Third Committee Highlights Continued Bias against People of African Descent, Law Enforcement Violence, Underscores Need for UN Declaration on Rights

Committee Also Spotlights Unethical Use of Mercenaries, Right to Self-Determination for Palestinians Suffering Continued Conflict in Gaza

There is momentum for global dialogue on reparatory justice for people of African descent, experts told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as numerous delegates also voiced support for the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

Barbara G. Reynolds, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, said postcolonial structures in banking, finance, insurance, taxation, land rights and land use continue to subject people of African descent to a third wave of economic deprivation and constrain intergenerational wealth creation.  Detailing the Group’s fact-finding country visits to Australia and the United Kingdom, she voiced concern over the pervasive experiences of racial discrimination, racial profiling and harassment, as well as the disproportionate numbers of people of African descent, particularly males, in custody due to racial bias against them in the criminal justice system.  In the United Kingdom, the treatment of descendants of the Windrush Generation — immigrants to the United Kingdom from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973 — is particularly disturbing, as is the indefinite detention of people of African descent in migration detention in Australia.

Adding to that, Epsy Campbell Barr, Chair of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, highlighted the continued excessive use of force by law enforcement against people of African descent, persistent violence against migrants and asylum seekers of African descent, and backsliding in the area of equal education.  Against this backdrop, she underlined the importance of drafting a UN declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect for the human rights of people of African descent.

Sorcha MacLeod, speaking on behalf of Ravindran Daniel, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, said the recruitment, training, financing and use of mercenaries remains a systemic problem that cuts across regions, countries and international as well as non-international armed conflicts.  A significant increase in the use of mercenaries in armed conflict undermines peace processes and destabilizes regions.  Underscoring that mercenaryism is a symptom of root causes, she said any attempts to prevent recruitment or financing of mercenaries must be complemented by development efforts.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Iraq’s delegate advocated for regulation of private military security companies to prevent human rights violations and ensure accountability.

Cuba’s delegate, noting that mercenaryism is outlawed in his country, said Washington provides financing and logistical support to mercenary groups to overthrow freely elected leaders, deprive people of their right to self-determination and extract resources in the Global South.

The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, said mercenaries — such as the Wagner Group in Ukraine — exacerbate and prolong conflicts and human rights violations in regions where they are employed.

Later in the day, the Committee continued its general discussion on the right to self-determination and the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Numerous delegates expressed solidarity with Palestinians, noting that all peoples — including those under foreign occupation — have the right to self-determination.

Among them was the representative of Bangladesh, who condemned in the strongest possible terms the occupation by Israel as well as “its genocidal policies and actions in Palestine”.  Israel’s current military operation in Gaza has crossed all boundaries of international norms and principles, he said, adding that over 7,000 civilians have been killed so far, half of them children.  Voicing regret over the inability of the Security Council to stop Israel’s atrocities, he called for an immediate humanitarian truce and welcomed the announcement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to prioritize investigation in the situation of Palestine.

Adding to that, Jordan’s delegate said that, over the past three weeks, 59 staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) have been killed in Gaza.  Further, indiscriminate shelling and the collective deprivation of food, water and fuel heighten exposure of the most vulnerable in Gaza to racial discrimination and xenophobic violence, she warned.

Also expressing dismay over the situation in Gaza and the 8,000 deaths therein was the representative of Indonesia, who said they represent dreams shattered, families broken and futures stolen.  The peace process must be restarted to avoid a situation where “there is nothing left to negotiate with or, tragically, no one left to negotiate with”, she said.

For Palestinians under Israeli occupation, the right to self-determination only exists in theory, said the representative of the League of Arab States, citing Israel’s attempts to expel the people of occupied Gaza to the south before their displacement to neighbouring countries as flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. The League will leave no stone unturned to obtain Palestinians’ legitimate rights through peaceful diplomatic and legal means, so that they can live in peace, freedom and dignity in their independent Palestinian State.

Meanwhile, Israel’s delegate said that, since the 7 October terrorist attack, antisemitism and attempts to delegitimize Israel have reached a fever point.  Jews are being attacked worldwide, as demonstrated by protests that erupted worldwide following the attacks.  The events of 7 October, and the days that followed, have shown the importance of the Jewish right to self-determination, she asserted.

Many drew attention to profound disparities that people of African descent worldwide continue to face, with Cameroon’s delegate underscoring that illegal and financial consequences of the transatlantic slave trade need to be fully acknowledged.  However, there is systematic opposition to a resolution for specific global action to eliminate racism and racial discrimination, she observed, underlining the need to restore the truth and the role played by the slave trade in colonization as well as unconditional return of cultural property from museums.

From the perspective of a country that endured centuries of colonial domination, Mozambique’s delegate emphasized that Western Sahara — as a Non-Self-Governing Territory — should be given support to achieve a political solution through a negotiation process.

The representative of Costa Rica said that, according to a 2018 World Bank report on the Americas, those born of parents of African descent have a 2.5 times greater probability of living in poverty.  In this respect, the establishment of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent has been a catalyst for the UN anti-racist architecture and has contributed to repairing historic injustices and systemic racism.

Interactive Dialogues — People of African Descent

The Committee began the day with interactive dialogues on the theme “Racism and self-determination”, featuring presentations by:  Barbara G. Reynolds, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Epsy Campbell Barr, Chair of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent; and Ravindran Daniel, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.

Ms. REYNOLDS, presenting her report (document A/78/277), highlighted an analysis of how postcolonial structures, systems and practices continue to mimic the intent laid down during enslavement and colonization across the intersections of civil, political, economic and cultural spheres, subjecting people of African descent to a third wave of economic deprivation and hardship.  These structures, which are in banking, finance, insurance, taxation, land rights and land use, continue to constrain wealth creation and, most importantly, intergenerational wealth creation.  She recognized that Black debt, or systems and policies that have effectively promoted precarity and drained assets from individuals and communities of African descent via financial instruments, is a burden at national, community and individual levels.  Accordingly, she urged all Member States to put in place mechanisms to eliminate structural and systemic bias and discrimination against people of African descent.

Further, she underscored that particular attention must be paid to the responsibility of religious organizations to remedy centuries of harm to people of African descent.  The Working Group also examined the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in everyday life and concluded that urgent attention to the ethical and technical dimensions of AI in the context of human rights is imperative.  The negative impact of AI and the use of racially biased algorithms is already negatively affecting people of African descent, and in the face of the widening digital divide, she acknowledged the need for more relevant education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels for people of African descent.

Highlighting the Working Group’s fact-finding country visits to Australia and the United Kingdom, she welcomed good practices taken by both States to eliminate racial discrimination and guarantee the human rights of people of African descent.  However, despite positive measures, she noted the pervasive, persistent and serious experiences of racial discrimination, racial profiling and harassment, as well as exclusion of people of African descent in the policing of Black communities, schools, the workplace and in public spaces.  “We are concerned about the disproportionate numbers of people of African descent, particularly males, in custody because of racial bias against people of African descent in the criminal justice system, such as the use of the gang narrative, joint enterprise prosecutions and a so-called character test,” she added.  In the United Kingdom, the treatment of the descendants of the Windrush Generation is particularly disturbing, and so is the indefinite detention of people of African descent in migration detention in Australia.

There is momentum for global dialogue on reparatory justice, she said, recommending that all stakeholders enhance awareness about the cause and consequences of Black indebtedness, and its cost, not just to people of African descent, but to humanity.  To this end, the Working Group will hold its thirty-fifth Session on Reparatory Justice in Jamaica in November 2024.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates underlined the need to combat racism and racial discrimination through effective measures, including implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, stressed the need to tackle unemployment, poverty and discrimination with fair and well-functioning labour markets, fit for the twenty-first century.  The racial equality directive is of crucial importance, he stressed, underlining the need for access to vocational training, social protection, health care and education.  He asked Ms. Reynolds to elaborate on the impact of the global digital divide on economic opportunities for people of African descent.

In the same vein, Brazil’s delegate voiced concern over racial inequality and discrimination, which fuel poverty, economic inequality and violations of human rights of people of African descent worldwide, calling for a more equitable system, which enables them to foster their educational achievements and employment opportunities.

The representative of the United States said it is critical to combat systemic racism and ensure the meaningful participation of people of African descent in his country and worldwide.  Systemic racism continues to persist in every society as a result of lingering legacies of the horrific transatlantic slave trade.  Negative impacts of systemic racism on people of African descent are felt in all aspects of life, he said, pointing in this regard to the establishment of the first ever presidential Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States.

Meanwhile, China’s delegate expressed concern over racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia faced by people of African descent in some Western countries.  Advocating for dialogue among races, she called for the right to development for all and stressed the need to break the vicious cycle of inequality and racism. To this end, States must address the causes of systemic racism and discrimination, including poverty, unemployment, health care and education.

The representative of the Russian Federation highlighted the shift in the international human rights discourse towards acknowledging the fact that racism and racial discrimination are systemic and structural in nature.  One of the main barriers on the way to implementing the opportunities of the people of African descent is racial profiling, which is pervasive in education, health care, education, housing and social services.  This is widespread in Western countries, particularly the European Union, he added, pointing to deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes against people of African descent.

Cameroon’s delegate said racism is a heinous crime, highlighting its link with slavery.  Underlining the importance of the empowerment of people of African descent in employment, including through access to funding and economic development, she said the issue of reparations is central to promoting their economic empowerment.

Responding, Ms. REYNOLDS highlighted the cumulative and multiplier effect of AI, adding that “those who are behind will fall further behind”.  Therefore, the integration of people of African descent in research is crucial. Noting positive measures, she said the Government of Uruguay has reserved a proportionate number of employment positions for people of African descent.  She also advocated for initiatives making sure that people of African descent are not subjected to reprisals.  People of African descent are “neither monolithic or monochromatic” but “as diverse as any other group”, with cultures and views equally diverse.

Permanent Forum on People of African Descent

Ms. CAMPBELL BARR presented the report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (document A/78/277).  Systemic racism, racial discrimination and various forms of xenophobia have undermined the universality of human rights and achievements made by mankind to put an end to slavery, apartheid, colonial rule and discriminatory practices and laws, she said.  This year, the excessive use of force by law enforcement against people of African descent, persistent violence against migrants and asylum seekers of African descent, and backsliding in the area of equal education has continued.  All of this points to the systemic nature of racial discrimination, which highlights the magnitude of human rights violations they face, and the constant denial of the fact that these actions are based on racism.  During its two sessions, the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent reaffirmed the importance of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and underscored the key importance of drafting a UN Declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect for the human rights of people of African descent, which will promote, safeguard and actively defend the human rights of people of African descent.  In drafting the declaration, the Forum is fully committed to holding broad and exhaustive consultations with civil society and other interested parties from various regions of the world.

Further, the Forum underscored the fact that the International Decade for People of African Descent has played a crucial role in raising awareness about the historic and contemporary challenges people of African descent face.  It has served as a platform for recognizing historic injustices such as colonialism, the enslavement of Africans, the transatlantic slave trade and consequences of that for more than 300 years.  Despite the positive measures that have been implemented, the Permanent Forum is greatly concerned that people of African descent continue to face systemic racism and racial discrimination and that they face deeply rooted discriminatory practices.  This continues to be a major challenge in the matter of seeking reparative justice; development and full acknowledgment of people of African descent; and addressing effectively and comprehensively systemic and structural racial discrimination. The Forum urges the General Assembly to promulgate a second International Decade for People of African descent.  In addition, the Forum urges Member States to take actions and measures towards reparative justice, as such reparations are a cornerstone for justice.  Without that, an effective sustainable development programme, either at the national or international level, is not possible.  In particular, the Forum will call for the establishment of an independent international commission to investigate reparative justice for Haiti within the Human Rights Council, under the General Assembly, and the promulgation of an international law on reparative justice.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the delegate for Canada said people of African descent throughout the world continue suffering from unique historic injustice in systemic racism, discrimination and intergenerational trauma.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, reaffirmed the bloc’s strong commitment to the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.  He emphasized a need to show more political will and accelerate the pace of action.

The delegate for Mexico welcomed the fact that the Permanent Forum is chaired by a woman and asked for examples of best practices to address systemic discrimination, considering that racial discrimination and exclusion take on many forms, overlapping with other forms of intolerance, such as xenophobia or gender-based discrimination.

The representative of Brazil noted her country’s commitment to the promotion of racial equality, adding that the creation of a Ministry of Racial Equality by the Brazilian Government was an important step to strengthen its policies aimed at reparatory justice and to address systemic and structural racism.

The delegate for the Russian Federation agreed with the need to rectify long-term consequences of the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, genocide and apartheid, which were conducted against people of African descent.  He called for the creation of an international fund for the restitution and timely return of cultural artifacts to Africa.

The representative of Colombia expressed support for a UN declaration on the promotion and full respect for the rights of people of African descent.  It should include essential elements, such as universal recognition of their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

The delegate for China called colonialism, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade the darkest hours of human history, which caused great suffering for African people. Further, the cancer of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance has yet to be eradicated.

In her response, Ms. CAMPBELL BARR emphasized the need to promote and strengthen more inclusive laws to change the quality of life for people of African descent.

Second, she urged the establishment of observatories to make sure that laws are equal and fair for people of African descent, together with national mechanisms to combat racism and racial discrimination.

With regard to best practices, she said it will be particularly interesting to have exchanges between Governments to promote and share best practices.

She said the Forum is committed to having Portuguese as one of its working languages, as Brazil has the largest population of people of African descent outside Africa.

She said a greater collective effort is needed to eradicate systemic racism.

Mercenaries and Right to Self-Determination

SORCHA MACLEOD, speaking on behalf of Mr. Daniel, updated the Committee on the activities of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.  The Group has conducted two visits during the reporting cycle, to Greece and Armenia, and led several communications to States and concerned actors on behalf of those at risk of rights violations arising from mercenary activities.  Turning to the Working Group’s report (document A/78/535) on the regulatory environment around mercenaries, mercenary-related actors and private military and security companies, she said the document gives a stocktake of the current international humanitarian law framework in relation to mercenaries.  It notes emerging trends in the use of mercenaries and an overview of international regulatory frameworks to strengthen their applicability.

Findings highlight that the recruitment, training, financing and use of mercenaries and mercenary-related actors remains a systemic and growing problem that cuts across regions, individual countries and multiple international and non-international armed conflicts, she said. The Group has repeatedly warned that a significant increase in the use of mercenaries in armed conflict undermines peace processes and destabilizes regions, she recalled, noting that they exacerbate crimes against humanity.  She voiced regret that international and legal frameworks for mercenaries exist, but few Member States implement them.  She noted that any attempts to prevent recruitment or financing of mercenaries must be complemented by development efforts that address root causes of mercenaryism, which often intersect with structural exclusion and poverty.  She urged Member States to focus on structural causes of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination undermining the agency of rights holders in that regard.

The Working Group welcomes initiatives, such as the Montreux Document and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, regarding the continued development of private business entities that provide military or security services, she said, underscoring the importance of a binding treaty on business and human rights in that regard. Effective remedies for victims must also be ensured.  To prevent and mitigate the negative human rights impacts caused by mercenary activities, States should refrain from recruiting, using, financing and training mercenaries and prohibit such conduct in domestic law, she said.  She noted further that they should take all measures necessary to ensure the legal liability of businesses providing security or military services managed from the State’s territory.  Noting that mercenaryism is a symptom of root causes, she stressed that States must look deeper in addressing structural poverty and social injustice to create a just, free and sustainable future.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said that the role and actions of mercenaries should not be confused with actions of private military and private security companies, calling on the Working Group to focus its mandate on mercenaries exclusively.  He expressed concern that mercenaries, such as the Wagner Group, exacerbate and prolong conflicts and human rights violations in regions where they are employed, specifically in the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.

The Representative of Cuba voiced concern that countries like the United States provide financing and logistical support to mercenary groups to overthrow freely elected leaders and deprive people of their right to self-determination as well as ensure extraction of resources in the Global South.  He called on the Group to continue reviewing such activities and on States to refrain from employing mercenaries.  Mercenaryism is outlawed in Cuba, and the country is opposed to Cuban citizens’ involvement in the enslavement of any people.

The Representative of Iraq said private military security companies require regulation, noting that his country regulates them, preventing human rights violations and ensuring accountability.  He asked about consequences of the use of mercenaries under international human rights law and to what extent a legally binding instrument is needed on the issue.

The Representative of Armenia recalled the Working Group’s visit to his country in February after it acceded to the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, which has been integrated into its domestic legal framework.  Recalling the words of the Working Group, he said Armenia will play a pioneering role in accountability efforts going forward. The Group visited the southern territory of Armenia and saw military encroachments there, he said, noting that its report puts groundless allegations against his country to rest.

In response, Ms. MACLEOD said a legally binding instrument addressing private military and security companies is necessary, adding that the Working Group produced a draft several years ago.  Gaps currently exist in all regulatory frameworks, particularly in protection and accountability for victims, which need to be filled.  Whether binding or non-binding, international agreement that these actors must be regulated is important, given the exponential increase in mercenary actors around the world.  The international legal definition of mercenary is narrow, and States circumvent it by recruiting foreign nationals as “trainers” or “instructors”.  It is “deeply unhelpful” to categorize actors as either mercenaries or private military and security companies, while in both situations human rights violations can occur, and criminal prosecutions are hampered if the legal definition of mercenary is not met.  She called on States to implement legislation addressing the use of mercenaries, lamenting that remedies are rare for victims.

General Debate

ARAM HAKOBYAN (Armenia) said hate speech, discrimination and xenophobia in any form should be condemned fully and unequivocally.  In the current digital era, hate propaganda is often amplified by information technologies, making it easier to brainwash large segments of society.  Political leaders, academia, civil society and media bear special responsibility in curtailing hate speech, hate propaganda and indoctrination, both online and offline.  “Unfortunately, time and again, we have seen some of these same actors incite hatred and hate crimes, deny and justify past crimes,” he stressed.  Institutionalized hate speech targeting ethnic and religious groups often represents the root cause of conflicts.  Such cases of discrimination and xenophobia are early warning signs, which, if unaddressed, pave the way for atrocity crimes.  In this regard, he said Armenians have long been a target of State-led hate propaganda and xenophobia in neighbouring Azerbaijan, including at the highest level.

NELLY BANAKEN ELEL (Cameroon) said that, today, Africans and their descendants are still the first victims of the transatlantic slave trade.  The Durban Programme of Action recognizes that illegal and financial consequences of the transatlantic slave trade need to be fully recognized and acknowledged.  However, there is systematic opposition to a resolution for specific global action to eliminate racism and racial discrimination.  She said Member States need to ask themselves why there is this disdain for the discussion of racism, and asked if it is related to shame.  Racism, she said, is something that should be tackled directly.  She called for steps, including a broad review of the teaching of history, to restore the truth and the role played by the slave trade in colonization and a prompt and unconditional return of cultural property from museums.

DYLAN LANG (United States) said that systematic exclusion of minorities, including those of African descent, continues to impede economic development everywhere, adding that intersectional discrimination compounds this.  Worse, these communities are also disproportionately affected by climate change disasters and structural poverty. Applauding human rights defenders who give those communities hope, his country established the Secretary of State’s Award for Global Anti-Racism Champions for those who fight against the rampant racism and xenophobia affecting their communities.  Recipients include human rights defenders from Peru, Tunisia and Bangladesh.  This, along with a strategy to combat antisemitism, is just part of the country’s commitment to combating racism and xenophobia.  No nation is beyond scrutiny, he said, noting that willingness to admit shortcomings will lead to improvement and a more perfect union.  He reaffirmed that no one should be prevented from living up to their fullest potential because of their race or ethnicity.

ELIE ALTARSHA (Syria), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, said the fact that States are still discussing the right to self-determination attests to the fact that some States still do not respect this right.  People are still deprived of their right to self-determination as if it was a luxury, he stressed, noting also that the rights to life, stability and security are not given to the Palestinian people.  Citing Israel as “the worst occupying regime known to humanity in the modern time”, he said its apartheid wall is stopping Palestinians from achieving their right to self-determination and establishing their State.  Moreover, Israel has been occupying the Syrian Golan since 1967.

MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) said her country reaffirms its commitment to a society free from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance, in which a racial background is welcomed as part of the diversity of people of African descent.  Her country proposed to the General Assembly in 2020 that 31 August be celebrated as the International Day for People of African Descent. Secondly, Costa Rica draws attention to profound disparities that people of African descent worldwide continue to face. She noted that, according to a 2018 World Bank report on the Americas, those born of parents of African descent have a 2.5 times greater probability of living in poverty.  Costa Rica firmly believes that the establishment of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent has been a catalyst for the United Nations anti-racist architecture and has contributed to repairing historic injustices and systemic racism.

MARISKA DWIANTI DHANUTIRTO (Indonesia) voiced concern over the rise of racism on Internet platforms, particularly Islamophobia and the burning of the holy Qur’an.  It is urgent to eliminate racial discrimination, she said, stressing that continuing dialogue must foster a better understanding of differences. Home to a myriad of cultures, ethnicities and religions, her country recognizes the importance of harmony for its national unity.  A 2008 law regulates protection of cultural identity and background.  At international fora, Indonesia will continue to promote dialogue, such as the Jakarta Plurilateral Dialogue 2023, which emphasizes best practices enforcing Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 (2011).  Social media platforms as well as AI have the potential to bridge divides, but also amplify divisions, she said, calling on States to adopt measures to ensure respect for diverse communities in the digital age.  The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is the document to address racism and discrimination.

In a second statement on the right to self-determination, she said the situation in Palestine underscores the urgent need to realize the right, as enshrined in numerous Security Council resolutions, to unambiguously support its claims in that regard.  Undermining resolutions subverts international law, she said, emphasizing that the peace process must be restarted to avoid a situation where “there is nothing left to negotiate with or, tragically, no one left to negotiate with”. Indonesia reiterates that all peoples, including those under foreign occupation, have a right to self-determination and voices its opposition to foreign military occupation.  Expressing dismay over the situation in Gaza and the 8,000 deaths, she said this represents dreams shattered, families broken and futures stolen.  “We must give voice to the voiceless,” she said, noting that no double standards can exist in international human rights law.  “Our shared humanity prevails over conflicts that divide us,” she said.

ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ BEHMARAS (Cuba) said the United States continues to justify the promotion of supremacist, xenophobic and racist ideas, including in the political apparatus.  Condemning systemic racism against minorities of African descent and Indigenous Peoples, he highlighted the issue of police brutality, adding that the supremacist theory is completely unjustifiable and dangerous. To Cuba, eliminating racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia is an absolute moral imperative, he said, detailing his country’s achievements to that end.  However, self-determination is impossible for people subjected to colonial domination or foreign occupation.  This is the case for the Palestinian people who — for decades — have been subjected to the Israeli practices of illegal occupation and settlements. Additionally, he sounded alarm over Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, with the complicity of the United States, noting that such actions amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. He cited the Washington-imposed economic and financial blockade on Cuba as “the main obstacle” to his country’s development.

ELEANE YAOSKA PICHARDO URBINA (Nicaragua) said racism is a terrible scourge that has caused enormous suffering throughout the history of humanity, destroying entire civilizations and hindering the development of others.  She urged the building of a more just world and a more harmonious society.  To that end, Nicaragua has adopted a national law respecting diversity and supporting international human rights instruments, in particular the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action of 2001.  Further, Nicaragua extends a warm and friendly hand to victims of racism and discrimination.  She reiterated her country’s firm solidarity with the peoples of the world in their struggle for national liberation, inalienable right to self-determination and independence, and right to combat all forms and manifestations of colonialism, neocolonialism and imperialism.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said that diversity is a strength, while noting that racism prevents millions of people from exercising their human rights.  Gabon is party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and supports many resolutions on the issue. Further, his country has integrated much of the Durban Declaration into its domestic legislation.  He called on the international community to encourage national and regional bodies to stem racial discrimination and related intolerance. Gabon has created an observatory of inequalities to that end, he added, noting that the responsibility to fight racism and xenophobia falls on States and stressing that all action plans must be carried out with strong political will.

TIÉMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire), associating with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said “racism is a scourge that cannot be justified”.  Racist behaviour has existed throughout centuries and represents a threat to the entire international community.  Fuelled by extreme right and racist movements and stemming from the history of slavery and colonization, racism needs to be condemned and banned constitutionally.  In this regard, he detailed initiatives taken by his country, which have help spread knowledge about and prevent racism and racist rhetoric in the press.  His Government has also introduced racial tolerance in school programmes, he noted, adding that sustainable development by 2030 can only be attained if racism is eliminated.

EKATERINE LORTKIPANIDZE (Georgia), aligning herself with the European Union, emphasized that, since 2020, a comprehensive joint data system of statistics on crimes committed on the grounds of intolerance has been put in place in her country.  This makes it possible for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, General Prosecutor’s Office, Supreme Court and National Statistics Office to share information.  Stressing the importance of rising awareness, she said Georgia’s Ministry of Justice regularly distributes information brochures on anti-discrimination laws. However, due to the occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali by the Russian Federation, the human rights situation on the ground remains alarming.  The conflict-affected people in both Moscow-occupied regions suffer from ever-increasing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Among other grave violations, discrimination on ethnic grounds and prohibition of education in the native Georgian language continue to have extremely negative humanitarian impacts on the daily lives of people residing in both occupied regions.

STEPAN Y. KUZMENKOV (Russian Federation) said that racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, first and foremost against the people of African descent, have not disappeared.  “In some countries, discrimination and intolerance against people of African descent have taken on a systemic nature,” he said.  “We have always voted in favour of General Assembly resolutions on this topic,” he stressed, recalling that his country each year introduces to the General Assembly a draft resolution on combating the glorification of Nazism. “It is glorifying that most countries of the world continue objectively assessing the outcome of the Second World War and understand the importance of preserving the foundational UN principles to prevent seeing the horrors of war once again in the future, born out of the criminal ideology and practice of Nazism,” he said, adding that the current situation shows very clearly how relevant this initiative is.

Turning to the issue of self-determination, he said that his country is one of the largest multi-ethnic States with over 190 peoples.  “They have received wide opportunities for their territorial and cultural self-determination, including in the form of ethno-territorial formations,” he said, adding that this is implemented through territorial autonomies in the form of 22 national republics, one autonomous region and four autonomous districts. “Currently, in my country we have 12 national regions; furthermore, there are about 20 regions which do not have the status of a national region but they are national regions de facto, because they were created and also named according to the most numerous nationality there,” he noted, underscoring that this form of self-determination gives the peoples of the Russian Federation, including Indigenous ones, wide opportunities.

BRUNO BERNARDO SERAGE (Mozambique), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Southern African Development Community, said that the principle of self-determination and the right to self-Government are enshrined in the country’s Constitution.  As a country that endured centuries of colonial domination, Mozambique believes that Western Sahara — as a Non-Self-Governing Territory — should be given support, with the view of achieving a political solution through a negotiation process, he said.  He further deplored the ongoing violence against civilians in Israel and the State of Palestine, urging the parties to nurture trust-building and allow for dialogue.  He also called on all “peace-loving nations” to ensure the right of people’s self-determination.

KATHERINE ANAS AHMAD AL-HALIQUE (Jordan) said the obligation of all States to protect human rights without prejudice extends unequivocally to migrants, refugees and Stateless people, irrespective of nationality or migration status.  Jordan has taken concrete steps to ensure that refugees enjoy access to justice and education.  All children born refugees and registered have the same rights as Jordanian children, including access to education.  Nearly half of Jordanian schools remain overcrowded, as the national education system shoulders a burden on behalf of the international community. Despite protracted conflicts in the region, Jordan remains steadfastly committed to the promotion of human rights. Turning to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, she noted that, over the past three weeks, 59 staff of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) have been killed there.  She said indiscriminate shelling and the collective deprivation of food, water and fuel heighten exposure of the most vulnerable in Gaza to racial discrimination and xenophobic violence.

FIORELLA CALDERA GUTIÉRREZ (Bolivia), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, Non-Aligned Movement and Group of Friends in Defense of the United Nations Charter, said that humanitarian and political crises have only heightened racism and discrimination, especially with the use of technology.  Intercultural and intergenerational dialogue are key tools in combating the scourge. Bolivia is a plurinational State, she said, adding that, after centuries of marginalization, the country celebrates its diversity.  Persons of African descent are part of the country’s cultural wealth, she said, noting also discrimination that Indigenous Peoples have suffered, particularly women and children.  Bolivia combats racism through a bill to prevent and sanction acts of racism and discrimination.  At the same time, a development plan acts to uproot all forms of discrimination.  She expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, noting that the right to self-determination is a human right and calling on the international community to respond urgently to the crisis.

PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka), aligning with the Group of 77 and China and Non-Aligned Movement, said the Fundamental Rights chapter of his country’s Constitution states that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, caste or political opinion.  To that end, in 2012, Sri Lanka — a multicultural, multi-ethnic and muti-religious society — adopted a trilingual policy — a 10-year national plan — to ensure that public workers speak both Sinhala and Tamil, he reported.  Noting that Internet platforms, digital technologies and AI are being used to plan, fundraise and circulate information about public events aimed at promoting racism, xenophobia and intolerance, he expressed concern about manifestations of all forms of terrorism through those means. He emphasized that nations should come together and take steps towards strengthening their national legislation to curb such incidents.

BILLEL HASSANI (Algeria), associating himself with the African Group, Group of 77 and China, and Group of Friends in the Defense of the United Nations Charter, said his country enshrined in its Constitution the principle of non-discrimination between citizens as well as the commitment to stand with all peoples who fight for their political and economic independence, their right to self-determination and for their struggle against all racial discrimination. “Algeria is deeply concerned over the rise of populism that conveys hate speech and the abject narrative aiming to sideline people through certain media which stigmatize and attack communities and religions and feeds further racism and violent extremism,” he said, adding that such a collective threat requires a genuine commitment and a comprehensive global response aimed at strongly rejecting racism and related issues through political action, legal measures, as well as educational and awareness-raising initiatives.

Turning to the right to self-determination, he said that the effective exercise of this right is essential to the full enjoyment of all other rights recognized by international law. “Algeria stands unwaveringly with peoples who are fighting for their political emancipation and economic independence,” he stated, voicing constant support for the cause of those under foreign occupation.  He also said that international mobilization and coordination of actions should continue towards the full and effective implementation of all relevant resolutions to ensure the full enjoyment of the right of all people under foreign occupation. “Algeria reiterates its strongest condemnation of the attacks against Gaza Strip and the defenceless Palestinian people, which are a grave violation of humanitarian law committed by the occupation Power in Palestine,” he stressed.  He also recalled that the people of the last colony in Africa, Western Sahara, are still waiting for decolonization of their Territory.

İSMAIL AYDİL (Türkiye) noted that his country’s Constitution protects all individuals from discrimination.  Underscoring the importance of international cooperation in combating racism, he said there is added value in regional efforts, such as the Council of Europe.  Voicing concern over racist propaganda in politics, he spotlighted a disturbing rise in hate against Islam in the forms of xenophobia and stereotyping of Muslims, grounded in the pretext of freedom of expression.  Such actions incite a culture of violence, he said, urging politicians and media to combat these acts.  Calling on Member States to criminalize incitement to violence and reject hate speech, he noted that the situation in the Middle East is a reminder of the need for tolerance.  Welcoming Human Rights Council resolution 53/1 (2023) condemning religious hatred and desecration of the holy Qur’an, he highlighted the Istanbul Process as a tool to combat extremism.

AVITAL MIMRAN ROSENBERG (Israel) said that, since its foundation, Israel has faced existential threats.  Further, it faces ongoing attempts around the world to undermine the legitimacy of its own self-determination.  Since the 7 October terrorist attack, antisemitism and attempts to delegitimize Israel have reached a fever point.  Jews are being attacked worldwide, and this antisemitism and delegitimization is also apparent in protests that erupted worldwide following the attacks.  The events of 7 October, and the days that followed, have shown the importance of the Jewish right to self-determination, she said.  They have shown that, as a people, Jews are strong, but around the world and even in the present meeting, hatred and antisemitism still fester.  More must be done to fight the rise of antisemitism and more must be done to combat ideologies which deny the Jewish homeland and seek its destruction.

AMARA SHEIKH MOHAMMED SOWA (Sierra Leone), aligning with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, said his country is committed to combating the scourge of racism, voicing concern over a rise in white supremacy.  Calling on the international community to recommit to combating racism and discrimination in all its forms, he said Member States should adopt all necessary actions.  Collective global efforts are required, he said, further calling on the international community to come together to promote understanding between races. Reparation for injustices must include education efforts addressing the root causes of racism, which are social and economic, as well as compensation to victims, he said.  He called for a continuing respect for the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which embodies the commitment of the international community to tackle racism at national and international levels.

HEBA MOSTAFA MOSTAFA RIZK (Egypt), aligning with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, voiced deep concern over rising manifestations of racism and xenophobia, particularly Qur’an burnings in Europe under pretexts of free speech. This and all similar acts should be prohibited by law, as they are advocacies of national, racial or religious hatred, which constitutes incitement to discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she said.  Voicing further concern over the use of social media in disseminating hate speech, she said that this lacks a legal framework, noting the State’s responsibility to protect human rights in this regard. Egypt reiterates its call to elaborate complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to criminalize acts of racist and xenophobic nature fuelled by religious hatred, including against Islam and its followers.

GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said racism hinges upon the wrongful belief that one person, reduced to a mere characteristic, is superior to another.  This constitutes an affront to the inherent dignity of each human being.  The reprehensible acts of racism, xenophobia and discrimination against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is a clear manifestation of this mentality.  The Holy See is also deeply concerned by the continuing rise in cases of religious intolerance, discrimination and persecution.  An increasing number of people are suffering on the basis of their religion or belief.  Individuals and communities face restrictions and persecutions for profession of their faith, both privately and in the public sphere.  Racism is a pernicious and abhorrent evil that denies human dignity and divides the human family.  No one should be discriminated against, in law or in fact, on account of their race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

MUHAMMAD ABDUL MUHITH (Bangladesh), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country’s Constitution prohibits any discrimination against any citizen based on race, gender or other grounds.  Underlining the principle of inclusion and peaceful coexistence of people, he cited racism as the worst form of human rights violation.  Racial discrimination against the Rohingya minorities in Myanmar has led to multiple tragedies, including their ethnic cleansing and repeated forced displacement.  Systemic discrimination, including State-sponsored hate speech, has contributed to continued violence and hostilities against the Rohingya in their recurrent exodus to other countries, mainly Bangladesh.  The scourge of racial discrimination continues to prevail in many parts of the world, he said, recalling the alarming rise of hatred against minorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Accordingly, he highlighted the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognizes the need to build peaceful and just societies.

ALI MABKHOT SALEM BALOBAID (Yemen), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, condemned Israel’s brutal aggression on Gaza, including the destruction of infrastructure, indiscriminate targeting of defenceless civilians and cutting off of food and water, which together constitute a war crime, crime against humanity and flagrant violation of international law.  In addition, the conflict will not be confined to Palestine and the occupied territories, but its consequences will extend to other countries and other parts of the world.  He asked if international law does not give Palestinians the right to self-defence and the right to self-determination.  Therefore, just and comprehensive peace is the only way to end this conflict, he said, stressing that without a return to the 1967 borders of Israel, there will be no peace in the region.

MAJDA MOUTCHOU (Morocco) said that legal references to self-determination are subject to false interpretations by some parties, noting that self-determination for tribes living within a country’s territory means autonomy to preserve culture, customs and language — not separatism. Self-determination principles can be dangerous, despite the position of Algeria.  The Moroccan Sahara has been part of its mother country, Morocco, since 1975, she said, noting that the matter is not an issue of decolonization, but ensuring Morocco’s territorial integrity as is noted in the 1975 Madrid Agreement.  Algeria instrumentalizes the Sahara to act against Morocco, she stressed, noting that Security Council resolution 1541 (2004) does not apply to Moroccan Sahara. Algeria’s obsession with Moroccan Sahara only makes clear that it is the main party to the dispute.  Further, Algeria pays similar attention to the native people of Kabylie, though they have had similar demands.  Instead, they are forced into exile for making their legitimate cultural claims.

MUHAMMAD ABDUL MUHITH (Bangladesh), in a second statement, supported the Palestinian people in their “just struggle against the brutal Israeli occupation” and condemned in the strongest possible terms the occupation by Israel as well as “its genocidal policies and actions in Palestine”.  Israel’s current military operation in Gaza has crossed all boundaries of international norms and principles, he said, adding that over 7,000 civilians have been killed so far, half of them children, and that the numbers are on the rise with every passing moment.  As an occupying Power, Israel’s claim to right to self-defence and its endorsement by many is nothing but a fallacy of international law and the question of occupation and rights and duties of the occupying Power.  In this context, he expressed regret over the inability of the Security Council to stop this, allowing Israel to continue its unprecedented atrocities and violations of international law.  He called on Israel to heed the call for an immediate humanitarian truce and cessation of hostilities, welcoming the announcement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to prioritize an investigation into the situation of Palestine.

Ms. RIZK (Egypt), speaking on the right to self-determination, recalled that the right is enshrined in the UN Charter and that denying it is a violation of international law.  The current onslaught by Israel, the occupying Power, against civilians in Gaza is the worst in a series of repeated military aggressions, leaving 9,000 killed. The bombing of hospitals and schools as well as denying access to humanitarian aid and the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians are all against international law, she stressed, noting that history recalls how the dehumanization of peoples is a prelude to genocide.  The long-standing dehumanization of the Palestinian people has sanctioned the current ethnic cleansing by Israel, while major world Powers turn a blind eye as accomplices to crimes against humanity.  The only solution is the fulfilment of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people through the establishment of an independent State with the 1967 borders, she said.

JONATHAN DAVID PASSMOOR (South Africa) said the right to self-determination is a wholly understood and established principle. It remains a travesty that, as States convene for the seventy-eighth session of the General Assembly, there are still 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, whose quest for self-determination is taking far too long.  In this regard, South Africa believes that the people of Western Sahara must be accorded their right to self-determination.  The African continent cannot, with its history of struggle, continue to witness an injustice unleashed against its citizens and, therefore, UN Member States should intensify their support for the pursuit of the independence of Western Sahara.  Further, the people of Palestine continue to be denied their right to coexist as a State, despite the many decisions that have been taken in this regard. South Africa calls for the establishment of the State of Palestine according to the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

AMINA MOHAMED ABDALLAH, speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States, said that, unfortunately for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, the right to self-determination only exists in theory.  For the past seven decades, the Israeli occupation has continued to violate this right by force.  The occupation has deliberately violated universally recognized human rights, as well as international law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  Further, Israel continues its settlement activity in violation of Security Council resolutions and violates the sanctity of Muslim and Christian holy sites.  This is not to mention its other flagrant violations against civilians in the Gaza Strip that amount to brutal war crimes and genocide perpetrated against defenceless civilians, in full view of the world and in flagrant violation of international law.

Israel attempts today to expel the people of occupied Gaza to the south before their displacement to neighboring countries in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and in violation of its obligations as an occupying Power.  The League of Arab States calls again on the international community to exert real efforts to end these violations and strengthen efforts to guarantee the enjoyment of Palestinians under occupation of all inalienable human rights — notably, their right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent state along with the 1967 borders.  The League will leave no stone unturned to obtain Palestinians’ legitimate rights through peaceful diplomatic and legal means, so that they can live in peace, freedom and dignity in their independent Palestinian State.  Further, the League rejects all forms of racism and racial discrimination.

ZEBIB GEBREKIDAN (Eritrea), aligning with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, noted that her country’s accession to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is but an extension of the ideals of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.  Voicing concern over a marked resurgence of racism in parts of the world that perpetuates cycles of poverty and violence, she noted with alarm that racism online targets migrants and cultural minorities, forcing assimilation over proper integration.  This practice ignites supremacist ideologies and prevents minorities and refugees from speaking their language and practicing their customs, she said.  Worse, prejudiced algorithms negatively impact the rights of refugees.  Calling for stronger political will and urgent reparative action, including proper education on racism, as a guarantee of non-repetition, she underscored the importance of addressing the impact that the legacies of slavery and colonialism have on people of African descent.

Right of Reply

The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the denial of Azerbaijanis is so prevalent in Armenia that anti-Azerbaijani stereotypes are taught to Armenian children in schools.  Further, they have expounded the widely accepted view that Azerbaijanis are ethnically incompatible with Armenians.  Relevant UN bodies and other international organizations have more than once expressed their concern about the spirit of intolerance prevalent in Armenia, including against Azerbaijanis, she said.  Additionally, realizing the objective of durable and lasting peace and stability can in no way be achieved through territorial claims, groundless accusations and animosity towards neighbouring States and peoples.

The representative of Algeria said the Sahrawi people have the inalienable right to self-determination enshrined in the United Nations Charter and its advisory opinion of 16 October 1975.  The International Court of Justice stipulated clearly that no type of territorial sovereignty between Western Sahara and Morocco is established in law.  Further, Morocco and Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) have accepted the settlement plan negotiated under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations regarding the ceasefire agreement, as well as the referendum for self-determination, as endorsed by Security Council resolution 690 (1991).  However, the occupying Power has always impeded the implementation of the set plan and the organization of the referendum for self-determination of the Sahrawi people.

The representative of Morocco said that Algeria supports the people of the Moroccan Sahara only as a play for domination in the region and to deflect attention away from the disastrous situation in the Tindouf camps. Algeria has blocked UN settlement plans and mobilized financial and diplomatic resources to oppose others, such as the 2007 plan for self-determination.  It continues to prohibit census activities in the Tindouf camps, because it is afraid the world will find out that there are less than 30,000 people in the camps.  This will result in less humanitarian assistance, which is only used by Frente POLISARIO, she said.  Algeria is an obstacle to the resolution of this problem, she stressed, calling on the State to assume its responsibility and sit down at the negotiation table.

The representative of Algeria, speaking in a second right of reply, recalled that the reason the Sahrawi people were forced from their land was the Moroccan occupation.  The peace plan in question requires a census for the camps as well as the occupied territory of Western Sahara.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimated in 2018 that the population in the camps is over 170,000, but have been prohibited access to the occupied Western Sahara for eight consecutive years.  Morocco will never prevent the people of Western Sahara from exercising their right to self-determination, he said.

The representative of Morocco, exercising a second right of reply, said she had proof of the recruitment of child soldiers in Tindouf camps.  She said Algeria is a violator of human rights and international humanitarian law.  She cited two reports, one in March, the other in May, by OHCHR, which she said showed the worsening situation of human rights in Algeria, where the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are under attack.  Further, force is used in a disproportionate way against peaceful demonstrators.

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