Geneva — The UN Deputy Secretary-General addresses the UN Human Rights Council.
I welcome this opportunity to speak to this urgent and necessary debate of the Human Rights Council.
I bring you warm greetings from Secretary-General António Guterres, who shares your abhorrence of racism and is committed to fighting it with every tool we have.
Allow me to quote from the letter he sent last week to all UN staff: “The position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear: this scourge violates the United Nations Charter and debases our core values.”
The Secretary-General has called for dismantling racist structures and confronting the systemic ills of institutions. In the UN, he has launched a one-year process to address these grave staff concerns.
He has also called for massive investments in social cohesion. Diversity, he has stressed, “is a richness, not a threat”.
I wish to echo the recent cogent words of UN Under-Secretaries-General who are African or of African Descent. In a statement three days ago, they stressed that: “Not enough can ever be said about the deep trauma and inter-generational suffering that has resulted from the racial injustice perpetrated through centuries, particularly against people of African descent. To merely condemn expressions and acts of racism is not enough. We must go beyond and do more.”
The Human Rights Council meets as marches for racial justice and equality fill the streets of cities and towns around the world. The most recent trigger for these protests was the killing of George Floyd in an appalling act of police brutality.
But the violence spans history and borders alike, across the globe. Today, people are saying, loudly and movingly, “Enough”.
The United Nations has a duty to respond to the anguish that has been felt by so many for so long. This cause is at the heart of our Organization’s identity.
Equal rights are enshrined in our founding Charter. Just as we fought apartheid years ago, so must we fight the hatred, oppression and humiliation today.
We must also never forget the crimes and the negative impacts, in Africa and beyond, of the transatlantic slave trade, one of history’s most appalling manifestations of human barbarity.
Across the world, Afro-descendants continue to be trapped in generational cycles of poverty created by unfair obstacles to their development.
They receive unequal services, and face unjustifiable housing and employment practises. Racial profiling is widespread. And because of poverty and structural racism, they are also among the communities hardest-hit by COVID-19.
As we recover from the pandemic, returning to these systems is out of the question. We also need measures that will genuinely re-set law enforcement.
The battle against racism did not end with this or that legislation, and racism was not vanquished by this or that election. The poison of racism still rages, and so the fight must still be waged.
On a personal level, from my high school days in the United Kingdom through my career across the private sector, civil society and now international public service, I have grown thick skin. I have even become numb, to the extent that one has forgotten how to feel the injustice of racial slurs and my human right to live a life of dignity and respect.
When I consider the beauty of my diversity and the amazing diversity of race… When I consider that we are born equal, only to find that the colour of one’s skin sentences us to a life of discrimination and injustice…
I ask myself, I ask all of you, I ask people everywhere : How can we possibly continue to turn the other way? Enough is enough.
The world must rise to end racism in all its obnoxious forms. Let us turn the page of history today by making this a turning point when we agree that all humans have the right to thrive with dignity and freedom from racism and discrimination in all its forms.
I too, like Martin Luther King Jr, have a dream where my granddaughter Maya will grow up in a world where she will not be judged by the colour of her skin but by the strength of her character.
Lasting peace, and sustainable development can only be built on the equality, human rights and dignity of everyone. The United Nations, its leadership and staff, stands with all those who are pursuing the end of the scourge of racism in all its forms.
This is today’s sacred battle.