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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance at the 2nd National Conference: Malaysia on the Path to Non-Discrimination, Making it Possible”

Kuala Lumpur, 19 November 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be among you today in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. I am very grateful for the invitation to attend this important national conference and I would like to congratulate you all for your work and contributions to the fight against racial discrimination and related intolerance. I see cooperation with civil society actors as key in the fulfilment of my mandate. I already had the privilege to meet with civil society actors in Europe (Brussels and Geneva) in and it’s an honour to meet with members of the civil society in Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I stated before the Human Rights Council in June, racism is a complex and multidimensional issue that requires a comprehensive approach to address its political, economic, social and cultural aspects. In such a comprehensive approach the importance and value of preventive measures cannot be overemphasized. Indeed preventive measures are essential in challenging and correcting attitudes and ideas that are based on racial and cultural hierarchies. We must think more about prevention in light of some of the key contemporary global challenges such as conflicts and terrorism. Indeed it has been recognized by the UN General Assembly that ethnic, national and religious discrimination are among the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. Furthermore, early signs of racism that may lead to conflicts and grave human rights violations, including genocide and ethnic cleansing are not always sufficiently considered and assessed. Yet, the impact of preventive measures may be decisive in avoiding the emergence and resurgence of ethnic conflicts and tensions leading to dramatic loss of lives and other human rights violations.

Poverty also remains a major contemporary challenge in the fight against racism. As stated in the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference, poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion and economic disparities contribute to vulnerability of particular groups and the persistence of racist attitudes and practices. Measures to prevent racism should therefore also focus on the promotion of equality in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, and take into account the convergence between racism and poverty especially in the context of the current global economic and financial crisis.

Indeed the negative impact of the crisis in terms of budget cuts in social benefits, rising poverty and unemployment has, in some countries, contributed to an increase in extremist political parties, movements and groups inciting racial discrimination and hatred. In some countries their electoral success has increased with some gaining additional seats in national parliaments. In this context vulnerable groups including, inter alia members of minorities, people of African descent, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, have been the victims of hate crimes. I wish to recall that impunity for crimes motivated by racism, leads to their recurrence. Ensuring justice for the victims is therefore essential. Those responsible for racist crimes should be prosecuted and adequately sanctioned and the victims provided with effective remedies. Furthermore, it is of concern that mainstream political parties have in some instances, also embraced the openly racist and nationalistic rhetoric of extremist political parties. I therefore reiterate that respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law should be the cornerstone of any programme or activity developed by political parties. I emphasize the importance of public denunciation of expressions of intolerance, racism and xenophobia by party leaders. Indeed political leaders and political parties have an important responsibility to explicitly and strongly condemn all political messages that disseminate ideas based on racial superiority or hatred and that incite racial discrimination or xenophobia. They are therefore encouraged to promote multiculturalism within their societies, as well as tolerance and mutual understanding and respect.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am concerned that xenophobic attacks on foreigners, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is a predictable trend in many parts of the world particularly when the economic situation deteriorates, and this should be carefully addressed by all actors. Indeed as stated in my report to the Human Rights Council the burden of the negative consequences of the crisis has been manipulated by politicians against vulnerable groups, including foreigners, migrants and irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. These groups have been labelled as a threat to the standard of living of the general population and blamed for the rise in unemployment and the State debt. Some mainstream political parties, similarly to extremist political parties, have repeatedly, based their electoral campaigns on the rhetoric of national identity, threats posed by foreigners and migrants, including irregular migrants, to the economy, employment, security and national identity.

As stated in the Durban Declaration xenophobia against non-nationals particularly migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism and human rights violations against members of such groups (paragraph 16).

In this regard I am concerned over human rights violations in some regions against migrant workers including those who are in an irregular situation. Indeed they are often employed in dangerous and poorly paid jobs and exposed to ill-treatment, exploitation, trafficking and smuggling, which aggravate their vulnerability. Furthermore in some regions children work as domestic workers under hazardous conditions which interfere with the enjoyment of their rights including the right to education.

It is therefore important that States enact laws and establish procedures to safeguard the rights of migrants, including irregular migrants, and migrant domestic workers. Migrants should be guaranteed an effective access to legal remedies and obtain adequate reparations for any damage suffered as a result of racism and xenophobic behaviour. This means that States have to undertake measures to ensure that they are aware of their rights and the assistance they can benefit from in the host country.

Furthermore I recall that the Durban Programme of Action urges States to review and revise, where necessary, their immigration laws, policies and practices so that they are free of racial discrimination and compatible with States’ obligations under international human rights instruments (paragraph 30 (b)). I also encourage States, as stressed in the DDPA, to participate in regional dialogues on migration and invite them to consider negotiating bilateral and regional agreements on migrant workers which comply with international human rights standards; and to design and implement programmes with States of other regions to protect the rights of migrants (paragraph 182).

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would also like to highlight the current trend in some countries to consider matters related to asylum in the context of the fight against irregular migration and prevention of abuse of the asylum system. As a result of this approach, restrictive measures continue to be adopted and implemented in some countries. The manner in which the detention policy applying to foreigners, including asylum-seekers apprehended for unlawful entry or stay is being implemented in some countries is a major challenge. Cases of harsh conditions of detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, including ill-treatment in immigration detention facilities, prolonged periods of administrative detention without access to effective remedies to challenge the detention are particularly concerning. I am also concerned that in some instances asylum-seekers and refugees women have been prosecuted for immigration-related offences and detained in immigration detention centres or deported for this reason. It is crucial that States ensure that their legislation and policies are in line with international human rights standards and integrate a gender approach in this context. I recall that the Durban Programme of Action urges States to ensure that migrants, regardless of their immigration status, detained by public authorities are treated with humanity and in a fair manner, and receive effective legal protection; and that the police and immigration authorities treat migrants in a dignified and non-discriminatory manner, in accordance with international standards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Combating and preventing racism is a primary responsibility of States. In this regard, I encourage States to adopt key measures including national action plans that incorporate prevention strategies; collection of ethnically disaggregated data; establishment and support to anti-discrimination specialized bodies and mechanisms; human rights training for State agents and members of the judiciary; and special measures in conformity to international human rights standards. However these measures cannot be effective if not implemented in an inclusive manner. Indeed meaningful and effective participation of discriminated and marginalized groups in decision making processes, economic, social, cultural, political and public life is essential. The effective participation of women who face multiple forms of discrimination and the integration of a gender perspective is also of utmost importance. Furthermore various partners should be involved in the elimination of racism, including civil society organizations, political parties, national human rights institutions, the media and private actors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While prevention is key in the elimination of racism, equal emphasis should be laid on enforcement. Both are complementary. In this regard as stated in my report to the Human Rights Council, monitoring and reporting on progress in addressing the challenges of racism, is important for meaningful prevention and enforcement. States have an obligation to those within their jurisdiction as well as to the international community to report on such progress particularly through the universal periodic review process of the Human Rights Council and reports to the relevant treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As highlighted before the General Assembly last week, the Internet is a new complex challenge that States face in the prevention and elimination of racism. Indeed it is undoubtedly one of the most important vehicles by which individuals exercise their right to freedom of expression. Insidiously, however, the Internet has also become a new arena for the spreading of racist ideas, dissemination of racist ideologies, incitement to racial hatred and recruitment of new members by extremist political parties, movements and groups. Notwithstanding this exploitation of the Internet, I am of the view that the Internet and social media can be a useful preventive tool in combating racism. I therefore encourage States to use the opportunities provided by new technologies, including the Internet to combat racism and promote equality. Promoting freedom of speech and diversity of voices using the Internet remains an effective approach to combating racism. States should therefore adopt effective and concrete policies and strategies to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all.

I also believe that a possible way of countering racism on the Internet is through content diversification, in particular by promoting local content. I would like to emphasise that any measure taken to counter racism on the Internet should comply with international human rights law. In particular they should not unduly limit the right to freedom of expression and opinion. Any restriction, control and censorship of the content disseminated via the Internet should be done on a clearly defined legal basis and in a manner that is necessary, proportionate and compatible with States’ international human rights obligations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude I would like to recall that preventing and combating racism and racial discrimination also requires a solid legal framework. As such, States should ratify and incorporate into their legislation the relevant international human rights instruments including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Furthermore I encourage States in cooperation with civil society to develop and implement policy measures that would duly take into account the structural dimension of racism and racial discrimination; consider the inter-relation between racial discrimination, socioeconomic marginalization and political exclusion; and pay due attention to the situation of vulnerable groups. In this regard I reiterate that any policy measure should ensure that all the victims of racism are treated equally and receive the same attention and protection. It is indeed essential to avoid establishing any hierarchy amongst the different manifestations of discrimination, even if they may vary in nature and degree depending on the historical, geographical and cultural contexts. All forms of racism and discrimination must be addressed with the same emphasis and the same determination.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that education in general and human rights education, in particular, remains a key tool in countering racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination. I would like to emphasize that given the role of education as an enabler for the enjoyment of other rights, promoting the realization of the right to education for victims of racism is also an important means in combating and preventing racism, challenging racist stereotypes and attitudes, and aiding mobility from poverty and exclusion. I therefore, encourage States to continue to invest in education in order to transform attitudes and correct ideas of racial hierarchies and superiority. In this regard I encourage in particular, the study of minorities’ languages and the teaching of their history and cultures. Sports could also play a key role in promoting respect for diversity, tolerance and mutual understanding. I recall that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and the Outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination should be used by States as a comprehensive tool in the implementation of their whole anti-racism agenda.

I thank you for your attention.