The 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council
27 February – 4 April 2023
Agenda Item 9 – General Debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance: follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
30th March 2023
By Emily Bare / GICJ
On the 30th of March 2023, during the 49th meeting of the 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council, the Chair Rapporteur of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, Ms. Marie Chantal Rwakazina, reaffirmed the importance of the document as a tool against racism and intolerance globally. She reiterated that the Declaration’s comprehensive agenda is a solution to addressing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. As such, the Chair Rapporteur also encouraged states to step up their efforts to promote bilateral, regional, and international collaboration in putting national action plans into effect and for the international community to reinvigorate their commitment and political will for the cause of ending prejudice.
Importantly, she mentioned how last year the General Assembly requested that the Working Group entrust at least half of its session to the elaboration of a draft United Nations Declaration on the promotion and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent. Ms. Rwakazina stated that the Working Group had begun this process by drafting a working document that is set to be submitted to the General Assembly in December 2024. The draft report addresses many things, including concrete measures against racism and racial discrimination against people of African descent and elaborates on the rights of people of African descent in accordance with international human rights law.
During the general debate, many representatives addressed their concerns about the persistence of racism and discrimination across the globe. In addition to many other important issues that were discussed, many representatives expressed the importance of relying on the DDPA in the creation of the draft report being prepared by the Working Group. They urged states to rely on the DDPA as a roadmap to provide equality and justice and in combating racism and other intolerances, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the Working Group for its work and draft report. However, we are appalled by the persistent racism and discrimination that continues around the world, especially against people of African descent. GICJ calls on states to renew and reaffirm their commitment to ending all forms of racism and discrimination.
Further, we encourage States and education institutions to embody the DDPA’s call for the strengthening of human rights education by providing fundamental support toward educational programs and subjects that challenge anti-democratic ideologies but enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Adopted by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Discrimination, on the 8th of September 2001, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action is the UN’s framework to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance globally. The DDPA is a political promise, and although it is not legally binding, it symbolises the international community's unwavering commitment and has a great moral worth, providing a foundation for advocacy activities around the world.
The scourge of racism is persistent, and it continues to take up new forms, affecting millions of people around the world through racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance. Article 1(1) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) defines racial discrimination in broad terms as:
“Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 1996-2022).
The Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (hereinafter referred to as the "Working Group") is one of three mechanisms established to follow up on the Declaration and Programme of Action (hereinafter referred to as the "DDPA"). It was established by the Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/68. Additionally, the Working Group is an open-ended working group, meaning that all United Nations Member and Observer States, inter-governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations with ECOSOC consultative status and non-governmental organisations that were accredited for the World Conference against Racism may attend public meetings of the Working Group.
The current Chair Rapporteur of the Working Group is Ms. Marie Chantal Rwakazina, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Report of the Intergovernmental Working Group
On the 30th of March, during the 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council, the Chair Rapporteur of the Working Group, Ms. Marie Chantal Rwakazina, discussed the Working Group's report (A/HRC/52/78). The report laid out issues relating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance and provided information on the 20th Session of the Working Group that took place in October 2022.
Ms. Rwakazina explained how the report focused on challenges in the rights of individuals of African descent. She stated how over the years, we have deepened our current understanding of racism and have shared good practices from different parts of the world. She explained how the DDPA continues to be the most progressive agenda to combat racism and that we have discussed measures to enhance the effectiveness of the implementation of the DDPA follow-up mechanisms.
Importantly, she mentioned how last year the General Assembly requested that the Working Group entrust at least half of its session to the elaboration of a draft United Nations Declaration on the promotion and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent. Ms. Rwakazina stated that the Working Group has begun this process by drafting a working document that is set to be submitted to the General Assembly in December 2024. She emphasised that "we need to keep advancing in order to fulfil the request of the General Assembly and to agree on concrete measures on racial equality for people of African descent." Further, she stated how the work thus far prepared in the report is a compilation of international human rights law and of inputs by various stakeholders.
The draft starts with a broad preamble highlighting many things, including (but not limited to): (1) the consequent urge to the international community to take responsibility and to repair the violations of human rights against people of African descent; (2) the acknowledgement of the suffering and evils inflicted on people of African descent as a result of slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, genocide, and past tragedies; and (3) the recognition that colonialism related to racism and racial discrimination and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of colonialism and continue to be victims of colonialism. The report further advances concrete measures against racism and racial discrimination against people of African descent and elaborates the rights of people of African descent in accordance with international human rights law.
Despite these positive advances toward the drafting of this report, she stated that the international community must take responsibility and repair the previous and current violations of human rights against people of African descent. In doing so, she emphasised the importance of considering the concerns of people of African descent.
In response to the presentation of the report, the representative of Qatar, on behalf of a group of Arab states, stated that racial intolerances still prevail and are on the rise in several regions of the world. She stated that the Koran, the state's sacred book, has been banned in many different states in the name of freedom of expression, which only stokes hatred against Muslims and Islam. This scourge threatens democracy and undermines the social fabric leading to the hampering of stability in many states. She explained that the strengthening of human rights is incumbent upon governments so governments must take measures to dismantle this kind of ideology.
The representative of Côte D'Ivoire, on behalf of African states, stressed that the provisions of the DDPA shall form the core of the new draft document. The DDPA shall be used to address the root causes of racism. He further explained that states should use the DDPA as a roadmap to provide equality and justice and combating racism and other intolerances regardless of race or ethnicity. He urged all states to take concrete and urgent measures to address these issues and adhere to the DDPA as well as promote awareness and education on diversity.
The representative of Saudi Arabia, on behalf of a group of Asian states, highlighted the need to focus on tolerance and respect regardless of one's religion or culture. She stressed that dialogue among civilization is essential for peace. To combat hate speech, she noted that we must acknowledge and address past transgressions and review policies actively. We must also keep in mind that combatting hate speech, intolerance, or stereotyping based on religion or culture requires further global attention. She then reminded UN member states of their commitment to promote and respect their observance of human rights. She urged the OHCHR to take further steps to address these issues and promote respect for religions and diversity.
The representative of Brazil, on behalf of a group of Latin American states, stated that currently there is an unacceptable level of inequality, poverty, and hunger that particularly affects people of African descent and that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential to work to ensure that the colour of one’s skin does not affect the future of our young people. He stated that we must tackle the challenge of overcoming colonialism and slavery with a view toward ensuring that human rights can be universally enjoyed without any discrimination. He emphasised that equity is built through being intentional, transparent, and showing responsibility and concluded by calling on all states to participate in this initiative with the view to achieving a consensus document for 2024.
The representative of Luxembourg, on behalf of a group of countries supporting R2P, stated that history teaches us that no society is immune to discrimination. However, the rise in hate speech in recent years, including by leaders in government, is a true example of how it can lead to a rise in violence. He highlighted that we must fight racism at every level - which includes strengthening legislative and institutional frameworks, eliminating racial discrimination in political and public offices, and investigating and sanctioning cases of racial discrimination or hate speech. He concluded by stating that we must protect populations at risk and confront deeply entrenched racism.
The representative of South Africa stated that the country is deeply concerned that some states are acting to undermine the follow up and implementation of the DDPA. He stated that these attempts are set to water down the commitments of the DDPA. He concluded by urging all states to reaffirm their commitment to the DDPA and to take concrete steps to implement its provisions.
Civil Society Organisations:
GICJ delivered two statements, jointly with the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (ISMUN) and Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration.
First, Frizia stressed the importance of good faith implementation of the UN resolutions by the UN and OHCHR and asked for the implementation of the Council's request to the OHCHR to publish the Decade programme in an easily accessible brochure format for wide dissemination.
Then, Mutua reiterated the necessity to identify existing racialized challenges and barriers that come in various forms including legal hurdles and other types of human rights violations
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) warmly welcomes the efforts and contribution of all states for eliminating and reducing social inequalities that are caused by discriminatory and intolerant practices, especially as against people of African descent. However, racism, discrimination and intolerance are still present in all levels of society. Therefore, GICJ calls on states to renew and reaffirm their commitment to ending all forms of racism and discrimination.
The DDPA further emphasises the significance of preventive and concerted action, especially in the field of education and awareness-raising. We encourage States and education institutions to embody the DDPA’s call for the strengthening of human rights education by providing fundamental support toward educational programs and subjects that challenge anti-democratic ideologies but enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
GICJ urges states to be more inclusive and incorporate the voices of those most vulnerable into the relevant decision-making processes.
DDPA, African Descent, Equality, Discrimination, Human Rights Violations, HRC52 Regular Session, General Debate, Human Rights, Human Rights Council, United Nations, Geneva4Justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice