UN expert warns that racism is increasingly manifest as violence

7 November 2007

Racism is increasingly being expressed through violence, and is also being institutionalized by xenophobic political parties in what amounts to a grave threat to human rights, an independent United Nations expert told a General Assembly committee meeting in New York today.

Doudou Diene, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said a “resurgence of racist and xenophobic violence, in particular its most serious expression a shift from words to action” – can be seen in the growing number of acts of physical violence and murders targeting members of ethnic, cultural or religious communities.

He also spoke of the “political normalization and democratic legitimization of racism and xenophobia,” resulting from the ability of political parties advocating racist and xenophobic platforms to apply these platforms through government alliances.

This tendency, he said, “represents the gravest threat to democracy and human rights.”

Mr. Diene was presenting to the Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee his latest report, which warns of a decline in the political and ethical determination to combat racism and discrimination, calling this “an alarming feature of a new ideological landscape characterized by discrimination that is more complex in nature owing to the conflation of race, culture and religion.”

He says a new discourse of legitimization of racism, xenophobia and intolerance is developing. “It is seen not merely in individual actions, but is becoming a social and collective practice by virtue of its use as a political, intellectual and media tool.”

The new trend is rooted in the “old ideology of the hierarchy of cultures, races and civilizations, on which all subjugation of peoples and legitimization of racist culture and mentalities have historically been founded, creating fertile ground for all old and new forms of racism and xenophobia, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, and serving to justify incitement to racial or religious hatred.”

The report recommends that the Assembly draw attention to the “alarming signs of a retreat in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia as a result of two serious developments: the growing acceptance of racism and xenophobia through the impact of racist and xenophobic platforms on the political programmes of democratic parties and the rise in racist political violence.”

It also calls for attention to the “serious nature of the defamation of religions” and for the strengthening the role of the UN in interreligious, intercultural and intrareligious dialogues.”

The Special Rapporteur also recommends that the Assembly underscore “the urgency and necessity of approaching immigration and asylum issues, which are major sources of the current resurgence of racism and xenophobia, with a view to respecting and protecting immigrants’ and asylum-seekers’ human rights, as guaranteed by the relevant international instruments, and not solely on the basis of such considerations as security and defence of national identity.”