Today, we celebrate the millions of voices around the globe who relentlessly – and courageously – fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
They confront immense barriers, in societies where racism and discrimination deeply permeate social structures and institutions.
Their bravery is often met with xenophobia and hate speech. They face countless obstacles to their full participation in society.
And far too often, their own lives are endangered simply because of the colour of their skin, their ethnic affiliation, their religious beliefs, or where they were born.
Powerful global movements against racism are shifting the status quo. The wave of worldwide protests against racism and racial discrimination prompted by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 is a testimony to the power of people and solidarity.
I welcome the considerable efforts that are being undertaken around the world to address racism, and I am encouraged by the progress that has been made.
Yet still today, millions of people – including Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, migrants, and national, ethnic and linguistic minorities – continue to be confronted by racism, racial discrimination, inequality and exclusion. This can often take the form of Islamophobia, antisemitism, religious discrimination and intolerance, affecting Muslim, Arab, Jewish and other communities around the world.
Racism affects all areas of their lives. It prevents millions of people from enjoying all their human rights.
My Office has also long expressed concern about harmful narratives against migrants and refugees – narratives which evoke fear, racial superiority and fuel racial discrimination, hatred and violence. This hatred is often fed by political discourse, or by the media. Toxic narratives destroy our social fabric. They destabilise our common values.
In times of peace – and especially in times of conflict – authorities, politicians and the private sector bear special responsibility to refrain from, confront and prevent incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence of any sort, including in the online sphere.
All manifestations of racism must be immediately addressed and stopped.
We are moving too slowly. It is vital – and urgent – that we unite to accelerate the pace in the fight against racism and racial discrimination.
The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action – the UN’s blueprint to combat racism globally – remains more relevant than ever to guide us in this fight.
States also need to honour their obligations and commitments and actively make use of international instruments to help them devise laws and policies to address racism and racial discrimination.
Nevertheless, there are still protection gaps that need to be addressed without delay by adopting additional standards.
The newly established Permanent Forum of People of African Descent will soon start operating and advise this Council on matters related to people of African descent. It will also contribute to the elaboration of a United Nations declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent.
Last year, I presented to this Council a Four-point Agenda Towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality, which also provides a number of important recommendations and a clear path for action.
States must listen to those who face discrimination and stand up against racism – and promptly act on their concerns. This cannot be a purely tokenistic effort. Ensuring activists’ and communities’ meaningful and effective participation and representation at all levels of decision-making is a fundamental step in the fight against racial discrimination.
States must also provide a safe environment for people who fight against racism and who choose to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Crucially, States and societies must address the complex legacy and lasting consequences of past forms of racism and exclusion, including colonial exploitation, enslavement and the trade in enslaved Africans. These crimes affected generations of women, men and children, stripping them of their humanity.
It is time to deliver reparatory justice.
The Secretary-General has repeatedly stated that our diversity is our strength. It is not a threat.
Only by embracing our differences will we achieve progress towards real change. Only by taking every voice into account will we advance towards sustainable human development, leaving no one behind.
Over 60 years ago, in Sharpeville, South Africa, the police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass law.”
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed to remind us of the horrors which racial discrimination can cause.
Today – and every day – we must say “never again” and stand in solidarity with all victims.
Collective action is powerful action.
Together, let’s raise our voice and stand up against racism.
Never again. Thank you very much.