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Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

 "Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent"

Closing remarks by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant-Secretary-General for Human Rights

22 September 2021

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have gathered today to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and to renew our commitments to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Racism and racial discrimination attack the very core of a person’s dignity. History has proven, time and again that, when allowed to take root, racism, discrimination and intolerance shatter the very foundations of societies and damage them for generations.
The road to a world free from racism is long and arduous - it requires persistence by all stakeholders – but the resolve we have heard today affirms the urgent need to accelerate our action and deepen our determination.

Racism exists everywhere: a fact which has been recalled, on so many occasions, by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As a truly global concern, we need to continue discussing racism at the global level, complementing national and regional measures as well as the numerous recommendations made by different human rights mechanisms.

As we continue to pledge to never forget past atrocities and human rights violations rooted in racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, we should seize and build on the new momentum of global, public engagement.

Today, Member States have reaffirmed that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, as well as the Political Declaration1 of the tenth anniversary of its adoption together provide a comprehensive United Nations framework and solid foundation for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

We hope that this outcome will boost our efforts towards better, full and universal implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. To achieve this, enhanced cooperation and participation of governments, local authorities, victims’ groups, grass root organizations, national human rights institutions, and international and regional organizations is crucial.

Part and parcel of our renewed efforts is the need to continue our constructive dialogue on reparations. As the High Commissioner pointed out in her report to the Human Rights Council in July this year, reparations are essential for transforming relationships of discrimination and inequity and for investing jointly in a stronger, more resilient future of dignity, equality and non-discrimination for all.

As underscored today, we need to acknowledge and continue to analyse the systemic nature of racism, with a closer look on how it impacts specific groups, including Africans and people of African descent, indigenous peoples, Asians and people of Asian descent. When doing this, attention to intersecting forms of discrimination, including on the basis of gender and religion, is imperative.

To effectively uproot systemic racism, it is imperative to address existing power structures and institutional practices and remove discriminatory legislation, rules and practices that have exacerbated or perpetuated inequality of opportunities and of results.

As the Secretary-General emphasized here this morning, racism penetrates all areas of society. Therefore, we need to address racism not only in the criminal justice system but also beyond, including in health, education, employment, housing and social security. The causes and consequences of racism in all areas are interrelated, generating significant economic, social and educational inequalities.

There is thus a pressing need for a holistic, multifaceted and comprehensive approach to addressing and eliminating racism and all forms of racial discrimination. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made evident the urgency of living up to the commitments of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action in order to deliver the promise of equal rights for all, at all times.

Building forward better, we must work towards ensuring that no one is left behind, that universal health coverage and social protection schemes are extended to all, and that all marginalized groups participate fully and have equal access to new information and communication technologies. Any impediments in this regard could increase the scope and magnitude of racial discrimination.

I also wish to underline the need to adhere to the victims-oriented approach of the DDPA and enhance it even further by listening more carefully to victims. Only by understanding their needs better, can we respond promptly and effectively so that their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Our journey ahead is full of challenges, but also of new hopes and opportunities. As highlighted today, the international anti-racism architecture has been enhanced. We look forward to supporting the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, the new mechanism to advance racial justice in law enforcement and the implementation of the four-point Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality, recently launched by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In addition to these important new initiatives, we should not forget our commitments to advance the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent and to continue supporting the work of the Durban follow up mechanisms.  
The United Nations System remains your steadfast supporter and partner in achieving our common goal of ending racism. The UN Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minorities is stepping up its actions at Headquarters and in the field. And as emphasized in the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, only by eliminating all forms of discrimination and addressing inequality in all its dimensions can we reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

We can make progress only if we stay united against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

This is our common responsibility and duty - to past, present and future generations.

Thank you.


1. A/RES/66/3