22 September 2021

‘We Must Seize Momentum’ from Racial Justice, Equality Movement Led by Women, Youth, Secretary-General Says at Meeting Commemorating Durban Declaration

Following are Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the General Assembly commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, held today:

At the dawn of this century, world leaders and human rights advocates journeyed to Durban determined to banish the hatred and prejudice that disfigured previous centuries.  To make — in the words of the original Declaration — this a century of human rights and to eradicate racism in all its abhorrent forms and manifestations.

This journey for equality and justice did not begin in Durban.  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, two decades on, our journey continues.  The twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action offers an important opportunity to reflect on where we stand and where we need to go.  Racism and racial discrimination still permeate institutions, social structures and everyday life in every society.  Structural racism and systematic injustice still deny people their fundamental human rights.

Africans and people of African descent, minority communities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and so many others — all continue to confront hatred, stigmatization, scapegoating, discrimination and violence.  Xenophobia, misogyny, hateful conspiracies, white supremacy and Neo-Nazi ideologies are spreading — amplified in echo chambers of hate.  From glaring infringements to creeping transgressions, human rights are under assault.  Racism is often the cruel catalyst.

The linkages between racism and gender inequality are unmistakable.  And we see some of the worst impacts in the overlaps and intersections of discrimination suffered by women from racialized communities and minority groups.  We are witnessing a troubling rise in antisemitism — a harbinger throughout history of discrimination against others.  We must condemn — without reservation or hesitation — the racism and discrimination of growing anti-Muslim bigotry, the mistreatment of minority Christians and other forms of intolerance around the world.

Let me be clear:  whoever uses this process — or any other platform — for antisemitic diatribes, anti-Muslim discourse, hateful speech and baseless assertions, only denigrates our essential fight against racism.

Scanning the global landscape today, something more hopeful has come into view.  A movement for racial justice and equality has emerged with unprecedented force, reach and impact.  This new awakening — often led by women and young people — has created momentum we must seize upon.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has launched a transformative agenda to help dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and deliver reparatory justice.  The Human Rights Council has established a new independent mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in law enforcement.  The Permanent Forum of People of African Descent created by the General Assembly is another example of meaningful progress towards a systemic response to systemic racism.

I call on every Member State to take concrete actions — including through policy measures, legislation and more granular data collection — in support of all these efforts at the national and global level.  Together, we must work to recognize the contemporary resonance of past crimes that continue to haunt our present:  the lingering traumas; the transgenerational suffering; the structural inequalities so deeply rooted in centuries of enslavement and colonial exploitation.  And we must reverse the consequences of generations of exclusion and discrimination — including their obvious social and economic dimensions through reparatory justice frameworks.

The COVID-19 pandemic is damning proof of just how far we still are from righting past wrongs.  In some cases, mortality rates have been three times higher for marginalized groups.  Women from minority groups have often been the worst off — facing an escalation in gender-based violence, losing jobs and educational opportunities in greater numbers than anyone else, and benefiting the least from fiscal stimulus.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was meant to break the vicious cycle, in which discrimination leads to deprivation and poverty deepens discrimination.  We can overcome these harmful afflictions and heal if we recognize diversity as richness; if we understand — as Durban did — that the fight against racism is both a global, universal effort and a concrete struggle in every society.  No country can claim to be free from it.

If we act to redress the global — political, economic and structural — power imbalances rooted in colonial rule, enslavement and exploitation that continue to blight our present; if we work to ensure that everyone feels respected in their individual identity while feeling valued as a member of society as a whole; if we make sure that all of us — regardless of race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other status — can live lives of dignity and opportunity; if — and only if — we stand together as one human family.  Rich in diversity, equal in dignity and rights, united in solidarity.

At a time when we feel more divided than ever, let us unite around our common humanity.  Let us remember what Nelson Mandela said:  no one is born a racist.  People must learn to hate.  But, if they can learn to hate, Mandela went on to say, “they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.  Let us heed his hopeful words today and re-commit ourselves to this essential purpose.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.