UNGA 76: World leaders discuss equality for people of African descent

UNGA 76: World leaders discuss equality for people of African descent

Wednesday, September 22, 2021 10:27 pm

UN Photo/Cia Pak Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the opening of the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session.

UN Photo/Cia Pak Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the opening of the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session.

By Cecilia Ologunagba

Heads of states and governments on Wednesday gathered in New York as part of UN General Assembly to discuss reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a high-level meeting at UN headquarters that two decades after a landmark Declaration was adopted to eradicate racism, it had continued to permeate the society.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), he said two decades after its adoption, racism, discrimination had continued to permeate institutions, social structures and everyday life in every society.

“People of African descent, minority communities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, displaced persons, and so many others – all continue to confront hatred, stigmatisation, scapegoating, discrimination, and violence.

“Xenophobia, misogyny, hateful conspiracies, white supremacy and Neo-Nazi ideologies are spreading – amplified in echo chambers of hate,” Guterres said.

According to him, from glaring infringements to creeping transgressions, human rights were under assault.

”Structural racism and systematic injustice still deny people their fundamental human rights, and linkages between racism and gender inequality are unmistakable”, he said.

Some of the worst impacts in the “overlaps and intersections of discrimination” are suffered by women. And the world is witnessing “a troubling rise” in antisemitism, growing anti-Muslim bigotry and the mistreatment of minority Christians, he pointed out.

The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted the secretary-general as urging everyone to condemn discrimination, hateful speech, and baseless assertions, as those pushing that ideology today, denigrate “our essential fight against racism”.

Guterres highlighted a “transformative agenda” launched by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to try and dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and deliver reparatory justice.

“This new awakening, often led by women and young people, has created momentum we must seize upon”, he said, also recognising the “meaningful progress” made by the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent in confronting systemic racism.

The UN chief called on Member States to “take concrete actions” to support these efforts on national and global levels.

“Also, to “recognise the contemporary resonance of past crimes that continue to haunt our present”, such as transgenerational suffering and structural inequalities “deeply rooted in centuries of enslavement and colonial exploitation”.

“We must reverse the consequences of generations of exclusion and discrimination – including their obvious social and economic dimensions, through reparatory justice frameworks”.

The UN chief urged everyone to “recognise diversity as richness” and understand that fighting racism was a universal and “concrete struggle in every society”.

“No country can claim to be free from it”, he said, underscoring the need to redress political, economic and structural imbalances; ensure that everyone feels respected as a valued member of society; and “stand together as one human family, rich in diversity, equal in dignity and rights, united in solidarity”.

At a time when the world feels more divided than ever, the secretary-general encouraged everyone to “unite around our common humanity…and re-commit ourselves to this essential purpose”.

General Assembly President, Abdulla Shahid, upheld that the world had not done enough to “tackle the pervasiveness” of racial discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia.

“Racism begets violence, displacement, and inequity.  It lives on because we allow it to. It penetrates society because we fail to acknowledge diversity,” he said.

According to him, the COVID-19 pandemic further exemplified how far the world was from righting past wrongs.

Shahid urged world leaders to turn the tide on racism and intolerance by recognising these failings and seeking racial equality to “close that divide” and build resilience for those left behind.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet said it was vital to address the lasting consequences of racism, as millions continued to bear its burden, past and present; the legacy of colonial exploitation; and the inhuman and criminal enslavement of Africans.

Reparations must go “beyond symbolism” to include measures of restitution, rehabilitation and guarantees that it will never happen again, she said.

And they will require “political, human and financial capital”, which, the UN rights chief added, “should be seen alongside the enrichment of many economies through enslavement and exploitation”. (NAN)

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