GENEVA (29 November 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon held a thematic discussion on racial discrimination in today’s world: racial profiling, ethnic cleansing and current global issues and challenges.
In her opening statement, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, said that racial discrimination was complex and one response did not fit all. Responses which did not take on board the intersectionalities with other forms of oppression were limited and insufficient.
In her welcoming remarks, Yvette Stevens, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that structural racism and discrimination occurred at all stages and levels of the administration of justice, including in legislation, law enforcement, courts and tribunals, and in detention facilities.
The panellists were Wai Wai Nu, Director of Women Peace Network; Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner of Australia; Nimalka Fernando, Chair of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism; Gay McDougall, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; and Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
Wai Wai Nu, Director of Women Peace Network, drew attention to institutional discrimination of minorities in Myanmar, noting that the expulsion of the Rohingya had been described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner of Australia, said that despite the fact that some 85 per cent of Australians embraced multiculturalism, racism persisted. Persons from non-English background suffered from racism more acutely than others.
Nimalka Fernando, Chair of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, shared the experience of Sri Lanka and noted that the failure to build a modern nation State continued to nurture ethnic and religious divisions, including the spread of hate speech and intimidation.
Gay McDougall, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, discussed the phenomenon of racial profiling, stating that in societies where racial or ethnic communities were deeply divided, it was often a conscious tool of humiliation.
Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said that the most important challenge was that racism and prejudice were deeply rooted in mentalities and went back to the history and first encounters between people of African descent and people from the European continent in Africa.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers highlighted the persistence of law enforcement, security and border forces in subjecting persons to stops, searches and identity checks based on their appearance. Other concerns included the level of violence suffered by young black men and the high incarceration rate of black women; the racial profiling experienced by the Roma communities; the use of anti-terrorism laws to target migrants, asylum seekers and certain ethnic and religious groups; the persecution of religious and linguistic minorities in various countries; and the conflation of race, ethnicity and social status.
Speaking were Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Madheshis Association, Institute of Afrodiasporic Studies, Global Migration Policy Associates, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial, Norwegian Centre Against Racism, Ahwaz Human Rights, Riga Kurdistan News Agency, Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights, Indigenous Peoples and Nations Coalition, a representative of a Coptic grass-root organization, Foundation for Research and Support for Indigenous Peoples of Crimea, Norberto Wesa, Pavee Pont Traveller and Roma Centre Ireland, Macedonian Helsinki Committee, Geneva for Human Rights, Papuan Human Rights Defenders Network, Lisea Batista, Human Rights Law Centre, CREOLA, Zeviad Guetano and David Lopez.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 30 November, at 3 p.m. to start considering the combined twentieth to twenty-third periodic reports of Belarus (CERD/C/BLR/20-23).
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, said that hierarchies of oppression served to divide and distract the oppressed. There could be no doubt about the persistence and targeting of racism towards people perceived to be from Muslim backgrounds. Racial discrimination was complex and one response did not fit all. Responses which did not take on board the intersectionalities with other forms of oppression were limited and insufficient. There was intersection between racism and women’s oppression, often evident in sexualized and violent forms, including but not only during times of conflict. Responding also demanded that all looked to other initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compacts on refugees and on migrants, given the barrier that racism was for all migrants and refugees, women, men and children. Sidestepping racism structurally and institutionally, as well as individually, would not address it or eliminate it. Ms. Crickley encouraged the audience to see it and experience it.
YVETTE STEVENS, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance had been increasing all over the world. Was the rise of extremist political parties, movements and groups to blame? Were Member States giving those phenomena the attention they deserved? Structural racism and discrimination occurred at all stages and levels of the administration of justice, including in legislation, law enforcement, courts and tribunals, and in detention facilities. The worst manifestations of racism today existed in the form of ethnic cleansing. There existed a high prevalence of racist and xenophobic hate speech in all regions of the world and those represented a significant contemporary challenge for human rights. Due to the compound nature of hate speech and hate crime, there continued to be a lack of statistical data and under-reporting on the numbers of victims of hate speech. The victims of racism and racial discrimination could suffer from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on age, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, disability, birth or other status.
Some Member States were reluctant to address discrimination against people of African descent and had refused to launch the Programme of Activities of the Decade for People of African Descent. Some high level personalities had even openly advocated that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a thing of the past that should be forgotten. The recent events in Libya had shown that blacks were still under threat. Member States should fully and effectively implement their obligations arising under international law, particularly the non-discrimination clauses in the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Ms. Stevens concluded.
Statements by Panellists
WAI WAI NU, Director of Women Peace Network, drew attention to the events in the Rakhine state in Myanmar and the fact that some 700,000 Rohingya had to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh within a span of six months. The situation had been described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. It had taken place due to many reasons, one of them being discrimination based on ethnicity, religion and social status. Discrimination was becoming more and more normal in Myanmar – in schools and institutions. It had become normal to discriminate against people of other ethnicity or race with impunity. Ms. Nu said that her family had been arrested not only because of their political activity, but also because they belonged to a minority. After seven years of imprisonment, Ms. Nu had finished her law degree, but could not get it recognized because her citizenship card had been revoked. That exemplified a form of discrimination suffered by minorities in Myanmar. Ms. Nu called on Myanmar to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
TIM SOUTPHOMMASANE, Race Discrimination Commissioner of Australia, said that the discussion was very timely given the global resurgence of xenophobia and racism. It was essential that people and States showed resolve in countering that trend because racism ran contrary to the universal values of equality and tolerance. Australia was a multicultural and diverse society; nearly half of Australian society had parents born abroad. Multiculturalism meant that there was no one typical and authoritative way of being Australian. Some 85 per cent of Australians believed that multiculturalism was good. Not many countries with large migrant populations could show such strong support for diversity. Nevertheless, racism persisted in Australia. Persons from non-English background suffered from racism more acutely than others. Far-right political groups now enjoyed sympathetic platforms in public media. Racial profiling was one manifestation of discrimination in Australia, and those most affected by it were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as Muslims and people of African descent. Those from migrant background struggled in the labour market. During the past four years there had been attempts to weaken hate speech laws, but they had failed. Laws were not enough; there was a need for educational measures against racism. The challenge of racism remained in Australia because there was a problem of achieving reconciliation with indigenous people. Particularly difficult to overcome were benign forms of racism.
NIMALKA FERNANDO, Chair of International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, shared the experience of Sri Lanka largely within the context of a South Asian country that struggled to deal with the creation of a new nation since independence in 1948. The inability to constitute a national State recognizing pluralism and equality in power sharing had resulted in a full-scale war. With the democratic change of the Government in 2015, the country was now moving slowly towards truth, justice, accountability and reconciliation. The establishment of the majority Singhalese language as the official language in 1956 had left all those who could not read it or write it helpless. Although Tamil had become an official language in 1987, the country was still struggling to implement it effectively. Despite the country’s religious diversity, the current Constitution gave Buddhism the foremost position. The failure to build a modern nation State continued to nurture ethnic and religious divisions, including the spread of hate speech and intimidation that went unpunished. The end of the 30-year long war in 2009 had not ended the conflict. Fear of each other had not been dispelled. The Prevention of Terrorism Act had been used as a counter-terrorism measure which disproportionately targeted the Tamil community. Ethnic and religious conflicts in Sri Lanka had deeply rooted causes in class, caste, gender, religious and ethnic issues.
GAY MCDOUGALL, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, discussed the phenomenon of racial profiling, which occurred when police or other people with power used generalizations based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin to subject individuals to stops, searches, harassment, intimidation and often arrest without warrant. In societies where racial or ethnic communities were deeply divided it was often a conscious tool of humiliation. Racial discrimination in law enforcement became an indication of the marginal status of groups who were discriminated against and a signal that they would likely suffer racial discrimination in their other interactions with the State. Although contexts varied greatly, racial profiling was a practice that had been identified in countries across the globe. Profiling was not just about the bias of an individual officer; it was about institutional decisions to police whole communities disproportionately. Counter-terrorism and concerns about border security had combined with increasing anti-immigration sentiments to be a further driver of profiling. Racial and ethnic profiling occurred at points of entry into States where customs and border agencies could force certain individuals or groups to undergo additional security checks and interviews. Profiling was prevalent in criminal justice systems where there was often an over-representation of minorities in detention. Those practices violated three of the most fundamental principles of human rights: the right to non-discrimination based on race or ethnicity, the right to equality under the law, and the guarantee of due process of the law.
MARIE-EVELYNE PETRUS BARRY, Member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, explained that the Working Group had a mandate to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent and to submit recommendations on the design, implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent. The first challenge was that racism and prejudice were deeply rooted in mentalities and went back to the history and first encounters between people of African descent and people from the European continent in Africa. The dehumanization of African people had been used to organize their deportation and enslavement. People were not always conscious about how prejudiced they were and thus they had difficulties to recognize that racial profiling was not normal behaviour. The Working Group had found several forms of racial forms of racial profiling during its country visits. During its visit to Germany in February 2017, the Working Group found that racial profiling by police officials was endemic and that the lack of an independent complaint mechanism at the federal level fostered impunity, with no redress for victims. Prosecutors and judges should receive specialized training in the identification and characterization of racist hate crimes, racial profiling and discrimination against people of African descent. In Canada, the Working Group was concerned about the over-representation of African Canadians in the criminal justice system, which could be attributed to racial bias at all levels of the system. Turning to good practices, Ms. Petrus Barry said that the United Kingdom was the only European country that collected disaggregated data on ethnicity in stop and search practices. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination could encourage the production of data and continue to advocate for the gathering of disaggregated data on age, gender, origin and level of education.
Brazil regretted the persistence of law enforcement, security and border forces in subjecting persons to stops, searches and identity checks based on their appearance. Another concern was the level of violence suffered by young black men. Brazil thus fostered measures of social inclusion and awareness raising. Migrants and minority groups had been particularly affected by racial profiling through counter-terrorism measures. Racial profiling could negatively affect how minorities accessed their economic, social and cultural rights.
Haiti regretted the revolting situation in Libya. As the first independent black republic in the Western hemisphere, Haiti had continued to play its liberating role on the diplomatic front. It therefore vehemently condemned the inhumane and degrading treatment of African migrants in Libya. Those responsible should be held to account, as well as all those guilty of trafficking in human beings.
Cuba reminded that the use of biased profiling had already been discussed in several United Nations human rights bodies. The international community should further improve the various existing bodies in order to move forward. The Working Group on the Implementation of the Durban Declaration had identified concrete targets in that respect. In Cuba racial profiling was absolutely illegal.
ANWAR KAMAL, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, read some comments received through social media (#fightracism), namely proposals on how to effectively fight racism. Some of the proposals addressed the detention and abuse of indigenous children, and holding political leaders responsible for hate speech.
Madheshis Association reminded that Nepal as a member of the Human Rights Council did not care about protecting the human rights of its own citizens. The police had carried out extrajudicial killings, imprisonment and suppression of peaceful demonstration of Madhesi youths who were forced to migrate to the Gulf countries to work in unfavourable conditions. Due to the lack of international pressure, the Government of Nepal had continued to suppress the rights of the Madhesi minority.
Institute of Afrodiasporic Studies requested the Committee to address the crisis in Venezuela and its ethnic perspective which had not been addressed so far. People of African descent particularly suffered during the crisis in which access to medical supply and food was severely affected. The Committee should also consider the rising expressions of racial hatred in social media.
Global Migration Policy Associates highlighted the issue of migration and racial profiling. The rise of conflation of race, ethnicity and social status was particularly dangerous. In the North American and European context the presumed nationality was often a proxy for racial profiling and racism. The treatment of migrant communities who were considered cheap and easily removable was of particular concern. White expats were not considered migrants just because they were not black. The criminalization of migrants legitimated exclusionary paradigms. The question of nationality discrimination should be moved up the human rights agenda.
Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial presented ethnic profiling of Roma in the Russian Federation. Roma had been arbitrarily arrested and had had their passports taken. Local authorities claimed that Roma settlements were epicenters of contagious diseases. Ethnic profiling also concerned migrant workers from the Caucasus region. They were additionally controlled by the Ministry of the Interior because their region was seen as troublesome. The official Russian rhetoric had created animosity towards the Crimean Tatars and had portrayed them as terrorists and Islamists.
Norwegian Centre against Racism focused on racial profiling of minorities in Norway, particularly of the youth and Roma. The treatment of asylum seekers and migrants by the immigration police was becoming rougher. Racist discrimination was reported in schools, public transport and police. Those of immigrant background reported being frequently stopped by the police. That contributed to distrust in the police.
Ahwaz Human Rights drew attention to under-represented ethnic minorities worldwide. At least one minority in every country was not represented or was persecuted. For example, two thirds of Iran’s population was made of non-Persian ethnic groups. Minorities in Iran suffered from unemployment and illiteracy because their mother tongues were not respected.
PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, noted that the attacks on and violence against African people in Libya should warrant a special investigation. He reminded of the guidelines for racial profiling which had already been developed.
Riga Kurdistan News Agency emphasised that the United Nations policies against Iran negatively affected all minorities in Iran. Shouldn’t the international community protest against such policies? The international community should reflect on the consequences of such policies, which were imposed on Iran by certain countries. Many people who were ill in Iran had died because of the sanctions imposed on Iran, and many young people had been deprived of opportunities.
Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights said that no one was born a racist. Racism was the result of the environment and human actions. The solution was clear: a false culture had sprung and civil society, Governments and universities should all work together to eradicate that false culture. Cultural and economic under-development contributed to the propagation of racism. Economic and cultural development could reduce racism and discrimination.
Indigenous Peoples and Nations Coalition noted that most of the Americas had been subject to ethnic cleansing and genocide where courts had operated under the motto of “colonizing while white.” There was a huge gap in how indigenous peoples could identify racism.
A speaker for a Coptic grass-root organization who preferred to remain anonymous reminded that mass killings and migration were the result of institutional racism and socio-economic exclusion. The exclusion and violence against the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt was a largely overlooked crisis. They had been historically marginalized and scapegoated. Coptic women and girls were targeted for rape and forced conversion. The organization urged the international community to address the early signs of what could be an ethnic cleansing in Egypt.
Foundation for Research and Support for Indigenous Peoples of Crimea highlighted the plight of indigenous peoples in the Russian-occupied Crimea, noting that it seemed that the Russian Federation was preparing a genocide of indigenous peoples there. The organization pointed out to the persecution of human rights defenders and the destruction of indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage.
Norberto Wesa referred to the situation of racial discrimination in Cuba in the past 30 years and increased inequalities between those who had economic opportunities and those that did not. There was a need for Cuba to undertake efforts to implement the Decade of People of African Descent.
Pavee Pont Traveller and Roma Centre Ireland drew attention to the exclusion of Roma and travellers in Ireland. It had taken 30 years to recognize that group as a minority. The work of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had enhanced that work enormously. Anti-terrorism measures were used to profile communities.
Macedonian Helsinki Committee highlighted racial profiling of Roma and refugees by the Macedonian national police. The Government had decided to start racial profiling of Roma in response to the request by the European Union in order to prevent them from traveling to European Union countries. Some 370 hate crimes had been registered in the country.
Geneva for Human Rights drew attention to human rights violations in West Papua in Indonesia. Despite some short-term improvement, the situation continued to deteriorate and the survival of indigenous peoples in West Papua was at risk.
Papuan Human Rights Defenders Network noted that the West Papuans were subjected to racial profiling by the Indonesian police. Their culture was endangered and they experienced difficulties in accessing health, food and education.
Lisea Batista noted that Brazil had the highest number of homicides in the world, which did not affect everyone equally. The most frequent victims were black youth. Law enforcement officials were responsible for a significant percentage of the killings of young black men. The logic of impunity was a reality as police officers were frequently not held accountable.
Human Rights Law Centre highlighted the deliberately cruel detention regime established by the Australian Government in the Nauru and Papua New Guinea migrant processing centres where they suffered various types of violence and neglect. Australia had created a humanitarian crisis at the doorstep of the international community.
CREOLA underlined the high rate of incarceration and precarious prison conditions for black women in Brazil.
Zeviad Guetano drew attention to acts of discrimination and hate speech against the Gypsy community across Europe and in Spain. The Gypsy population was stopped 10 times more by the police than the rest of the population.
David Lopez highlighted the killing of indigenous leaders in Colombia, as well as the displacement of indigenous communities in the country. The United Nations had already called on Colombia to abide by its international obligations to protect indigenous peoples. Mr. Lopez called for setting up a working group to assess the consequences of 60 years of civil war in Colombia.
WAI WAI NU, Director of Women Peace Network, noted that structural and institutional discrimination had to be addressed, and that all laws and policies had to be reviewed.
TIM SOUTPHOMMASANE, Race Discrimination Commissioner of Australia, said there were many sources of racism: fear, ignorance, arrogance and privilege. Some education of the sentiments was therefore required, as well as laws to set attitudes.
NIMALKA FERNANDO, Chair of International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, asked why the international community had to continue to speak about racism and discrimination. All political and religious leaders and citizens had to go back to their consciousness. Where did the notion of supremacy of one human being over another come from?
GAY MCDOUGALL, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said that the discussion was proof that it had to take place again. It had created a sense of solidarity against the common scourge of racism.
FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, reminded that the foundation for the Committee’s work was the Convention, the Durban Declaration, and the International Decade for People of African Descent. Victims of racism remained the same: minorities, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and migrants. With respect to racial profiling, legal systems had to be bolstered across the world. The Committee had to be extremely cautious in upholding human rights because many States combatted terrorism. As for Libya, the Committee was preparing a statement on the situation of people of African descent in that country. With respect to ethnic cleansing, the Committee had drawn up indicators and it would deal with that issue even in States that had not ratified the Convention.
JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, added that everyone had to work together in the fight against racial discrimination. Racism was structural.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked all the participants and panellists who had shed light on racial profiling and ethnic cleansing from Libya to Myanmar.
For use of the information media; not an official record