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Human Rights Council holds general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance

Human Rights Council
MIDDAY

25 March 2014

The Human Rights Council during its noon meeting heard the presentation of the reports of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards to strengthen and update international instruments against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all their aspects, and the Inter-Governmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, followed by a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
 
Abdul Samad Minty, Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards to strengthen and update international instruments against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all their aspects, briefed the Council about the fifth session of the Committee, which had considered a questionnaire and summary on the three topics of xenophobia, national mechanisms and procedural gaps.  It had also heard updates on relevant global and regional developments and agreed on the five topics that would be discussed at its sixth session. 
 
Mohamed Siad Douale, Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, said that the Working Group had devoted its eleventh session to a discussion on sport and racism, with a special event on racism and football; on women and racism: good practices and experiences on the evaluation and monitoring of the situation of women; and finally on equal participation in the decision-making process in the fight against racism. 

In the general debate on racism and racial discrimination, speakers welcomed the proclamation by the General Assembly of the International Decade for People of African Descent, effective from 1 January 2015 until 31 December 2024, and recognized progress made in the fight against racism.  Delegations regretted that acts of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance were on the rise and were becoming increasingly unrestrained in political speeches and on the internet.  A speaker warned against the existence of too many mechanisms concerned with the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which diluted the substance and dispersed the efforts and so led to loss of focus on the essential.

Speaking in the general debate were Ethiopia (on behalf of the African Group), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Yemen (on behalf of the Arab Group), United States, Morocco, Algeria, Cuba, Russia, China, Brazil, Venezuela, Turkey, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Switzerland and Ukraine. The Council of Europe also spoke.
 
International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Pasumai Thaayagam, Amuta for NGO Responsibility, Centre for Inquiry, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, International Buddhist Relief Organization, International Humanist and Ethical Union, World Barua Organization, International Muslim Women’s Union, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, United Nations Watch, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development , International Educational Development, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, Society of Iranian Women Advocating Sustainable Development of Environment, Social Service Agency of the Protestant Church in Germany, Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Agence Internationale pour le Developpement, Le Collectif des Femmes Africaines du Hainaut, Vivekananda Sevakendra-O-Sishu Uddyan, Indian Council of South America, European Union of Jewish Students, World Muslim Congress, and Association of World Citizens also took the floor.
 
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  During its afternoon meeting, it will hold interactive dialogues with the Independent Experts on the situations of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire and in Haiti.
 
Documentation
 
The Council has before it the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards on its fifth session (A/HRC/25/69).
 
The Council has before it the revised report of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action on its eleventh session (A/HRC/25/68/Rev.1).
 
The Council has before it the report of the group of independent eminent experts with the mandate to follow up on the implementation of the provisions of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action - Note by the Secretariat (A/HRC/25/70).
 
Presentation of the Reports of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards and of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration
 
ABDUL SAMAD MINTY, Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards to strengthen and update international instruments against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all their aspects, briefed the Council on the outcome of the fifth session of the Ad Hoc Committee which was held from 22 July to 2 August 2013.  During the session the Committee, in line with Human Rights Council resolution 21.30 considered a questionnaire and summary on the three topics of xenophobia, national mechanisms and procedural gaps, including legal and judicial frameworks and practices, substantive and procedural measures in line with the mandate of the Ad Hoc Committee, and possible recommendations.  With the input of several experts in the relevant fields, and participation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, civil society, intergovernmental organizations and specialized bodies, substantive discussions took place on those topics.  The session also heard updates on relevant global and regional developments.  At the end of the session the Ad Hoc Committee agreed on the five topics that would be discussed at its sixth session, listed in the report before the Council.  Based on the consensus achieved during the session, Mr. Minty said he hoped that the Committee would continue to focus on the plight of victims in order to ensure unconditional respect for human dignity.
 
MOHAMED SIAD DOUALE, Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, said that the Working Group constantly tried to rationalise its time and improve its methods of work, using the forum as a place of best practices.  The Working Group had decided to dedicate a standing item to the implementation of recommendations adopted in previous sessions and measures aimed at improving the combat against racism.  Mr. Douale noted that the engagement to combat racism was reinforced by the adoption in 2011 of the Political Declaration contained in General Assembly resolution 66/3, adopted to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  The Working Group had devoted its eleventh session to a discussion on sport and racism, with a special event on racism and football, on women and racism: good practices and experiences on the evaluation and monitoring of the situation of women, and finally on equal participation in the decision-making process in the fight against racism.  Mr. Douale appealed to Member States to participate meaningfully and constructively in the discussions, and to display a positive spirit of dialogue and compromise. 
 
General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
 
Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, conveyed sincere gratitude to the General Assembly for its proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, effective from 1 January 2015 until 31 December 2024.  The 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance recognized that people of African descent living in the diaspora had for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement which negated the essence of victims.  To this present day people of African descent continued to be victims of the cascading legacies of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism.  While the African Group recognized progress made in the fight against racism, it said more needed to be done to address contemporary manifestations, which were still prevalent in many parts of the world.
 
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the stark reality was that to live in a world free from religious discrimination, racial prejudice and xenophobia was still a dream that had not yet translated into reality. Increasing instances of manifestations of collective hatred and discrimination were on the rise.  Discrimination on the basis of one’s religion was the new form of racism.  Unfortunately Muslims in many parts of the world were victims of that scourge.  The Organization said without criminalizing racial discrimination and religious hatred they could not live in a world where human dignity and respect for diversity was cherished and valued.   
 
Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Norway, Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Armenia, said the celebration a few days ago of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was an important reminder to everyone to act more resolutely to tackle all forms of intolerance, racism and xenophobia.  Today’s debate was even more relevant during times of economic crisis when the risks of rising racism and xenophobia, fuelled in part by increasing unemployment and frustrations, became very real.  The European Union had closely followed the discussions of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent despite its concerns regarding the scope of the draft Programme of Action developed by the Group.
 
Yemen, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Arab Group attached great importance to the work of the Council on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and welcomed the declaration of a decade for people of African descent.   The Arab Group noted that the draft programme for the international decade had been set up by the Working Group on People of African Descent and had been also adopted by the Council.  While some progress had been achieved, there was still a long way to go in order to eliminate remaining manifestations of racism. 
 
United States recalled that President Obama had commemorated Martin Luther’s speech and noted the progress achieved by the United States in the combat against racism, and the Government remained committed to this end.  The United States had implemented a number of measures, including the partnership with UNESCO to establish a coalition of cities to promote inclusive policies and social rights, job training, reduce unemployment and review criminal justice policies.  The United States had been working hard to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans to make college more affordable.
 
Morocco said it had ratified international instruments to combat discrimination, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and had taken actions in accordance with the Convention.  In attention to its national unity and the promotion of social cohesion, all groups had equal rights without discrimination.  Regarding legislation, racial discrimination had been criminalised and was punishable with fines and prison.  The labour code also prohibited discriminatory practices and extended to political practices, as reflected on legislative reforms concerning the press and discrimination through public media.
 
Algeria said it had participated in various sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee since its establishment and fully supported its mandate.  Algeria regretted that acts of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance were on the rise and becoming increasingly unrestrained in political speeches and on the internet.  Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees were most exposed to those phenomena.  The implementation of the Durban Programme of Action was crucial to combat racism in all of its forms and manifestations – the Durban Document was more relevant today than ever before and deserved broad dissemination. 
 
Cuba said the World Conference against Racism in Durban continued to represent a pivotal landmark in the fight for equality for all human beings.  Sadly today entire nations, ethnic groups, races and communities were discriminated against.  Xenophobic and anti-migrant political parties were on the rise.  Humiliating treatment was reserved for some minorities who were subject to humiliating treatment.  A number of Western powers lacked political will in terms of the implementation of the Durban Programme of Action.  There were obvious gaps in international law to protect people from racism.  The most recent observations of the Inter-Governmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Decade for People of African Descent were extremely valuable. 
 
Russia warned of the dangerous phenomenon of the spread of ultra-right-wing ideologies, and the growth of neo-Nazis in Europe.  Every year a number of European Union countries, including Lithuania and Ukraine, hosted gatherings of right-wing and neo-Nazi groups.  That should be unacceptable for countries that preached anti-right-wing ideologies.  The anti-constitutional armed coup in Ukraine was led by a political party which was accused in 2012 by the European Parliament of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.  Today, representatives of that party held key positions in Kyiv, including the Deputy Prime Minister.  Furthermore, an even more dangerous neo-Nazi party had come to power in Ukraine and was using intimidation and violence to influence Government decisions. 
 
China thanked the Working Groups for their reports and said that the Convention constituted a milestone for the combat against racism and intolerance.  China was concerned about the prevalence of systematic discrimination in a number of groups.  In some countries, where women were already a minority group, racial discrimination constituted an aggravating situation.  China called on States to take measures to address discrimination and violence against women and girls so as to fully guarantee their rights, and called for the implementation of a zero tolerance policy.
 
Brazil said that more than half of its population were people of African descent and called upon States to engage constructively with the Intergovernmental Working Group and to develop a programme of activities.  In 2012, Brazil had approved the General Law of the World Cup which forbade racist and xenophobic actions by fans during the events and promoted racial equality in the jobs created for the World Cup.
 
Venezuela said that the collection and dissemination of statistical data at the national level was crucial to evaluate periodically the situation of persons and groups victims of racism and racial discrimination.  Victims of racism were in a difficult situation and that was why a new international normative framework should be elaborated which would address new forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance. 
 
Turkey said that the need to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance had become more urgent than ever.  Discrimination did not go away by itself, it must be challenged.  Turkey reiterated that the Council’s resolution 16/18 and its pursuing resolutions provided the necessary tools to combat intolerance, discrimination and Islamophobia, while the Istanbul Process complemented that set of ideals with effective implementation.
 
Tunisia said it hoped that the report of the Intergovernmental Working Group would be translated as soon as possible into the working languages of the United Nations so the lessons learnt and experience contained therein could help launch national campaigns to counter and condemn the scourge of racial discrimination.  The new constitution of Tunisia rejected all forms of racism and set out that the State protected the right to freedom of religion and belief and also ensured the neutrality of mosques and places of worship.
 
Sri Lanka said as a country that was home to several ethnic and religious communities it noted with interest the many pertinent recommendations contained in the report of the Intergovernmental Working Group.  Sports could be a powerful catalyst in addressing racism, xenophobia and related intolerance as it had the capacity to reach beyond the boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity and religion. 
 
Iran said unfortunately in recent years a wave of intolerance, negative stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of religion had been witnessed.  In his recent General Assembly statement, Iranian President Rouhani expressed his alarm about the increasing wave of racism, xenophobia and extremist statements and the catastrophic effects they had which often led to violence. 
 
Council of Europe invited all to join the Week of Action it had organized to mark the International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and to undertake some of the proposed actions, such as: read 21 shocking facts about racism, report all instances of racial hatred and discrimination to the Observatory, have a look at the collection of images, and create your own Carte No to Hatred, and others.
 
Switzerland said that the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance was among its priorities, both nationally and internationally.  Switzerland warned against the existence of too many mechanisms concerned with the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which diluted the substance and dispersed the efforts and so led to loss of focus on the essential.
 
Ukraine drew attention to the deteriorating human rights situation on the Crimean Peninsula and the discrimination against the minorities by Russia; all this had caused the flow of populations who found refuge in the interior.  Russia should stop hiding the truth and allow access to all observer missions to Crimea and ensure respect of the rights of all nationalities living in Crimea.  The best way to stop human rights violations in the Peninsula was to stop the illegal occupation by Russia.
 
International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, speaking in a joint statement, welcomed the agreement on its suggestion of the theme of the Decade for People of African Descent ‘recognition, justice, development’.  The Movement expressed concern over the non-implementation by the United Nations Secretariat of several recent Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions on outreach activities. 
 
Pasumai Thaayagam expressed deep concern over the escalation of religious intolerance in Sri Lanka, which, despite its diversity, was driven by an increasing trend in radical Buddhist nationalism and saw an alarming increase in acts of violence against non-Buddhist religious communities, including the Muslim Tamil community, mosques and Muslim-owned businesses.  The Council must end impunity and restore fundamental freedoms in Sri Lanka.
 
Amuta for NGO Responsibility said instead of marking the end of apartheid in South Africa and a new era of equality the main legacy of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was that the anti-racism conference itself became a vehicle for racism against Israel.  Its final declaration was the infamous anti-Zionist resolution which called for complete international isolation of Israel.  The Council was urged to bring that tragic chapter in the history of human rights to a close, 13 years too late. 
 
Centre for Inquiry said that discrimination of all forms must be addressed and this included discrimination systematized within cultures.  Discrimination, in particular against women, minorities and based on sexual orientation, was most commonly grounded in vague notions of tradition, dignity and honour.  The Council should re-examine sources of discrimination.
 
Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy said discrimination on the basis of race, colour and religion was on the rise, and the discriminatory treatment of Dalits and other lower-caste Hindus in India had been in practice for centuries.  The international community and civil society organizations had to give utmost importance to the elimination of discrimination and hatred on any basis. 
 
International Buddhist Relief Organization said that the position of the Government of India was quite mystifying as it considered that discrimination based on caste fell outside the scope of Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.  Instead of taking absolute measures to end caste-based discrimination in practice, it engaged in futile debate on challenging the definition of racial discrimination as referred to in the Convention.
 
International Humanist and Ethical Union said despite the Government of India’s lip-service paid for decades to its eradication, manual scavenging – a euphemism for collecting human waste, often with bare hands – remained the daily lot of tens of thousands of Dalits in India, 98 per cent of them women.  To force people into that kind of work amounted to a crime against humanity.  The reason for the practice lay in the deeply rooted Indian caste system. 
 
World Barua Organization spoke about the plight of millions of Dalits in India, known as ‘untouchables’.  The international community had failed to play its part in persuading the Government of India to end that institutionalized discrimination.  In 2010 the United States State Department issued a human rights report on India which highlighted some shocking details of the on-going caste-based discrimination. 
 
International Muslim Women’s Union spoke about discrimination in education and drew the Council’s attention to a survey which showed that over 67 per cent of school buildings in Indian-occupied Kashmir were occupied by the Indian army and paramilitary forces.   The heavy presence of the military in residential areas and nearby schools has serious ramifications, including sexual violence, insecurity, abuse and other harassments. 
 
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence said cultural diversity was based on the differences of individuals in ethnicity and religion, and lack of respect for this diversity could be the basis of discrimination, injustice and the promotion of xenophobia.  Recognition for cultural diversity of Muslim minorities could play a constructive role in the elimination of xenophobia, which was an obstacle in the way of development and threatened peace, security and human rights. 
 
United Nations Watch asked when Pakistan would end the prosecution of minority Shiites.  Systematic persecution of other Islamic minorities and Christian minorities were being witnessed, including women on death row for so-called blasphemy. Furthermore, when would Iran respect the General Assembly’s call to end harassment and persecution of religious minorities?
 
Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that the manifestation of all forms of racism and xenophobia was incompatible with the standards of the European Union.  It was thus intolerable that such incidents could be observed in the European Union.  It was up to Member States to deal with racism and xenophobia in their penal codes.  Whatever nationality, religion or law, it was only together that these could be fought. 
 
International Educational Development raised the issue of identifying “racist regimes” for the purpose of application of Optional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions in certain armed conflicts that involved ethnic nationalities.  The Council should ask the Special Rapporteur on racism to fully investigate the situation of armed conflict against racist regimes in light of the principle of self-determination. 
 
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme said that since its adoption on the agenda of the General Assembly in 1967, the issue of racism remained the most politicized subject.  The non-governmental organization congratulated the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of additional standards to combat racism and urged a number of United Nations agencies and bodies to work towards the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
 
Society of Iranian Women Advocating Sustainable Development of Environment said that the word Islamophobia was a very political term which had clearly been coined by think-tanks in the West.  For years, it had shown Islam in very cruel light, which was contrary to the true nature of Islam.  The Society was ready to arrange a meeting between many cultures to better know each other.
 
Social Service Agency of the Protestant Church in Germany drew the Council’s attention to the human rights situation in the north-eastern states of India which were inhabited by around 270 indigenous communities who for over 55 years had faced the drastic consequences of a law which was known as Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 which entitled the Indian army and paramilitary forces to arrest, search and shoot people just on suspicion.  It would be a long statement to list all of the atrocities, including mass killings, committed in the framework of this act. 
 
Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik expressed its concern over the situation of Afghan migrants and asylum seekers living in Iran, who counted almost three million and whom almost two-thirds had no legal status.  The community was discriminated against in various ways, including huge restrictions on their freedom of movement, being shot while attempting to cross the Iranian border, and children of intermarriage between Afghans and Iranians were not recognized and were forbidden from enrolling in Iranian schools and therefore left without an education. 
 
Agence Internationale pour le Developpement said racism, xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination based on religious belief had deep roots and needed to be combatted by political will and domestic legislation.  Racism was dangerous not only to human rights but to society.  Over 160 million people in India were considered untouchable.  Concrete steps must be taken to end the suffering of the Dalits and the Indian caste system. 
 
Le Collectif des Femmes Africaines du Hainaut said that over the last three years there had been a debate in the halls of Geneva about Sri Lanka, reconciliation and accountability.  Unfortunately the official narrative, as far as the Tamil nation was concerned, ignored the actual nature of the problem.  The Tamil struggle today was about the survival of their people against genocide by the State to destroy their sovereign national existence in the northeast.
 
Vivekananda Sevakendra-O-Sishu Uddyan said that the Tamil people were being subjected to a long-term genocide.  After the end of the genocidal war, many places of worship had been attacked and destroyed in the Tamil homeland.  A genocidal land grab was going on in the Tamil homeland.  There was an ideology behind this ongoing genocide and the global community was urged to focus on this serious issue.
 
Indian Council of South America said that discrimination against indigenous people at the United Nations continued despite having three mechanisms that were so weak that there was no follow-up or implementation process for conclusions and recommendations on past or current reports.  The non-racist, equal and non-discriminatory inclusion of indigenous peoples in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had been a struggle from day one. 
 
European Union of Jewish Students said that a few days ago, Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor, had died aged 110, but the lessons learned from her life must live to eternity.  While newspapers continued to be dominated with reports of human rights atrocities, such as discrimination against Uganda’s homosexual community and intimidation of Ukraine’s Jews, the international community must realize that they had an added responsibility in the battle against human rights violations.
 
World Muslim Congress said that many in the western world were currently living in a state of fear of Islam, but this threat was imagined rather than real.  Unfortunately, the repercussions of this irrational fear of Islam were not only affecting individual Muslims but were also infiltrating into foreign policy decisions worldwide.  States and religious leaders should partner to allow the emergence of societies that would embody ideals.
 
Association of World Citizens said the international community should successfully place human rights at the heart of the development process.  The rights of women should be once and for all recognized as human rights.  The crucial role of non-governmental organizations was to support the victims and they played a critical role in the field to provide victims with solidarity. 
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