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GA/12365
22 September 2021
Seventy-sixth Session, 5th & 8th Meetings (AM & PM)

World Leaders Vow Accelerated Fight against Racism, as General Assembly Adopts Text Marking Adoption of Durban Declaration, Action Programme

Let’s Turn Tide on Intolerance, General Assembly President Says, as Secretary-General Hails Movement for Racial Justice, Equality

World leaders, gathering at United Nations Headquarters today, vowed to accelerate the fight against racism in their respective countries, also renewing their commitment to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action – a landmark anti‑discrimination framework adopted 20 years ago.

Commemorating the twentieth anniversary of that action, in Durban, South Africa, the General Assembly adopted, without a vote, the Political Declaration by Heads of State and Government and representatives of Member States.  By that text, they proclaimed their strong determination to mobilize political will at the national, regional and international levels, and to accelerate momentum to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance - and the protection of the victims - a high national priority.

Further, Heads of State and Government resolved to pursue the common goal of ensuring the effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including victims in all societies, while continuing to promote respect for human rights and enhance democratic governance, rule of law, independent judicial institutions and the fight against impunity, nationally and internationally.

By other terms, they called upon all States, the United Nations system, as well as international and regional organizations - and invited all relevant stakeholders, including parliaments, civil society, private sector and academia - to fully commit themselves to intensifying their efforts for the elimination of all racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to continue cooperation with all relevant United Nations human rights bodies.

In opening remarks, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), pointed out that two decades after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, that doctrine is still being pursued.  That is not to say, however, that the instrument has failed, he added, but rather that the global community has not done enough to tackle the pervasiveness of racism, racial discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia.  “Let us turn the tide on racism and intolerance,” he declared, underlining the importance of acknowledging the past, whether in the form of a formal apology or by other means.  “You cannot move past what is not addressed.”

Secretary-General António Guterres noted that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was meant to break the vicious cycle in which discrimination leads to deprivation, and poverty deepens discrimination.  While pointing to the troubling rise in anti‑Semitism, growing anti‑Muslim bigotry, the mistreatment of minority Christians and other forms of intolerance around the world, he said something more hopeful has come into view - the movement for racial justice and equality that has emerged with unprecedented force, reach and impact.

That new awakening — often led by women and young people — has created momentum to be seized, he emphasized, calling upon every Member State to take concrete actions – including through policy measures, legislation and more granular data collection – in support of all such efforts at the national and global levels.  Quoting the words of Nelson Mandela, he said:   “No one is born a racist.  People must learn to hate.  But if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, described the present moment in time as “an important juncture to take the antiracism agenda forward”, pledging that her Office will continue to support domestic and international action to that end.  She also pointed to the operationalization of the new four‑point agenda of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for transformative change on racial justice and equality, while cautioning that the legacy of colonialization and enslavement continues to have real and lasting consequences.  They must be addressed by the provision of broad‑based reparations, formal acknowledgement of, and apologies for, past harms, and by implementation of educational reforms and other systemic measures, she said, emphasizing:  “These efforts must go beyond symbolism” and have real impacts.

President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa called upon the United Nations to place the issue of reparations for victims of the slave trade on its agenda, and expressed support for such special measures as affirmative action programmes and targeted financial assistance.  South Africa also supports increased representation for people of African descent in global institutions and in positions of leadership, he said.  “Ending racism is a fight in which each of us has a stake,” he emphasized.  “We are called upon by history to redouble our efforts to build a world free of racism, to right the wrongs of the past and to restore the human dignity of all.”

Barryl A. Biekman, Coordinator of the Monitoring Working Group on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, warned that defamation of the Durban Declaration has escalated to the extreme in recent years.  “We wonder why no senior official of the United Nations has stood up and spoken out against the disinformation and false propaganda […] that has preceded the anniversary, and now caused the absence of different countries, including mine, from the commemoration,” she said, referring to the Netherlands.

Catherine Labiran, founder of the Praxis Project, said Black families and parents strive every day to dismantle racist school curricula and interrupt the “school‑to‑prison pipeline”.  Black trans women face discrimination and murder, but are also strong leaders and cultural trendsetters, she added.  Drawing attention to the crucial work of those who created, supported and expanded mutual aid networks in the face of COVID‑19, she noted that, instead of merely accepting that Black and Brown communities would be the hardest hit by the pandemic, they rose up to deliver cash and groceries, keep restaurants open and provide supplies to families.  “Black people have always been here, and always will be,” she affirmed, stressing the need for greater support from the United Nations.

Following the opening segment, the Assembly held two round‑table discussions under the overarching theme “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”.

The first round table, chaired by Naledi Pandor, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, sought to reflect on the current status of implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, while the second one, chaired by Pacôme Moubelet Boubeya, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon, explored ways to address the past as a necessary step to move forward.

Also delivering statements during the opening segment were President Félix‑Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on behalf of the African Group; Abdallah Y. Al‑Mouallimi (Saudi Arabia), on behalf of the Asia‑Pacific Group; and Cristian Espinosa Cañizares (Ecuador), on behalf of the Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries.

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, delivered closing remarks on behalf of Deputy Secretary‑General Amina J. Mohammed.

Opening Remarks

ABDULLA SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, recalled that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted in 2001 with the emphasis on tackling racial discrimination and intolerance.  Sadly, two decades later, that doctrine is still being pursued, he said.  That is not to say, however, that the instrument has failed, but rather that the global community has not done enough to tackle the pervasiveness of racism, racial discrimination, intolerance, and xenophobia, he added.  The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action is a comprehensive toolkit for addressing racism, he affirmed, citing its various victims - such as Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, minorities, youth, women and children.

The chosen theme, “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”, is very timely, he continued.  The Maldives presidency of the Assembly’s seventy‑sixth session will include five rays of hope, one of which is specifically focused on human rights and addressing racism in all its forms, he said, emphasizing that, with human rights as a founding pillar of the United Nations, Member States must never lose sight of that core principle.  Like so much else, “the global pandemic has exacerbated underlying conditions and exposed fault lines,” he noted, adding:  “The same holds true for racism.”  He described the present moment in time as a turning point, declaring, “let us turn the tide on racism and intolerance”, and stressing the need to “leave no one behind”.  He went on to underline the importance of acknowledging the past, whether in the form of a formal apology or by other means.  It is important to acknowledge what has happened, he reiterated.  “You cannot move past what is not addressed.”

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recalled that, at the dawn of the present century, world leaders and human rights advocates journeyed to Durban determined to banish the hatred and prejudice that disfigured previous centuries.  That journey for equality and justice did not begin in Durban, he said, noting that the path was paved by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and followed in the footsteps of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  Today, the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action offers an important opportunity to reflect on the current status and the way forward, he said.  Racism and racial discrimination still permeate institutions, social structures and everyday life in every society, he emphasized, pointing out that structural racism and systematic injustice still deny people their fundamental human rights.  He went on to warn against the troubling rise in anti‑Semitism, growing anti‑Muslim bigotry, the mistreatment of minority Christians and other forms of intolerance around the world.

Scanning the global landscape today, something more hopeful has come into view, he said, pointing to the movement for racial justice and equality that has emerged with unprecedented force, reach and impact.  That new awakening — often led by women and young people — has created momentum to be seized, he stressed, calling upon every Member State to take concrete actions – including through policy measures, legislation and more granular data collection – in support of all such efforts at the national and global levels.  The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was meant to break the vicious cycle in which discrimination leads to deprivation, and poverty deepens discrimination, he noted.  Quoting the words of Nelson Mandela, he said:  “No one is born a racist.  People must learn to hate.  But if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that eliminating violations of human dignity and human rights was a matter of immediate urgency 20 years ago.  Today, however, many groups continue to suffer discrimination and marginalization.  “It is vital that we rise above past controversies” and unite to combat racism and related intolerance in today’s world, she emphasized.  Citing recent strides forward, she pointed to the operationalization of the new United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, as well as the new four‑point agenda of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for transformative change on racial justice and equality.

However, the legacy of colonialization and enslavement continues to have real and lasting consequences, she stressed.  They must be addressed by providing broad‑based reparations, by formal acknowledgement of and apologies for past harms, and by implementing educational reforms and other systemic measures.  “These efforts must go beyond symbolism”, and should have real impacts, she said.  As the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action recognizes, international cooperation is also needed to increase opportunities for trade, economic growth and sustainable development.  “We are at an important juncture to take the anti‑racism agenda forward,” she stressed, calling for comprehensive and collaborative action as well as greater attention to the intersectional forms of racism faced by many people around the world.  She went on to pledge that her office will continue to support domestic and international action to those ends.

MATAMELA CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, President of South Africa, recalled that it was 20 years ago when the world adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and 25 years since his country’s people adopted a democratic constitution.  That charter calls upon South Africans to build a society based on social justice and fundamental human rights, with a view to correcting the past injustices, he said.  Describing slavery as one of the darkest periods in the history of humankind and a crime of unparalleled barbarity, he noted that its legacy persists in the Americas, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East and in Africa itself.  Millions of the descendants of Africans who were sold into slavery remain trapped in underdevelopment, disadvantage, discrimination and poverty, he pointed out.  South Africa calls upon the United Nations to place the issue of reparations for victims of the slave trade on its agenda, he said, expressing support for such special measures as affirmative action programmes and targeted financial assistance, as well as for increasing representation of people of African descent in global institutions and in positions of leadership.  “Ending racism is a fight in which each of us has a stake,” he emphasized.  “We are called upon by history to redouble our efforts to build a world free of racism, to right the wrongs of the past and to restore the human dignity of all.”

FÉLIX-ANTOINE TSHISEKEDI TSHILOMBO, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, spoke on behalf of the African Group, saying that, despite the progress made in the last two decades, much remains to be done.  Africans, and those in the African diaspora, continue to face serious challenges that have only been exacerbated by rising intolerance as well as the coronavirus pandemic, he said.  “Some countries have more than enough vaccines, while others, including ours … only have access to a small quantity,” he said, emphasizing that such disparities reveal the stark inequalities that still exist between the world’s peoples.  Emphasizing the need for greater efforts to accelerate implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, he welcomed efforts by Member States that have implemented progressive laws to combat racism, xenophobia, racial discrimination and related intolerance.

He went on to praise the recent creation of the United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, saying it will serve as a platform for improving safety and quality of life for persons of African descent around the globe.  Recalling that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals envisage universal rights as well as respect for cultural diversity, he said that empowering individuals and ensuring their inclusion in all walks of life is a responsibility for all.  Violations that occur must be condemned and prevented from happening again, he emphasized.  States must also ensure that individuals have access to housing, quality education and appropriate channels for justice and reparations, he added, also calling for the cancellation of debt.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Asia‑Pacific Group, said the Political Declaration reflects the international community’s common and unwavering interest.  Noting that the 2021 text is a continuation of the framework adopted in 2001 at the World Conference against Racism in South Africa, he said it acknowledges that racism remains a global concern and its eradication requires a redoubling of international efforts.  The text also emphasizes the significance and value of indigenous peoples’ contributions to the global political, economic, social and cultural development of societies, he said.  “Today, we recognize the importance of achieving justice and equal opportunities for all people, as well as ensuring the enjoyment of their rights, including the right to development and the right to self‑determination, and the right to live in peace and freedom,” he added, reaffirming the importance of spreading a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations.  The Asia‑Pacific States proclaim a shared determination to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as the protection of victims, a top priority, he stressed.

CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador) spoke on behalf of the Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries, noting that the General Assembly recently decided to establish the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of such people, and in recognition that they have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination, enslavement and the denial of many of their rights.  The Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries member States have been supportive of such initiatives and have actively participated in efforts to promote the goals and objectives of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, he said.  Pointing out that many countries of the region are made up of multi‑ethnic, multicultural and multilingual populations, he said they are composed of a mosaic of peoples who migrated from all ethnic origins on the planet.  The diversity is their strength, he emphasized, calling upon Member States to uphold human dignity and equality for the victims of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism, in particular people of African descent in the African diaspora.

BARRYL A. BIEKMAN, Coordinator of the Monitoring Working Group on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and People of African Descent at Tiye International and Chair of the African European Women’s Movement “Sophiedela”, provided a civil society perspective.  Recalling her participation in the adoption of the Durban Declaration 20 years ago, she said the event was marked by a “spirit of solidarity which gave voice to and protected the rights of all victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms [of intolerance]”.  Among other things, she added, the Declaration recognized the transatlantic slave trade suffered by people of African descent as a crime against humanity.  “Truth has the inherent power to produce the promised effect,” she noted in that regard, emphasizing that the fight against racism today will only be successful “if we do what we have promised”.  She went on to describe the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action as the strongest universal document aimed at realizing the rights of all victims of racism, with an intersectional perspective.

Drawing attention to the persistent, negative structural campaign to defame and undermine the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, she stressed that without the framework the world would lack a clear path to a global platform tasked with recognizing the still unrealized rights of Africans and people of African descent.  “Our position is crystal clear - we will not accept any denial of the [Durban Declaration] … and neither shall we settle for anything less than our birthright and our human rights.”  She went on to note that defamation of the Durban Declaration has escalated to the extreme in recent years.  “We wonder why no senior official of the United Nations has stood up and spoken out against the disinformation and false propaganda against the [Declaration and Programme of Action] that has preceded the anniversary, and now caused the absence of different countries, including mine, from the commemoration,” she said, referring to the Netherlands.  She went on to underscore the need for accelerated implementation, recognition of the demands of people of African descent “past and present”, as well as immediate reparations.

CATHERINE LABIRAN, founder of the Praxis Project, also delivered a statement on behalf of civil society, saying she will not use today’s meeting to enumerate the many social and structural ills still threatening Black lives.  “I believe you already know,” she remarked, adding that the impacts of those ills are simultaneously haunting and exhausting.  Instead, she urged participants to focus on the wide range of efforts already being undertaken by Black leaders, activists and artists in the face of deep inequality and serious challenges, such as the coronavirus pandemic and now the fresh wave of violence being perpetrated against Haitian migrants on the southern border of the United States.  Among other critical efforts over the past year, she highlighted the efforts of National Bailouts, an organization that supported activists detained during the peaceful protests in the United States in 2020.

She also pinpointed Black families and parents who strive every day to dismantle racist school curricula and interrupt the “school‑to‑prison pipeline”, as well as Black trans women, pointing out that they face discrimination and murder, but are also strong leaders and cultural trendsetters.  Drawing attention to the crucial work of those who created, supported and expanded mutual aid networks in the face of COVID‑19, she noted that, instead of merely accepting that Black and Brown communities would be the hardest hit by the pandemic, they rose up to deliver cash and groceries, keep restaurants open and provide supplies to families.  She also spotlighted the work of Black artists and storytellers, saying their work teaches, heals and allows people to explore social issues in their own lives.  “Black people have always been here, and always will be,” she affirmed, stressing the need for greater support from the United Nations.

Action on Political Declaration

The General Assembly turned its attention to the draft Political Declaration, titled “United against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” (document A/76/L.2).  By that text, Heads of State and Government and representatives of States and Governments - gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York - would proclaim together their strong determination to mobilize political will at the national, regional and international levels.  They would also proclaim their determination to accelerate momentum to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance - and the protection of the victims thereof - a high priority for their countries.

Also by the text, Heads of State and Government would reaffirm that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in 2001, and the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, adopted in 2009, as well as the Political Declaration on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, provide a comprehensive United Nations framework and solid foundation for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  They would also reaffirm their commitment to their full and effective implementation.

Further by the text, Heads of State and Government would reiterate that primary responsibility for effectively combating acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance lies with States.  They would affirm that, whenever such acts occur, they must be condemned and their reoccurrence prevented, and urge States to take appropriate preventive measures, including legislative measures, in this regard.

Also by the text, Heads of State and Government would call upon all States, the United Nations system and international and regional organizations - and invite all relevant stakeholders, including parliaments, civil society, the private sector and academia - to fully commit themselves to intensifying their efforts for the elimination of all racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to continue cooperation with all relevant United Nations human rights bodies.

By other terms, Heads of State and Government would resolve to pursue the common goal of ensuring the effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in all societies, while continuing to promote respect for human rights and to enhance democratic governance, rule of law, independent judicial institutions and the fight against impunity, nationally and internationally.

They would welcome the establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, which will serve as a consultation mechanism for such people and other relevant stakeholders as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of Africa‑descended people.

The Assembly then adopted the Political Declaration without a vote.

The representative of Jamaica, speaking in explanation of position, said that while her delegation joined the consensus, it is disappointing that the Political Declaration does not contain a call for States to dispense reparatory justice if they have not yet done so.  Recalling that the transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history, conducted in search of profit, she emphasized that victims have the right to reparatory justice, and it is a necessary path to healing.

Round Table 1

Participants then convened the first of two round tables, on the theme “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent:  Where do we stand 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action?”  Chaired by Naledi Pandor, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, it featured ministerial‑level speakers as well as Heads of State and Government from around the globe, who shared their views on national progress since the Declaration’s adoption.  Speakers also touched on outstanding gaps, challenges encountered, and lessons learned in their respective efforts to eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Ms. PANDOR, delivering opening remarks on behalf of South Africa, said today’s event captures the many contemporary challenges facing those who still seek restorative justice and equality around the world, noting that disagreements and differences over the Declaration exist, even 20 years later.  “It is regrettable that we have allowed ourselves to be so polarized” on such an important matter, she added, pointing out that some delegations decided to stay away, even at a time when racism, racial violence and inequality are rising.

She recalled the words of Nelson Mandela and Mary Robinson at the Durban meeting two decades ago, when they called for the “convergence of mind and heart” to eradicate racism.  Those words remain a guiding light for people around the world, she said.  Noting that the coronavirus has further ignited a situation “that was already flammable” - exposing deep inequalities and further polarizing many societies - she urged all people to unite in combating racism and inequality and called upon all States to adopt progressive measures, including laws and targeted financial assistance, to address historical and contemporary forms of discrimination against people of African descent.

MIGUEL DÍAZ CANEL BERMÚDEZ, President of Cuba, said “the world must be looking on with shame” at the limited progress made over the last two decades.  Many capitalist nations, he noted, continue to deflect attention from their historical responsibility for slavery, inequality, injustice and exclusion, which have propped up an unfair world order for generations.  In Cuba, Latin American, European and African genes are all mixed together, forming the unique identity of a country that stands open to the world, he pointed out, spotlighting Cuba’s high level of social tolerance and equitable legal system.  He said the Government is aware that laws and decrees are not enough, and recently adopted the National Plan against Racism and Racial Discrimination, emphasizing:  “We will not falter in our aim to achieve full social justice.”

LAZARUS CHAKWERA, President and Minister for Defence of Malawi, said the irony of the COVID‑19 pandemic is that while it has forced people to wear masks, it has also unmasked hidden layers of racial and national discrimination within and between nations.  People of African descent know only too well that discriminatory treatment has intensified during the pandemic, he added, emphasizing that reparations are a form of restoration, not punishment.  The repugnant stench of centuries of oppression can only be removed by forgiveness and reparations, he said, emphasizing that reparations must go beyond money and include acknowledgement of injustices, restitution, rehabilitation, apologies and institutional reforms, as well as assurances that injustices will not be repeated.

WAVEL RAMKALAWAN, President of Seychelles, declared:  “Human dignity continues to be flouted and trampled upon” and acts of discrimination persist around the world.  While emphasizing that acceptance and recognition of past evils are the path to healing, he said institutional reforms are also required and reparations are owed to victims.

TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO, President of Equatorial Guinea, emphasized that “as long as we continue to have victims, we cannot be complacent with the mere adoption of the Declaration”.  Now more than ever, redoubled efforts are needed to fight racism, xenophobia, discrimination and related intolerance, he said, adding that Governments, the United Nations system, civil society and the private sector all have a role to play.  Perpetrators must be held to account and impunity must finally end.

UHURU KENYATTA, President of Kenya, noting that his country was among the first to adopt the Programme of Action, said its Constitution lists non‑discrimination as a national value.  Kenya’s Cohesion and Integration Commission is designed to mitigate ethnopolitical competition and ethnically motivated violence, eliminate discriminatory practices and promote national reconciliation and healing, he said.  Kenya urges organs of the United Nations to monitor the Programme’s implementation and sound the alarm when its terms are violated, he added.

AZALI ASSOUMANI, President of Comoros, describing the Durban Declaration as a document of tremendous importance and reach, emphasized the need to make the comprehensive struggle of people of African descent more tangible in States and at the international level.  “What has been done so far leaves much to be desired,” he said, citing instances of racism, discrimination and xenophobia still being perpetrated against countless groups around the globe.  Outlining his country’s own efforts to ensure full inclusion of all its citizens, he said Comoros forbids discrimination based on race, gender, religion or origin.  The same opportunities are enjoyed by all, and a culture of tolerance prevails, he added.

MOHAMED IRFAAN ALI, President of Guyana, declared:  “As we collectively strive to achieve the [Sustainable Development Goals], we must be conscious that the overarching objectives of poverty eradication, protecting our planet and building a peaceful world cannot be achieved without addressing all forms of inequality.”  Despite the advances made, racism and racial discrimination continue to be sources of conflicts and inequalities around the globe, he said, noting that all too often, politicians use ethnic insecurities and race to manipulate issues in a way that heightens tensions.  Social media, too, have been badly misused, he added.  Guyana supports international reparations that “go beyond an apology”, he said, calling for an international summit to demand reparative justice for victims of the transatlantic slave trade.

EMMERSON MNANGAGWA, President of Zimbabwe, said barriers to human equality and dignity must be torn down without exception.  Welcoming the establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, he said it is most opportune that the African Union has declared 2020 to 2030 the “Decade of the African Diaspora”, which amplifies the desire of Africa and the African Diaspora to chart a progressive course and create conditions conducive to sustainable societies for a shared future.  The Forum must inspire all to build a world that harnesses racial diversities for global peace, harmony and sustainable socioeconomic development, and which leaves no one behind, he said.

IBRAHIM MOHAMED SOLIH, President of Maldives, said that, despite the Durban milestone, racism - an affront to human dignity and a threat to all - remains rampant around the world.  Twenty years after the Declaration’s adoption, today’s meeting provides a chance to reflect solemnly on what remains to be done and recommit to building a world free of racism, he added, emphasizing:  “Our strength lies in our unity and diversity.”  Underlining the need to empathize with the suffering of others, he said COVID‑19 has unleashed a flood of hate and intolerance, and greater efforts are needed to ensure that fear does not turn people against each other.  He also drew attention to the injustices revealed by the climate crisis and to the needs of victims of terrorism around the globe.

EPSY ALEJANDRA CAMPBELL BARR, Vice-President of Costa Rica, described the Durban Declaration’s adoption as a “supremely important first step” in the global struggle against racism.  However, over the subsequent 20 years, the world has failed to implement its provisions, she noted.  “This commemoration must therefore serve as a fresh start,” she emphasized, joining others in welcoming the establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent.  Describing her country’s efforts to accelerate and enshrine the Declaration’s contents in its domestic laws, she said Costa Rica will push forward to provide reparations.  “It is time to transition from rhetoric to action” backed by the resources needed to realize them, she stressed.

MIA MOTTLEY, Prime Minister of Barbados, described her shock – 20 years ago, and still today - at learning that many delegations refused to take part in any United Nations conference dealing with issues pertaining to historical slavery or the need for reparations.  However, the global community has spoken in support of such a comprehensive conference, with fewer than 20 nations refusing to take part in today’s proceedings, she noted.  Outlining strides made in the last two decades, she cited the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Reparations Commission and its 10‑point plan, which calls for, among other things, an apology from European nations responsible for the transatlantic slave trade, fair transfer of technology and reparations.  All nations involved in the enslavement, oppression and colonization of African and Latin American peoples must sit down around a negotiating table to agree on a package, including capital transfers and debt cancellations, that will serve as some semblance of justice, she said, emphasizing:  “This is an idea whose time has come.”

FRANK BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister of Fiji, said it is the responsibility of Governments to eliminate racism.  Noting that Fiji had to confront an unpleasant history of racial division and hatred, he said its 2013 Constitution recognizes all citizens as truly equal and abolishes classes of citizenship.  He went on to state that multibillion‑dollar social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter must be held responsible for hateful and racist propaganda posted on their platforms.  Since small countries such as Fiji are forced to use taxpayer resources to flag hateful and racist content on such platforms, the companies behind them must step up enforcement of their community guidelines and hire people who can understand both the local context and the languages spoken by users in developing countries, he emphasized.

RALPH GONSALVES, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the cause of reparatory justice - championed by CARICOM and promoted by social activists - remains an indisputable moral imperative.  That legitimate demand should prompt the Governments of all former colonizing Powers to atone for past misdeeds of native genocide and enslavement of Africans, he emphasized.  Tangible commitments are needed by liable European nations to build institutions and strengthen capacities in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.  Reiterating his country’s support for CARICOM’s 10‑point agenda for reparatory justice, he said the persisting legacies of underdevelopment, injustice and exclusion must be addressed.

WANG YI, State Counsellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, described the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action as a “banner” for the global movement in support for racial justice.  “The relevant countries should at least have the courage to face up to this disgraceful past,” he said, urging all countries to adopt a zero‑tolerance policy against racism and work to resolve systemic injustice and violence by law enforcement officers.  China believes in a culture of respect and tolerance, and the right to development for all, which would help to eradicate the breeding grounds of poverty and racism, he said, pledging that his country will work with all countries to that end.

NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia, said that decades of apartheid and colonial rule had long‑lasting negative impacts on her country.  However, in rejecting that past and embracing the Durban Declaration, Namibia is committed to tackling the scourge of racism, she affirmed, noting that today, the country remains steadfast in its efforts to dismantle the structural barriers that are legacies of colonialism.  “We have first‑hand experience of what it means to be dehumanized,” she emphasized, calling upon States to take the steps needed to address those harms through concrete and tangible measures.  “This is crucial to heal our societies,” she stressed, expressing support for a system of reparations for people of African descent.

RAMTANE LAMAMRA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, said that, given the marginalization still endured by people of African descent around the world, the United Nations has an obligation to place them at the heart of its efforts to tackle racism.  Welcoming the establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent - who are the long‑forgotten victims of slavery, genocide and colonization - he urged the global community to redouble its efforts to stamp out such atrocities and address their consequences, embodied in the many contemporary forms of discrimination.  He went on to denounce the alarming uptick in populism, saying it propagates hate, as well as the irresponsible approach of some media outlets that seek to stigmatize minority groups and fan the flames of extremism.

PEDRO BROLO VILA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, noting that no State is exempt from racism and racial discrimination, said that, in the last two decades, his country has consolidated public institutions that focus on preventing those violations, including by creating the Presidential Commission against Racial Discrimination and Racism towards Indigenous Peoples.  He voiced regret that the Durban discussions did not adequately reflect the issue of anti‑Semitism and, by extension, the Holocaust.  “This remains a pending debt within the Durban Declaration,” he said, emphasizing that minimizing or omitting it reflects a serious manifestation of anti‑Semitism that deserve attention.

ALAN GANOO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mauritius, recalled that in 2011, the African Union recommitted to upholding the Durban principles and also extended the call to address new forms of racism.  Noting that his country’s Constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination, he said it created the Truth and Justice Commission which helped to establish the Intercontinental Slavery Museum and ensure the just and expeditious resolution of land disputes.  The laws of Mauritius are under constant review to reinforce provisions against all forms of discrimination and other human rights crimes, including those proliferating on digital platforms, he said.

ABDUL KALAM ABDUL MOMEN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, said his country promotes a culture of peace, anchored on the values of tolerance, respect and compassion.  Describing the brutal oppression of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh’s own neighbourhood as an example of contemporary racism, he urged States to ensure that their policies and practices do not condone racism or intolerance.  Recognizing past tragedies and ensuring accountability and paying reparations to victims are of utmost importance, he emphasized.

Also participating were Government ministers and other senior officials representing Egypt, Ethiopia, Peru, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mozambique, Tunisia, Lesotho, Syria, Russian Federation, Angola, Portugal, India, Senegal, Iraq and Brazil.

Also speaking was the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine.

Round Table 2

In the afternoon, the Assembly held a second round table discussion, titled “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent – How to address the past to move forward?”  Chaired by Pacôme Moubelet Boubeya, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon, the session explored ways to address past racial discrimination and considered reparations as a step to move the fight against racism forward.

HILARY BECKLES, Vice‑Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and Inaugural Chair of the CARICOM Reparations Committee, delivered the keynote address, recognizing the deep division around reparatory justice.  There was an enormous struggle by members of civil society from the Caribbean and diaspora communities, who insisted that the matter of reparatory justice ought to be at centre stage, but that was not to be, he acknowledged.  However, the language of Durban provided a sense of hope for the future and did declare in 2001 that, given the endemic injustices that African and African‑descendant peoples are experiencing in the world, the reparations movement will be the greatest political movement of the twenty‑first century, he said.

“It took us all of the twentieth century to translate the promise of emancipation into civil rights and human rights, and now, this twenty‑first century is culminating in this struggle for reparatory justice,” he continued.  “This is a logical history.  This is a significance of democracy.”  Nevertheless, there has been significant pushback from Governments, he observed, noting that many of them around the world have said they cannot see the way forward to address the issue of reparatory justice.  Many issued hollow statements of regret without atonement or the promise of reparations, he said.

The international community has seen the rise of racism taking a more deadly form, in the murder and assassination of members of the African and African diaspora communities, he said, adding that there is a deep division between civil societies and their Governments.  Within CARICOM, the political leadership is working to establish a framework and a context within which those matters can be discussed, he reported.  Leaders of the bloc are calling for a summit with the Heads of Governments of Europe, he said, pointing out that European States were responsible for the development and the sustainability of chattel slavery and related crimes of colonization.  “This remains an active agenda, and we celebrate the fact that this engagement has reached the global stage,” he emphasized.

The impact of the COVID-19 on already impoverished societies and communities has been severe, he continued.  While expressing hope that the call for African States to join with CARICOM and the diaspora in the United States, Brazil and elsewhere will be met with enthusiasm, he acknowledged there must be a reckoning.  “There has to be this coming together of Africa and its diaspora, the centre of this crime against humanity that has poisoned the world with the toxic ideology of anti‑black racism.”

MAKHDOOM SHAH MAHMOOD HUSSAIN QURESHI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, proposed a four‑point action plan entailing measures to redress slavery and colonialism and covering moral, economic, political and legal responsibilities.  States must therefore not only fulfil remedial obligations resulting from specific historical wrongful acts, but also work towards transforming the contemporary structures of racial injustice, inequality and discrimination inherent in the global financial and economic order, he said.  All concerned States must adopt action plans to ensure equality and improve the economic situation of people of African descent and other oppressed ethnic and religious groups facing discrimination.

HOSSEIN AMIR ABDOLLAHIAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, called upon the international community to identify major obstacles to the fight against racism.  He pledged that, as a new foreign minister, he will be dedicated to eradicating all forms of racism and discrimination.  He went on to denounce the unilateral measures imposed by the United States on his own country as well as Cuba, Syria and Venezuela.

TEODORO LOCSIN, JR., Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, noted that the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, the Holocaust and other genocides of the last century stripped tens of millions of their dignity and humanity before murdering them.  He described those horrors as “mankind’s deepest moments of shame”.  Pointing to the increase in racial verbal abuse, hate speech and violence against racial minorities, including Asians and people of Asian descent, he said Filipino migrants and immigrants have themselves been victims.

DENIS MONCADA COLINDRES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, emphasized the need to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, noting that his country’s Government includes representatives of those groups in its health and emergency responses.  The Government is also implementing policies on the distribution of titles for 38,000 sq. kilometres of land to those populations, he said, pointing out that Nicaragua’s Constitution, enacted in 1986, acknowledges multi‑ethnicity and the right to develop their own cultures.

JOHN MULIMBA, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation of Uganda, welcomed the establishment of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, as well as efforts to address systematic discrimination through institutional frameworks.  Stressing the right of people of African descent to seek justice through reparations and other measures, he called for true accountability and full implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

KARL LAGATIE (Belgium) rejected the anti‑Semitism expressed during today’s meeting, while welcoming the explicit reference to anti‑Semitism in the Political Declaration.  The Government is drafting a national action plan to fight racism in close collaboration with civil society, he said, adding that it has also established a special parliamentary commission to investigate Belgium’s colonial past and deliver recommendations.

SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia) pointed out that, besides the historical injustices arising from racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, another long‑standing issue requiring attention is the plight of the Palestinian and Rohingya people.  Just as Malaysia was a strong advocate of ending apartheid in South Africa, it calls for an end to the crimes of apartheid against the Palestinians and the Rohingya, he emphasized.

PAUL RICHARD GALLAGHER, Secretary for Relations with States for the Observer State of the Holy See, said that disregard for the right to freedom of religion and belief leads to violations of further human rights, citing the overall rise in religious persecution by both State and non‑State actors in recent years.  Another form of discrimination is the insidious practice of eugenics, he said, adding that such a mentality often lurks behind artificial procreation techniques and the dark sides of prenatal diagnostics, leading to denial of the right to life.

The representative of Japan said that discrimination and prejudice against Asian people, as manifested in the wake of the pandemic, should have no place in society.  Expressing regret that some remarks in past meetings and the present one are inconsistent with today’s original purpose, he said it is deeply disappointing that the meeting has been used as a platform for antagonism.  He went on to state that in 2019, Japan enacted legislation to promote comprehensive measures to facilitate interaction with its indigenous Ainu people.

DOMINIQUE DAY, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said it is well past time to make the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action a reality.  She expressed regret that some States with responsibility for bringing justice to victims are absent today because they see political considerations as more urgent than dismantling racism.  Racial equality and equity can be achieved if there is political will, she emphasized.

Also speaking were ministers and other representatives of Venezuela, Bolivia, Qatar, Chile, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Eritrea, Ireland, Argentina, Niger, El Salvador, Cameroon, Burundi, Haiti and Jamaica.

Verene Shepherd, Vice‑Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Rosa Campoalegre, member of the Latin American Social Science Council, also delivered statements.

Closing Segment

As participants concluded their work, they heard summaries of the discussions that unfolded in the two round tables.  Ms. Pandor, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation and Chair of Round Table 1, outlined the points raised during that discussion, and Mr. Boubeya, Gabon’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chair of Round Table 2, presented a summary of that session.

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, noted that Member States reaffirmed today that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, as well as the Political Declaration on the tenth anniversary of the Declaration’s adoption together provide a comprehensive United Nations framework and a solid foundation for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  Expressing hope that the Political Declaration adopted today will boost efforts towards better, full and universal implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, she called for enhanced cooperation and participation by Governments, local authorities, victims’ groups, grass‑roots organizations, national human rights institutions, as well as international and regional organizations.  “Our journey ahead is full of challenges, but also of new hopes and opportunities,” she added.

The international anti‑racism architecture has been enhanced, she said, expressing support for the operationalization of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, the new mechanism for advancing 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.  The United Nations remains a steadfast supporter and partner in pursuit of the common goal of ending racism, she said, emphasizing that only by eliminating all forms of discrimination and addressing all dimensions of inequality can the Sustainable Development Goals be achieved.  Progress can be made “only if we stay united against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” she added, declaring:  “This is our common responsibility and duty - to past, present and future generations.”

For information media. Not an official record.