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On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

 United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Ms. Tendayi Achiume
Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

23 March 2020

Racism, xenophobia and related intolerance remain global challenges. Forms of racial violence, exclusion, and hateful supremacist rhetoric continue to afflict communities, and structural and institutionalized forms of discrimination also remain pervasive. In this context, the human rights system provides a vital resource—principled and practical guidance on how to combat discrimination and intolerance.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it is fitting and urgent to call attention to the landmark Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (“DDPA”), adopted by the United Nations in 2001. Next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the DDPA, and thus an important milestone for the commitments made at Durban. As of today, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have yet to formally commit to high-level convenings to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the DDPA. UN member States must take all the necessary steps to ensure proper commemoration globally. In this regards, we encourage Member States to implement the concrete recommmendations that have been made by the relevant Durban mechanisms and civil society advocates to convene a high-level plenary event at the level of Heads of State and Government during the High-level segment of the 76th session of the General Assembly in 2021; and to host a commemorative meeting and hold events at the Human Rights Council. In doing so, Member States should make concrete and sufficient financial commitments towards the preparation and commemoration of the twentieth anniversary, and ensure the participarion of civil society organisations and the relevant human rights mechanisms. States must involve civil society representatives in the organization of the activities to be implemented for the twentieth anniversary. Their effective participation in the observance of the anniversary is essential, and States must provide them with adequate resources.

A big barrier to the implementation of the DDPA is its lack of visibility—UN member states have not done enough to mainstream this instrument within their human rights efforts and to invest the necessary resources to educate the public and its insitutions about the DPPA as a comprehensive guide for combatting racism. People cannot use an instrument that they do not know exists, and the DDPA cannot be effective if it is not used.

As a result, we strongly urge Member States to adopt a multi-year programme and provide the programme with sufficient resources to raise the visibility and accessibility of the DPPA in collaboration with civil society organisations and communities subject to racism and xenophobia. States must make the DDPA a central pillar of human rights education and implementation, and in that way demonstrate their resolve to combating all forms of racism and to realizing every individual’s inherent human dignity.

The DDPA remains a profound milestone in articulating the harms of racism and racial discrimination, both historically and in the present, with an important emphasis on the structural forms of racism and racial discrimination that to this day require urgent attention. It provides a blueprint for concrete action to address racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, and marks a fundamental development in human rights. This blueprint must be central to contemporary efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. Its guidance is relevant for long-term global initiatives such as implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and for emergency responses such as ongoing international efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, Member States must ensure momentum in the implementation of the commitments made in Durban. As stated by the General Assembly in its resolution entitled “United against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” 1 adopted at the high-level meeting for the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the DDPA, the primary responsibility for effectively combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance lies with States.

Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume (Zambia) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in September 2017. Ms. Achiume is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. She is also a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descentwas established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts:  Mr. Ahmed Reid (Jamaica) current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms Dominique Day (United States of America); Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa), Mr. Ricardo A. Sunga III (the Philippines) and Mr. Michal Balcerzak (Poland). The Working Group is part of the Special Proceduresof the United Nations Human Rights Council.

1 Available at https://undocs.org/en/A/66/L.2