Header image for news printout

General Assembly on Durban Challenges and Achievements High Commissioner for Human Rights statement

Distinguished President,
Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

Fifteen years ago, in Durban, the world came together to work to end racism. Never before had leaders sought to construct a comprehensive global strategy to address the roots of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

People of African and Asian descent; migrants, Roma, indigenous peoples and minorities; discrimination against people with HIV-AIDS, and women, who face multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination and exclusion – all these millions of victims were the focus of the Durban conference. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and the Outcome Document, also addressed the profound injustice of religious intolerance – including Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, both of which are shockingly increasing in many countries.

This 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration is an opportunity to consider how far we have come. But given the disgraceful persistence of discrimination across the globe, it must also be an occasion to renew our commitment to raising new generations free of prejudice and bigotry, by taking further action.

Unquestionably, there has been progress over the past 15 years. Many national action plans and anti-discrimination laws have been adopted or upgraded to comply with Durban recommendations. Those frameworks have assisted governments to push back discrimination at the national level, and have enabled countless people to fight for equality. A dynamic network of civil society actors evolved in preparation for the World Conference, and today these organisations form a strong and impressive array of active voices.

As the Declaration states clearly, slavery and the transAtlantic slave trade "are a crime against humanity and should always have been so". Their legacy of violence, fear, deprivation and searing prejudice continues to be borne by people of African descent. Historically and in the present day, people of African descent are and have always been major contributors to development and the prosperity of their societies – but still today, they are frequently deprived of equal access to opportunities and services. I count the proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and the adoption of its Programme of Activities, among the achievements of the post-Durban process.

But there have also been challenges. Most alarming among them is the resurgence of racial discrimination and xenophobia in Europe and elsewhere. Migrants are becoming scapegoats for deeper problems. Violence targets foreigners and others based on their real or perceived race, colour, ethnic origin or religion. The archaic injustice of prejudice still stalks through modern life, generating daily humiliations and oppressions for individuals, deepening divisions between communities, and holding back millions of people from realising their rights.

Now more than ever, States must focus their attention on fulfilling their responsibility to protect the most vulnerable sectors in society. We must be vigilant, to ensure that the stress of factors such as rising unemployment is not displaced into racist harassment, abuse, discrimination and attacks. We must not condone the manipulation of such sentiments for political gain, or their manifestation in official policies.

Millions of people around the world continue to suffer the injustice and indignity of racial discrimination every day. It is urgent that States honour the commitments made at Durban, and their obligations under international human rights law, particularly the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which has been ratified by 178 States.

Human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated. They are universal because everyone is born with and possesses the same rights. They are indivisible and interdependent because all rights – political, civil, social, cultural and economic – are equal in importance and none can be fully enjoyed without the others. These rights apply to all of us equally, and when the human rights of one group are denied, that damages the dignity and equality of us all.

Thank you