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Ukraine: UN experts concerned by reports of discrimination against people of African descent at border

GENEVA (3 March 2022) - The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants note with serious concern ongoing reports of people of African descent and racial and ethnic minorities being subjected to discriminatory treatment as they flee Ukraine. They issue the following statement:

“We recognize the support shown to Africans and people of African descent seeking safety in neighbouring countries including by organizations or individuals of African descent. There have, however, been many reports of officials preventing international students of African descent and their dependents from crossing the Ukrainian border.

Several individual and media reports indicate regulation of Ukrainian trains, buses, as well as borders themselves, to deny or delay freedom of movement to people of African descent until all white migrants and asylum seeker have been accommodated. Others have indicated ongoing measures to force people of African descent to the back of queues fleeing the armed conflict.

Other reports indicate the racialised denial of entry for people of African descent into some neighbouring countries. Even where they have been granted entry to third countries, people of African descent have reported restrictions including visas issued for two weeks or fewer.

The treatment reported — racial preferences in the administration of life-saving services, racial restrictions on freedom of movement, racial differentiation in access to immigration status — violates the prohibition on racial discrimination. This prohibition extends to any treatment, whether it is formal, informal, or ad hoc.  

The prohibition against racial discrimination is a fundamental right of international law with applicability across situations of conflict and peace. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stated that under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), regardless of immigration status, it is incumbent upon States Parties to protect the rights of all persons and ensure that immigration policies and/or practices do not discriminate against persons on the basis of their race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin. 

Even in armed conflict, it is essential that all States uphold these provisions and not detract in any way from the rights and fundamental freedoms recognized under the ICERD, including to preserve the right to life, liberty, dignity, and safety of all people. All human beings are equal in dignity and worth. Measures that differentiate between people, on any ground, especially on the basis of race or ethnicity, are not only legally unjustifiable but morally and ethically repugnant as we embrace our common humanity and fight for fundamental freedoms.

It is essential that equal treatment is upheld for all, including people of African descent seeking to depart from Ukraine.  This includes by agents of the State, especially border officials. We wish to restate the recent call by our multiple mandates to respect and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons affected by the armed conflict. We also reiterate the recent call made by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, that international solidarity is extended without any discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity. The human rights of Africans and people of African descent must be respected and upheld.”  

On 28 February, UN human rights experts issued a statement calling for an end to Russian aggression against Ukraine and the urgent protection of human rights.


*The experts: The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (Ms. Dominique Day, current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms Catherine S. Namakula, Vice-Chairperson, and Ms. Miriam EkiudokoMr. Sushil Raj and Barbara G. Reynolds); the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Ms. Tendayi Achiume;  and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Felipe González Morales.

The Working Group and the Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, 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. 

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Christina Saunders (+41 22 928 9197/christina.saunders@un.org). 
For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 79 444 7578 / jeremy.laurence@un.org)

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExpertsand UN Treaty Bodies experts on @UNTreatyBodies.

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