, she said several States nonetheless have signalled their intention to abandon the Durban process by boycotting the United Nations high‑level commemoration of its twentieth anniversary. These States ‑ among the greatest beneficiaries of colonialism, slavery and the Trans‑Atlantic Slave Trade - claim the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action is a “racist document” that must be discarded.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she explained, reiterating that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action condemns all forms of intolerance and reflects an international consensus affirming the rights of Israelis and Palestinians. It deplores antisemitism, neo‑Nazism and other forms of intolerance, and calls for an end to violence against Israelis and Palestinians. She cited resistance from some States to pay reparations for racial discrimination rooted in colonialism and slavery as another prominent motivation for mobilizing against the document. “Reparations are a matter of urgency and a matter of fundamental human rights,” she stressed. Recalling the “Black Lives Matter” uprising in 2020, she called on States participating in any form of boycott against the document to instead demonstrate their genuine commitment to racial justice and equality by implementing it.
Turning to her report on combating the glorification of Nazism, neo‑Nazism and related ideologies, she said it summarizes contributions from eight States on their implementation of General Assembly resolution 75/169. It outlines efforts to track and prevent hate crime, especially on the Internet, increase education on the horrors of Nazism and neo‑Nazism and ensure compliance with international human rights law. Among its conclusions, it recommends that States fully comply with article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, promote truthful accounts of the past and collaborate with civil society and international, regional and national human rights mechanisms to counter antisemitism and extremist movements.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Egypt described slavery and the slave trade, including the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as crimes against humanity, underscoring the need to address all forms of racism, discrimination and xenophobia.
The representative of the United States said no one should be prevented from reaching their full potential due to the colour of their skin. For its part, the United States amended its Constitution to address its “most glaring” forms of racism, he said, recognizing the indispensable role of civil society as partners in this regard. Civil society can help raise awareness and identify enduring ways to counter racism. He asked the Special Rapporteur about the actions that best combat racial injustice. The representative of Portugal meanwhile asked about the barriers to implementing the Durban Declaration and for ideas on how Member States can work together to overcome racism.
The representative of the United Kingdom stressed that antisemitism, anti‑Muslim hatred, Nazism and all forms of hatred must be eradicated. On a national level, the United Kingdom will continue to tackle these forms of hatred through its new Hate Crime Strategy. Internationally, the Government is committed to cooperate in research about the Holocaust. He asked the Special Rapporteur about the steps States can take to ensure that these abominable forms of hatred are not given space to grow.
The representative of Venezuela objected to criticisms launched by the United States, pointing to widespread exclusion, systemic discrimination and racist policies against Afro‑descendant and indigenous communities in that country. Pointing to discrimination against migrants of Venezuela who crossed the border for economic reasons, he said that in 2021 alone, more than 370 Venezuelan migrants have been killed in Colombia, while 800 Venezuelans have disappeared in that country in the last five years. For its part, Venezuela has hosted millions of migrants and never framed this situation as a “security issue”. He asked the Special Rapporteur about the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the increase of xenophobia and racism.
Also speaking were representatives of Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Canada, Mexico, Romania, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cuba, China, Armenia, India, Algeria and Morocco, as well as an observer for the European Union.
Ms. ACHIUME replied, describing the implementation of Article 1 of the Durban Declaration as “low‑hanging fruit”. She thanked the representatives of Portugal, Armenia and China for their questions on the best practices to combat racism, inviting them to use grassroots movements, since they are at the frontline of racial support.
Turning to online hate speech, she urged Member States to regulate content to avoid corporations making profits from online hatred. She emphasized once more the role of the Durban Declaration, which paves the way forward for Member States, inviting them to follow the advice of the independent experts.