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Hate Speech Not Free Speech, But Racism, Assembly President Says, as Secretary-General Applauds Artists Raising Awareness
Speakers sounded the alarm over the rise of nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies around the world today as the General Assembly commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination highlighted the growing trend of racist discourse on the part of public figures, as well as the rise of organizations overtly advocating the superiority of some groups over others. Such overt behaviours are hiding behind freedom of expression, thought or assembly, and all too often they go unpunished, he noted. Unfortunately, the reaction of States parties remains too timid and can lay the foundations for impunity, he warned, while underlining the need for broader accountability on the part of the media.
The President of the General Assembly noted that many atrocities occur as part of a continuum of racism that begins with small things, such as stereotyping and suspicious looks. Emphasizing that populist lies must not be legitimized, she called for ensuring that short-sighted nationalism does not derail global solutions. Hate speech is not free speech, but racism, she stressed.
During an afternoon meeting to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Secretary-General applauded artists, writers and poets who raise awareness of that issue. People all over the world must stand up against old as well as new forms of slavery while ensuring justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent, he stressed.
Guyana's representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted that most of that bloc's member States are peopled by the descendants of African slaves. Out of nothing, we have created the reggae rhythms, he added, also citing the distinctive cuisine and talented people the region has fostered. Victims of the transatlantic slave trade have a legal right to reparatory justice, and compensatory justice would be a fitting way to honour their memory, he said.
During the earlier meeting on racial discrimination, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism warned of the harm caused by racist institutions and structures, citing voter suppression, as well as constitutional and legislative amendments intended to exclude certain groups. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination provides a legal framework within which to address its underlying causes, she said, while noting, however, that many States deny the existence of discrimination. You are not doing enough to address the breadth and depth of racial discrimination and intolerance, she stressed. Political leaders should foreground the equality of all individuals in their rhetoric, she added, highlighting the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand.
Also speaking today were representatives of Nigeria (for the Group of African States), Tonga (for the Group of Asia-Pacific States), Montenegro (for the Group of Eastern European States), San Marino (for the Group of Western European and Other States), United States, Kenya, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cuba, United Arab Emirates and Guatemala.
Also addressing the Assembly were the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and a keynote speaker from civil society.
The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.
Eliminating Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, Related Intolerance
MARA�A FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCA�S (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, emphasized that words like you are subhuman, you are rats and you are cockroaches to be exterminated, can kill. Those words framed some of the worst crimes in human history: slavery, the decimation of indigenous peoples, the Holocaust and apartheid. Recalling that the murder of 69 peaceful protestors in South Africa on 21 March 1960 moved the Assembly to create the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, she said that, a few years later, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination entered into force. While acknowledging that the Convention, now 50 years old, has supported the fight against racism at the country and global levels with more laws and tools, she stressed that we have not managed to keep our promise of 'never again'.
Recalling that racist ideologies helped to fuel the genocide in Rwanda, the Srebrenica massacre and the atrocities committed since, she stressed they are not accidents, but part of a continuum of racism that begins with small things, such as stereotyping and suspicious looks. In 2018, the Assembly decided that today's meeting should focus on countering nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies, she said, adding that, as noted recently by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), populists rely on demonizing the other. Populist lies must not be legitimized, she emphasized, calling upon all to ensure that short-sighted nationalism does not derail global solutions. Hate speech is not free speech, but racism, she stressed. Words can save lives, too, she added, commending the Prime Minister of New Zealand for speaking out against hate speech in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Christchurch, as well as the Secretary-General's plans to create a system-wide strategy to counter hate speech.
ANTA�NIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand on 15 March is the latest tragedy rooted in the poison constituted by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including social and ethnic discrimination, anti-Semitism and anti Muslim hatred. No country or community is immune, he emphasized, expressing deep alarm over their rise, fed by nationalist and populist ideologies. Hate speech is spreading in liberal democracies and authoritarian States alike, he observed, adding that we must counter and reject political figures who exploit differences for electoral gain. He went on to question, however, why so many people feel excluded and tempted by messages of intolerance, while citing examples of solidarity after the tragedy in New Zealand and after the anti-Semitic attack in the United States city of Pittsburgh. We should all be looking out for each other's welfare, he stressed.
KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said millions of people still pay the cruel cost of race-based discrimination, including xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Noting that racism intersects with the issues of poverty, age, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation, she emphasized that race-based contempt is especially hateful for women of African descent, indigenous people and those in flight from conflict and crisis. She emphasized that people need not agree with each other to defend each other's rights, which are for every one of us with the exception of none. On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the United Nations must stand out as it stands up for what it was created to stand for � human rights for all, she stressed.
NOUREDDINE AMIR (Algeria), Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, recalled the nationalist populism and authoritarian ideologies that led to elaboration of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Noting that such movements are experiencing a resurgence, he said such populism establishes a climate of hostility between peoples and communities. The Convention obliges States to prohibit activities inciting racial discrimination and to criminalize participation in related organizations, he emphasized. Recommending a draft resolution adopted by the Committee, he pointed out that one of the entity's major concerns is countering rising nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies. The Committee also monitors discriminatory behaviours in order to sound the alarm when such phenomena appear or resurface, he said.
Highlighting the growing trend of racist discourse on the part of public figures, including some holding Government office, he also noted the rise of organizations overtly advocating the superiority of some groups over others. Such overt behaviours are hiding behind freedom of expression, thought or assembly, and all too often they go unpunished, he observed, stressing, however, that they do not constitute part of the normal political process. As for potential remedies, he called upon States to both prevent and tackle such behaviour. Schools must teach human rights and promote tolerance and acceptance of differences. Education must continue through regular raising of awareness for mutual trust among and between communities, he said. States parties are obliged to take legislative measures, including steps to punish racism and racial discrimination. As such, they must prosecute the perpetrators, particularly those inciting racial violence, he emphasized. Unfortunately, the reaction of States parties remains too timid and can lay the foundations for impunity, he warned, while underlining the need for broader accountability on the part of the media. They must understand the essential issues at stake and the need for heightened vigilance on the part of all stakeholders involved, he said.
TENDAYI ACHIUME, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, highlighted the resurgence of supremacist ideologies and the dead bodies that lie in the wake of this resurgence. Racism kills in direct terms, but also indirectly through institutions and structures, she observed. The ethnonationalist demonization of those marked as foreign is leading to discriminatory practices in many States, she said, noting that such politics sustain structural exclusion through voter suppression, and constitutional and legislative amendments to exclude certain groups. The Convention provides a legal framework within which to address the underlying embedded causes of racial discrimination, she said, while noting, however, that many States deny that such discrimination exists. You are not doing enough to address the breadth and depth of racial discrimination and intolerance, she stressed. Political leaders should foreground the equality of all individuals in their rhetoric, she said, citing the example of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's response to the recent attacks in that country.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, expressed concern that racist extremist movements promoting populist nationalist agendas are spreading around the world. The African Group is convinced that any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and must be rejected, he said, emphasizing the need to use new information technologies, including the Internet, to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. He said the African Group calls upon the international community and the United Nations family to support implementation of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. He went on to welcome the decision by the United Nations to establish a permanent forum on people of African descent, describing it as the first step towards a legally binding instrument to promote full respect for the human rights of those people, including migrants and refugees who are often the target of racist extremist movements. The African Group affirms its commitment to fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance on any basis, he added.
VILIAMI VA'INGA TONE (Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said that the terror attacks in Christchurch portrayed racism and racial discrimination, as well as extreme white supremacist ideology. The Asia-Pacific Group consists of 57 member States that are diverse in terms of ethnicity, language, religion and culture, he said. Noting that no region is immune from rising nationalist populism and extreme white supremacist ideology, he stressed the need to continuously promote tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity. Kia kara!, he called out, meaning stay strong in New Zealand's indigenous Maori language. Reaffirming the Asia-Pacific Group's commitment to the World Conference against Racism in 2001, he said the Durban Declaration and the Programme of Action adopted during that event remains a solid basis and an instructive outcome that prescribes comprehensive measures to combat racism and provide remedies for victims.
MILICA PEJANOVIC A�URISIC (Montenegro), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, said that racism is not only a serious violation of human rights, it spreads fear among communities around the world. Citing the victory over apartheid, she noted that the principle of respect for the human rights of all people without distinction based on race or gender is central to the Charter of the United Nations. Despite significant progress in the worldwide fight against racism and xenophobia, extremist movements are rising worldwide, she noted, calling for efforts to counter them and to promote diversity.
DAMIANO BELEFFI (San Marino), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, said it is crucial to counter rising nationalist extremism and uproot extreme supremacist ideologies that fuel racism, racial discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia. Any doctrine of racial superiority is wrong and as such should be rejected and condemned, he said, noting that these kinds of doctrines promote marginalization, exclusion and repressive practices that harm individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity and national origin. They pose a serious threat to the fundamental human rights principle of non discrimination and equality, he added. In recent times, there has been an escalation of incidents and crimes related to racist and xenophobic factors, as well as an increase in intolerant and hateful messages through the misuse of new technologies and social media, he noted, emphasizing in that regard the crucial importance of States fully implementing their obligations under the Convention.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), speaking as representative of the Host Country, expressed firm commitment to fighting racial discrimination. Citing his own country's history, he said: We've come a long way, but racism remains an ongoing challenge. Turning to the global scene, he expressed support for the International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015 2024. Noting the dangers of offensive speech, he stressed the importance of prosecuting hate crimes and proactive Government outreach to vulnerable communities. Deploring the continuing targeting by some States of people on the basis of race or religion, he stated that countering racism and extremism generates social benefits on many levels.
JOHN KYOVI MUTUA (Kenya) said the commemoration is a reminder of the dark days of colonialism, which were marked by discriminatory and racist laws. Populist and racist agendas are rising again in various parts of the world, he said, noting that migrants are facing persecution, racial profiling and discrimination. Highlighting entrenched fears about the perceived destruction of national values and anxieties about the loss of income that lead to such issues, he called upon the international community to be vigilant against incitement of violence and to uphold the integrity of the international refugee protection regime. By acting together in a global campaign to end discrimination, we can lift humanity, he emphasized.
MOHAMED SUHAIMI AHMAD TAJUDDIN (Malaysia), associating himself with the Asia-Pacific Group, said that lack of knowledge about other racial and religious communities contributes to growing hatred and animosity. As such, Malaysia calls upon all Member States to seriously promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue, he said, adding that in this context, Malaysia has pursued efforts to promote sustainable and inclusive development which for all communities.
MOHAMMAD K. KOBA (Indonesia), associating himself with the Asia-Pacific Group, strongly condemned the terrorist attacks against the two mosques in New Zealand, describing them as a reminder of the dangers of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. They also demonstrated a lack of understanding that Islam is a religion of peace, he said, calling upon the international community to refrain from counterproductive statements that may exacerbate the situation and bring about a clash of civilizations. Member States must work together to reinforce the values of tolerance and redouble efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding, he said, emphasizing that they must combat discrimination on any grounds.
ANA SILVIA RODRA�GUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) noted that full implementation of the Durban Declaration is a pending task due to the lack of will to move forward on the part of many States. Pointing out the growth of political parties with racial platforms, she called for implementation of the goals agreed at the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, reiterating Cuba's support for those commitments. She went on to highlight the programme of activities that her country has planned for the International Decade for People of African Descent. Cuba's commitment to eradicating racism is based on its people's pride in their African roots, she said, noting that Cuba remains determined to implement the Durban commitments.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), noting that extremism and racial discrimination weigh heavily upon the international community, expressed her country's commitment to combating attacks such as those carried out against the mosques in New Zealand. She pointed to the global rise of hate speech, taking root in many places in the world, and emphasized the importance of protecting young people from falling prey to extremist ideologies. The international community must disseminate a discourse of tolerance in their place, she stressed, adding that her country is promoting moderate religious approaches to fighting all extremist ideologies and terrorism. The United Arab Emirates has a zero-tolerance policy against all those who promote racism, she emphasized, pointing out that the country has declared 2019 the national year of tolerance. She added that the visit to her country by Pope Francis will promote dialogue between their two religions.
Appointment to Committee on Contributions
The Assembly then took up a report of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) relating to a vacancy on the Committee on Contributions, subsequently appointing Vadim Laputin (Russian Federation) as a member of that entity for a term of office extending from 25 March 2019 to 31 December 2020.
Commemoration of Abolition of Slavery, Transatlantic Slave Trade
Ms. ESPINOSA (Ecuador), Assembly President, said that men, women and children were torn away from their homes in Africa to endure centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, suffering the horrors of exploitation and exclusion. The International Day of Remembrance pays tribute to the trade's victims and its continuing consequences, she said, calling particular attention to the suffering of women, who were essential to maintaining the dignity of their communities and who fought in abolitionist movements. She cited the example of Harriet Tubman, who devoted her life to the abolitionist cause. She went on to speak about the more than 40 million people estimated to be subjected to modern slavery, noting that women and children constitute approximately 71 per cent of those trafficked. The structural causes upholding such exploitation must be addressed, she emphasized, describing racism as an affront to the dignity of people of African descent. Awareness, education and reflection with a critical eye are fundamental, she stressed, calling for the inclusion of young people in any initiatives and highlighting the International Day's theme relating to the power of art as an agent of change.
Mr. GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, said that enslaved people struggled against a system they knew was wrong, resisting and often sacrificing their lives for freedom and dignity. It is important to remember the invincible spirit that led the oppressed to revolt, he said, recognizing the righteous resistance of Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil, Queen Nanny in Jamaica, Queen Nzinga in Angola and Harriet Tubman in the United States, among others. He went on to applaud artists, writers and poets who raise awareness of the issue. In observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, he called upon the international community to carry their messages far and wide, fight racism, combat xenophobia and uphold human dignity for all. People all over the world must stand up against old, as well as new forms of slavery while ensuring justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent, he stressed.
CHRISTOPHER COZIER, Caribbean artist and Prince Claus Laureate, celebrated the role of artists in that region, saying they are still evolving from a past marked by slavery. Citing the nineteenth century Lantern Laws that forced Africans and free coloureds to carry lanterns around at night so they would be visible, he linked that practice to modern notions of assembly and claiming space in the public domain, describing it as commemoration and celebration of both self and community. This is part of the journey from property to freedom, he said, highlighting major Caribbean themes, including the significant individual and the right to assemble and celebrate freedom. Fighting through a slave history creates mindfulness and empathy, which must be maintained, he added.
Mr. MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, described slavery and the transatlantic slave trade as one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity in terms of scale and duration. Commemorating them raises awareness of the dangers of racism and prejudice today, he added. Emphasizing the importance of jazz, blues, gospel and Afro-Caribbean beats in expressing suffering and freedom, he applauded the artistic contributions of people of African descent, recalling that, in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade, African Union Heads of State and Government recalled its depredations and evils during an assembly in February. He noted that, for the 2019 edition, the African Union and the diaspora will hold several activities under the title Year of Our Return, featuring the Door of Return initiative spearheaded by Ghana, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Emphasizing the role of the diaspora and efforts to advance African economic development in tourism, infrastructure and renewable energy, he quoted the words of Marcus Garvey: Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will. He went on to call for 2019 to be a galvanizing moment that will lead people of African descent to reconnect with Mother Africa.
Mr. TONE (Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Group of Asia-Pacific States, said too little is known about the transatlantic slave trade, while acknowledging efforts made to raise public awareness of the subject. The theme, Remember Slavery: Power of the Arts of Justice, signifies use of the arts to confront slavery, empower enslaved communities and honour those who made freedom possible. As such, the theme is illustrated in the exhibition on slavery in the Visitors' Lobby of New York Headquarters, he said, going on to describe the transatlantic slave trade's impact on persons of African descent in New York during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the role of art in their struggle. Moreover, he highlighted the public briefing The role of memorials in preserving history, scheduled for 28 March and hosted by the Department of Global Communications.
Ms. PEJANOVIC A�URISIC (Montenegro), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, noted that the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade represents one of the historic victories of universal human rights and free society. However, slavery has now taken modern forms and is still a reality for millions of victims of human trafficking and forced labour, she noted. Calling for full and effective implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, among other relevant documents, she also urged States to reaffirm their commitments to implementing the 2001 Durban Declaration of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Mr. BELEFFI (San Marino), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, noted that, for centuries, the transatlantic slave trade caused death and horrific suffering for millions of men, women and children deported from their homelands and deprived of freedom, voice and dignity. The international community must show the younger generation the tragedy that occurred, as well as its roots and consequences, while remembering the courageous and noble acts of resistance by its victims, he emphasized. Awareness must be raised about the dangers of today's racism, discrimination and prejudice. Citing the 2019 theme Remember Slavery: Power of the Arts for Justice, he said the arts have been used to confront slavery and empower enslaved communities. They continue to tell the story, celebrate the descendants of victims and transmit to us the scars that this tragedy has brought and still brings. He cited the current United Nations exhibition From Africa to the New World: Slavery in New York, which reveals slavery's impact in the Host City, while calling upon the international community to end slavery in all forms, in accordance with Sustainable Development Goals 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2.
MARGARITA PALAU-HERNANDEZ (United States) noted that the arts have empowered slave communities, honoured those fighting for freedom and highlighted ongoing injustices since the time of the transatlantic slave trade. The United States has a long and painful history with respect to slavery, she observed. Despite the horrors faced by enslaved people in the United States, they expressed themselves through art and their creativity rose above the depravity of slave ownership. In that context, she cited the example of gospel music based on traditional African melodies, the poetry of Maya Angelou and the literature of Toni Morrison. Reaffirming the right to freedom of expression and enjoyment of the arts, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she said the arts constitute an invaluable tool in the pursuit of justice and reconciliation.
RUDOLPH MICHAEL TEN-POW (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the International Day resonates deeply because the vast majority of the bloc's member States are peopled by the descendants of the 15 million African slaves who were uprooted from their families and communities. They endured the harrowing voyage of the Middle Passage and were brought to the Americas in shackles and chains to live a life of hard labour, deprived of the most basic of human freedoms, of their language, culture and religion, and indeed, of their humanity. But, even in those dark days, the spark of human freedom was kept alive and spread across the barriers of language and of tribe, across all the other artificial barriers created to keep the slaves divided, he emphasized. Two centuries later, a Caribbean of free nations is a model of tolerance and diversity, of people from different ethnicities, languages and religions living together in peace and harmony.
Today, the Caribbean is a melting pot with a distinct and captivating culture that has helped to make the region one of the world's top tourist destinations, he continued. Out of nothing, we have created the reggae rhythms, he added, also citing the distinctive cuisine and talented people the region has fostered. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), he continued, more than 40 million people are subjected to modern slavery in all its contemporary forms, including human trafficking, sexual slavery and domestic servitude. Stressing the need to redouble efforts to rid the world of those practices, he recalled that, in 2013, Caribbean nations established the Reparations Commission and mandated it to prepare the case for reparatory justice for the region's indigenous and African-descendant communities who are victims of crimes against humanity, including slavery and slave trading. These victims have a legal right to reparatory justice, and compensatory justice would be a fitting way to honour the memory of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, he said.
Ms. RODRA�GUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said that the roots of the deep inequality, racism and prejudice continuing to affect people of African descent lie in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Quoting her country's former President Fidel Castro, she said 4.5 billion people living in developing countries continue to suffer today. The Government of Cuba supports the demand of CARICOM for payment of reparations, she said, pointing out that developed countries grew rich through merciless exploitation and the creation of an unjust global economic system. Emphasizing that it is crucial to educate present and future generations about the costs and consequences of that exploitation, she noted that, due to slavery, approximately 1.3 million Africans landed in Cuba, with a dramatic effect on its population, now a mix of Hispanic and African peoples. She stressed that, despite the economic blockade, Cuba will continue its efforts to reverse the consequences of slavery around the world, describing the transatlantic slave trade as one of the most serious crimes against humanity.
LAZARUS OMBAI AMAYO (Kenya) said the International Day of Remembrance is an opportunity for Member States to strengthen their collective resolve to eradicate slavery from the face of the Earth. It is horrifying, he noted, that in the twenty-first century, millions of people are victims of forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriages and human trafficking. Condemning the reported existence of slave markets in Libya, he said human slavery also includes the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, child prostitution, sex trafficking, domestic servitude, descent-inherited bondage, as well as early and forced marriage. The United Nations and its Member States must continue to raise awareness of modern-day slavery and its consequences, especially among the most vulnerable groups, he stressed.
OMAR CASTAA�EDA SOLARES (Guatemala) said the transatlantic slave trade represents one of the darkest chapters in human history. However, it is necessary to remember the scale of such behaviour so as to be aware of the dangers of racism and prejudice so apparent in today's world. Guatemala has been making efforts to guarantee that the pernicious effects of slavery are rectified, including by supporting all events making up the commemoration, he said. We must not forget the crimes nor the horrifying repercussions of this appalling trade, he emphasized, pointing out that the persistent effects of slavery have had an indelible impact on Latin American societies. An ingrained social stratification from the colonial era continues to affect Guatemala, which is now striving to become an inclusive society, he said, noting, however, that people of African descent continue to face problems all over the world.
Source: United Nations