Video by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet
22 March 2021
I am pleased to join you in opening this Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination.
Racism violates everything we stand for and everything we do.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed just how pervasive this threat is. And how deeply rooted are discrimination-fuelled inequalities in our societies.
The disproportionate health impact and massive loss of lives of people of African descent, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized and disadvantaged groups during the pandemic were powered by decades of unequal health care and inadequate living conditions.
The overwhelming economic and social burdens they are suffering reflect systemic obstacles in access to education, employment and other opportunities.
Generation upon generation of deprivation, discrimination and injustice shaped the fractures that the pandemic revealed, exploited and amplified.
Fractures that each and every one of us have a responsibility to help mend. And for that, we must spare no effort to eliminate racial discrimination.
Indeed, I would say discrimination is at the core of a great many, if not all, human rights violations.
So, it is clear to me that addressing the challenge of racial discrimination and the social and economic inequality founded in it is a very important way to recover better from this crisis. To recover into societies that are truly – and sustainably – more equal, resilient and just.
I welcome this Global Forum as a multi-stakeholder response to the recent upsurge in racial discrimination everywhere, as well as its goal to produce a Global Call against Racism.
In this effort, it will be important that civil society from all regions have the opportunity to participate. Moreover, all stakeholders should support and create the civic space for young people to connect, contribute and reach out to their peers around the world.
And I welcome UNESCO’s global efforts against racism and look forward to continuing our longstanding collaboration on issues of human rights, racial discrimination and discrimination of any kind.
Education is also key to our efforts. In collaboration with UNESCO, academic institutions and civil society organizations, my Office has been carrying out research on the historical legacy of enslavement and on the contributions of people of African descent to society. We have also worked on a blog about the cultural heritage of people of African descent and the publication Slavery, Resistance and Abolitions: A Plural Perspective.
Systemic racism needs a systemic response, which cannot be done without acknowledging and addressing the linkages between its current manifestations and the lack of accountability and redress for the legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade and colonialism, as well as successive racially discriminatory policies and systems.
Indeed, this link between past and present forms and manifestations of racism and racial discrimination was explicitly made in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by consensus twenty years ago.
It was at the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that States acknowledged that “slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so”.
They agreed on the need to achieve justice for victims of the human rights violations, which result from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Acknowledging this, and calling for recognition, justice and development, the General Assembly established the International Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015 to 2024.
As the Coordinator of the Decade, I would like to reiterate my major recommendations: to urgently conclude the establishment of the Permanent Forum on people of African descent and to develop a draft United Nations declaration on the promotion and full respect of human rights of people of African descent in full collaboration with people of African descent.
Last year, the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, USA, led to global protests against racism and racial discrimination and prompted important discussions on the legacies of enslavement and colonialism.
It also triggered an urgent debate at the Human Rights Council last June -- and the subsequent adoption of a resolution mandating my Office to prepare a comprehensive report on systemic racism; human rights violations against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies; accountability and redress for victims; and Government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests.
Just last week, I updated the Human Rights Council on the preparation of my Office’s report, which will be presented to the Council in June.
This year’s mid-term review of the International Decade for People of African Descent and the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action are important opportunities to revitalize our common actions against racism. And the planned Global Call against Racism can help us in implementing these important frameworks worldwide.
In that spirit, I wish you fruitful discussions.