Geneva, 21 March 2019
Mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the fight against racism, intolerance and discrimination. On 21 March of 1960, police killed 69 peaceful demonstrators against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville (South Africa). By proclaiming the Day in 1966, the UN General Assembly called on enhancing efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
Marking this Day in 2019, we witness the dangerous rise of extremist movements promoting populist and nationalist ideologies of racial superiority in different parts of the world. We are alarmed that political leaders and parties support and fuel the environment of racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance targeting migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and members of racial and ethnic minorities. The aggressive nationalism and populist discourse emphasize racial “purity” and makes extremely dangerous divide of “us and them”, “real” citizens and “foreigners”. This shocking trend is spreading with incredible speed particularly in US, UK, France, Netherlands, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy.
Modern history gives us heart-breaking reminders of consequences of intolerance for difference. The frightening rise in religious intolerance, especially anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar brought to incidents of hate speech, incitement to hatred and violence. The growing influence of nationalist Buddhist groups and the adoption of discriminatory laws by the Parliament further aggravated the situation of minority groups. The new laws with the objective of “protecting race and religion” – Religious Conversion Law, the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law, the Population Control Healthcare Law and the Monogamy Law – were enacted despite provisions violating human rights, including discrimination based on religious and gender grounds. Moreover, the revocation of “white cards” (Temporary Registration Cards) upon the President’s decree was an effective impediment to the participation of Rohingya community members due to lack of any form of identity document.
Whilst the national state and local government authorities carry out discriminatory policies, the security forces implement so called “clearance operations”. The Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) and the Border Guard Police Force of Myanmar implementing these operations have deliberately killed Rohingya civilians, including women and children, by grenades, random and targeted shootings, stabbings and throat slit, by beaten them up to death and burning them in houses. The most disturbing reports note cruelty as killing babies and small children, in many cases in front of the eyes of their raped mothers.
The recent tragedy in central Christchurch with fifty people killed and dozens injured in two mosques at Friday prayers has stricken New Zealand with shock and grief. We express our sincere condolences to the victims and condemn the horrific acts of the perpetrator. The immediate response of the Prime Minister Ardern in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s modern history is praiseworthy. The victim-oriented strong leadership of the PM Ardern with a soft touch of empathy and compassion sets bar high and gives an excellent example for world leaders.
The fundamental prohibition of racism and discrimination in international law is set forth by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone is entitled to all human rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Furthermore, the preamble of the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination clearly states that “any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere” and obliges state-parties to condemn any propaganda of ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination.
States have legal obligation to combat incitement to hatred and structures enforcing racist, nationalist and xenophobic ideas. We call on states to take bold action to implement anti-hate speech laws, including on-line, in compliance with international human rights law. It should be publicly recognized that populist, right-wing and extreme supremacist ideologies threaten racial equality and peace. Civil and criminal punishment of violators is not enough. Gun-laws should be reviewed. Educational programs to combat racism, discrimination and intolerance should become a must in every sector. Moreover, the corporate sectors should also engage in combat against racism, including technology companies. The UN should continue its current active discourse to hold states accountable to their international legal obligations.
• General Assembly resolution 73/262 of 22 December 2018 entitled “A global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”
• Human Rights Council resolution 36/24 of 29 September 2017 entitled “From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related Intolerance”
• New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (General Assembly resolution 71/1 of 19 September 2016)
• Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants in the context of large movements (A/HRC/33/67) and OHCHR web page with inputs thereto)
• OHCHR Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders (2014)
• Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General Recommendation No. 35 on combating racist hate speech (2013)
• Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34 on Article 19: Freedoms of opinion and expression
• Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (2001)
• Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the expert workshops on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred (A/HRC/22/17/Add.4)
• Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Tendayi Achiume, to the General Assembly on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (A/73/305)
• Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief (A/HRC/40/44)