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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS DEBATE ON THE MITIGATION AND COUNTERING OF RISING NATIONALIST POPULISM AND EXTREME SUPREMACIST IDEOLOGIES

Holds Minute of Silence in Honour of Victims of Attacks on Two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand
15 March 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a debate on the mitigation and countering of rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies, in accordance with resolution 73/262 of the General Assembly.  The Council first observed a minute of silence for victims of attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In her opening statement, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that racism was contrary to everything the United Nations and the Council stood for, an end to racism, intolerance and xenophobia, and an end to discrimination of every kind.  The murderous Islamophobic and terrorist attacks just hours ago on two mosques in New Zealand were another terrible reminder that racism killed.  The debate was prompted by resolution 73/262 which expressed alarm at the rise of movements based on racist and extremist ideologies spreading xenophobia.  The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action emphasized the key role of politicians and political parties in taking concrete steps to promote equality, solidarity and non-discrimination. 

Sithembile Nombali Mbete, Lecturer at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, said that for nearly 50 years, South Africa was run by a cruel and unjust system of apartheid, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was partly a response to this racist ideology.  Just this morning, the world had witnessed a mass shooting in New Zealand, carried out by right-wing extremists.  In the United States, the so-called ‘alt-right’ had placed ideas of white supremacy back in the mainstream. 

Pedro Marcelo Mouratian, Diversity Director of the Governance Study Centre in Argentina, noted that populism must be seen as a political construct and not as an ideology.  It was through hegemonic media and social networks that most of the current public debate was channelled.  That nationalism was a product of profound discontent by citizens with liberal democracy in the framework of globalization.  The upsurge in nationalism had been possible because of the weakening of democracy. 

Rafal Pankowski, 'NEVER AGAIN' Association and Collegium Civitas (Poland), said that although racism had been discredited as a doctrine, it persisted as a multifaceted political movement in the twenty-first century.  Genocides were committed in the name of hatred, racism and extreme nationalism such as in Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia and more recently against the Rohingya.  Racist movements were increasingly active across the world, as exemplified by this morning’s attack on two mosques in New Zealand.  These movements found support amongst young people.  Popular culture could be an emancipatory force for racial justice, by using independent alternative youth culture to promote the values of respect for diversity.

Irene Santiago, Specialist on peace and security, Peace Adviser to the Mayor of Davao City in Philippines, stressed that the topic of the debate was urgent as various parts of the world were swept in nationalist populism and extremist supremacist ideologies with varying impact on peoples.  Populism in Europe and North America manifested differently from that in Latin America, Africa and Asia, which was important to understand in order to create strategies that worked.  To counter populism, legislative and policy changes were not enough, the political culture had to change.  Four Cs were put forward: civic culture, connections, conversations, and crystal clear vision with strategic actions. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed their deepest condolences over the mass killing of at least 49 people, in an apparent act of terrorism on two mosques in New Zealand, reaffirming that terrorism knew no borders and no culture.  They expressed their deep concern about the increase in nationalist extremism, and called for States to take all measures to address this grave phenomenon and fight the notion that populists spoke on behalf of ordinary people.  The electoral gains achieved by these movements used amongst others, social media, digital platforms, and the spreading of fake news.  Countering populist nationalism also required the strengthening of social and cultural education.  Attention was drawn to the vulnerable situation faced by migrants and refugees, as well as those of Afro-descent.

Speaking were New Zealand, also on behalf of Australia, Oman on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Costa Rica on behalf of Colombia, Mexico and Peru, European Union, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Spain, Russian Federation, Ecuador, State of Palestine, Tunisia, Lebanon, Gambia, Islamic Republic of Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: World Jewish Congress, International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), World Evangelical Alliance, Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The, Action Canada for Population and Development, and Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation.

The Council will meet again on Monday, 18 March 2019 at 9 a.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Statement by New Zealand Requesting Minute of Silence to Honour Victims of Attacks on Two Mosques in Christchurch

New Zealand said today was a shocking and emotional day for the people of New Zealand and beyond following the deplorable attack on two mosques in Christchurch.  New Zealand condemned this attack and the ideology behind it.  This act of terror went against the core of what New Zealand stood for – diversity, kindness and compassion.  New Zealand requested a minute of silence to honour the victims.

Opening Statement

VESNA BATISTIĆ KOS, Vice President of the Human Rights Council, reminded that in its resolution 73/262 of 22 December 2018 entitled “A global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”, the General Assembly had expressed its alarm at the spread in many parts of the world of various racist extremist movements based on ideologies that sought to promote populist, nationalist, right-wing agendas and racial superiority.  In paragraph 27 of its resolution, the General Assembly had requested the President of the Human Rights Council to hold a debate on the mitigation and countering of rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies.

Keynote Statement

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that racism was contrary to everything the United Nations and the Council stood for, an end to racism, intolerance and xenophobia, and an end to discrimination of every kind.  The murderous Islamophobic and terrorist attacks just hours ago on two mosques in New Zealand were another terrible reminder that racism killed. 

Today’s debate was prompted by resolution 73/262 which expressed alarm at the rise of movements based on racist and extremist ideologies spreading xenophobia.  The resolution stated that “any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and must be rejected”.  Populist attacks on democratic institutions were compounded by a fixation on defining who the “real” people were and demonising the “other” and denying them their rights.  Nationalist populism thrived in a sense of crisis, besiegement and threat, demonising migrants and minorities.  In areas where people had extensive contact with migrants, the populist votes were lower than in areas where migrants and refugees could become the subject of fear.  Nationalism and populism offered no solutions to the complex challenges faced by societies and were the very opposite of patriotism as they sharpened divisions and made societies more unsafe.

The International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination encouraged firm legislation to prevent the decimation of ideas based on racial superiority or racial hatred, and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action emphasized the key role of politicians and political parties in taking concrete steps to promote equality, solidarity and non-discrimination.  The Rabat Plan of Action suggested important safeguards relating to the restrictions of free speech and the Beirut Declaration emphasized that political and religious leaders had a crucial role in speaking out against intolerance and hate speech.  She called on the Council to openly condemn all messages which disseminated ideas of racial superiority or hatred and which incited discrimination.  New technologies, including social media, created new challenges in the propagation of hate speech and conspiracy theories which both governments and companies needed to address with principled action to protect fundamental rights online.  She closed by stating that the “promotion of one’s own rights at the expense of others was the highway to destruction for all society” and reaffirmed the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ commitment to standing against racism and discrimination and called on all Member States to do the same.

Statements by the Panellists

SITHEMBILE NOMBALI MBETE, Lecturer at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, said that as a South African who recalled the first democratic elections in her country, it was especially significant to speak on the topic of countering supremacist ideologies.  For nearly 50 years, South Africa was run by a cruel and unjust system of apartheid, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was partly a response to that racist ideology.  Just this morning, the world had witnessed a mass shooting in New Zealand, carried out by right-wing extremists.  In the United States, the so-called ‘alt-right’ had placed ideas of white supremacy back in the mainstream.  A study by the Guardian newspaper showed that one in four Europeans vote for populist parties, compared to 7 per cent two decades ago.  In South Africa, the white nationalist group Afriforum had used the debate on land reform to build relationships with white nationalist groups in the United States and Europe. 

In highlighting what could be done to address the scourge of racism across the globe, Ms. Mbete outlined four recommendations for continued action by all in the international community.  Firstly, legal measures against racist supremacist groups must be established and enforced.  Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination mandated all States parties to declare the spread of ideas based on racial superiority as illegal.  Not all States parties had ratified this convention, and they should all be encouraged to do so.  Laws were not panacea, but they set firm limits on what was acceptable within society.  Secondly, article 7 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination mandated States to ‘adopt immediate and effective measures, particularly in the fields of teaching, education culture and information’.  She believed States parties needed to redouble their efforts to educate their populations about racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Thirdly, racism and racial discrimination were a structural problem.  White supremacy was embedded in many political institutions, and States must make a concerted effort to expose and undo its influence.  Finally, more international mobilization against racism was needed.  The implementation activities set out in resolution 73/262 of 22 December 2018 must be implemented in full.  The Council had a critical role to play in mitigating and countering the rising nationalist populism.

PEDRO MARCELO MOURATIAN, Diversity Director of the Governance Study Centre in Argentina, noted that populism must be seen as a political construct and not as an ideology.  Latin America had gone through a profound social change in which various groups had emerged and claimed greater participation and empowerment.  In recent times, however, the region was alarmingly marked by discourses that undermined the progress reached and that fed on hatred of the other.  That could be seen in political actions that promoted racism and xenophobia based on nationalist arguments, thus infringing on the rights of various groups, namely women, girls, migrants, indigenous peoples, and persons of African descent and of various sexual orientation.  It was through hegemonic media and social networks that most of the current public debate was channelled, thus reducing the diversity of perspectives and opinions with the aim of creating homogenous societies.  That right-wing nationalism banalized discussions and reinforced all types of stereotypes, and it promoted a new common enemy: the external invader.  That nationalism was a product of profound discontent by citizens with liberal democracy in the framework of globalization that had not been able to resolve economic and political problems. 

The upsurge in nationalism had been possible because of the weakening of democracy, said Mr. Mouratian.  The international community needed to be aware of the role of racism as the ideological articulator of various discriminatory phenomena on which segregation and exclusion were based.  Thus, it was vital to re-think strategies that would allow the integration of various social and cultural perspectives.  At the international level, the commitments undertaken under the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided guidelines for achieving socio-economic, political and cultural inclusion of vulnerable populations, especially those of African descent, indigenous peoples and migrants.  The 2030 Agenda reunited 17 principal goals in the fight against inequality, and it was socio-economic inequalities that prevented the enjoyment of human rights by historically excluded groups.

RAFAL PANKOWSKI, 'NEVER AGAIN' Association and Collegium Civitas (Poland), said that although racism had been discredited as a doctrine, it persisted as a multifaceted political movement in the twenty-first century.  Genocides were committed in the name of hatred, racism and extreme nationalism such as in Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia and more recently against the Rohingya.  Racist movements were increasingly active across the world, as exemplified by this morning’s attack on two mosques in New Zealand.  These movements found support amongst young people, including in Poland, where the racist anti-Semitic and Islamophobic youth movement, National Radical Camp, regularly marched the streets.  The “movement” dimension of this phenomenon was worrying as it involved populist political parties, violent street protests, extremist networks and other informal groups formed online such as the “alt-right”. 

“Race” was an arbitrary and artificial concept, a social and cultural construct used to justify wars, genocide and discriminatory practices.  The term should be used with utmost caution.  The concept of race often intersected with other forms of discrimination such as religious or cultural intolerance.  Racism survived in the form of discriminatory social practices reinforcing racial divisions and leading to instances of injustice.  Popular culture was an important source of political socialization, and new technologies provided the conditions for the unprecedented growth of expression, including racist expression, leading to the “globalization of racism”, including historical revisionism and the denial of genocide.  Contemporary racist movements were diverse and used the many avenues of popular culture to promote their messages.  He closed by stating that popular culture could also be an emancipatory force for racial justice, by using independent alternative youth culture to promote the values of respect for diversity.

IRENE SANTIAGO, Specialist on peace and security, Peace Adviser to the Mayor of Davao City in Philippines, stressed that the topic of the debate today was urgent as various parts of the world were swept in nationalist populism and extremist supremacist ideologies with varying impacts on peoples.  Populism in Europe and North America manifested differently from those in Latin America, Africa and Asia, which was important to understand in order to create strategies that worked.  Populism was a reaction to the status quo. “The people” who benefited from or were responsible for that status quo became the “them”. “The people” who were marginalized were the “us” and “the other” became the focus of all hate or fear.   The conflict triangle designed by Johan Galtung was useful in analysing conflict but also in understanding populism: angle A was called direct violence, angle B cultural violence and C, was structural violence.  Direct violence was visible manifestation like murder or war, cultural violence was justifying direct violence, such as harmful mind-sets and prejudice, and structural violence was the oppressive relationship in economic, political and social systems.  Structural violence was the root cause of the direct violence.  In countering populism, the conceptual shift that occurred in the war on terror was instructive.  Initially, war on terror meant granting extraordinary power to those that would execute plans, as there was an enemy to be beaten.  Six years later, a conceptual shift had occurred and a new concept had emerged – prevention of violent extremism, requiring a whole of society approach, a multidisciplinary approach addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. 

To counter populism, legislative and policy changes were not enough, the political culture had to change.  Four Cs were put forward: civic culture, connections, conversations, and crystal clear vision with strategic actions.  The creation of a global civic culture was proposed by Elise Boulding, the foremother of peace studies.  Connectors were needed to decrease the dividers, as a big part of the rise of extremist ideologies was due to uncertainties of the future.  Conversations were needed as channels for dialogue to enable people to connect and be engaged in decisions.  A crystal clear vision with a set of strategic actions meant knowing what kind of society was wanted.  In her work in peacebuilding, Ms. Santiago said she used eight pillars of positive peace as they set forth concrete characteristics that sustained peaceful societies.  The eight pillars were: well-functioning government, low levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, sound business environment, high levels of human capital, equitable distribution of resources, and free flow of information.  What was generally lacking was gender equality.  The definition of power was important, as transformative power was the potency to act for what was good.  Three operative words were: potency, act, good.  Capacity, action, value.

Discussion

New Zealand, also speaking on behalf of Australia, stated that it was with extreme sadness that they had learned of the mass killing of at least 49 people, in an apparent act of terrorism on two mosques.  New Zealand and Australia condemned the intolerance that fuelled these violent attacks in the strongest possible terms.  Oman, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said the terrorist attack against two mosques in New Zealand reaffirmed that terrorism knew no borders and no culture.  The Gulf Cooperation Council countries expressed their deep concern about the increase in nationalist extremism, and called for States to take all measures to address this grave phenomenon.  Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the rise of populist nationalism was a worrying phenomenon, and all must discontinue the false narrative that populists claimed to speak for ordinary people.  The ascendency of nationalist populist parties had ushered a period of profound disorder in the world and if not condemned and challenged would reverse the progress made by the international community.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation was concerned at the wave of populism spreading across the globe, as most populists responded to problems not by providing solutions, but by scapegoating minorities.  As such, countering populist nationalism also required the strengthening of social and cultural education.  Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of Colombia, Mexico and Peru, expressed their deepest condolences to all those affected by the attacks in New Zealand.  They also drew attention to the vulnerable situation faced by migrants and refugees, as well as those of Afro-descent, and called on Governments to work to remove structural barriers faced by these groups.

European Union noted that the attacks in New Zealand were attacks on all.  The international community needed to address robustly the manifestation of racism and racial discrimination, in particularly hate speech both online and offline.  The European Union had taken measures together with Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter to that end.  Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, condemned the attacks in New Zealand, stressing that nationalist populism was the manifestation of discrimination and an attack on the diversity of the other.  In the face of such tendencies, the Arab Group called on all countries to redouble efforts to address that dangerous phenomenon.  Pakistan noted that to gain popular votes, parochial leaders promoted negative stereotypes and stigmatization, incitement to violence and hate crimes.  A similar frenzy was driving the drift in India towards a political order marked by populism, fanning violence against minorities.

Libya stated that the growing nationalist populism, especially in Western societies, led to spreading fear of the other, particularly of the Islamic religion.  The killing of worshipers in New Zealand was a testament of that trend, which would have a negative impact on human rights in general.  Saudi Arabia expressed condolences to the victims of the terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand.  It called on Governments to ensure balanced policies that integrated Muslims in their societies and to adopt laws that prevented racism against Muslims.  Iraq underlined that racial discrimination nurtured hatred and the attacks in New Zealand were examples of this destructive phenomenon.  The rise of populist movements represented a threat to migrants, refugees and democracy.  Spain condemned the atrocious events in New Zealand and noted that nationalist populism operated on exclusionary and radicalized vision of who qualified as a nation’s rightful people and stoked social fury against all those who did not meet those criteria.  Populists aimed to use a classification criterion and turn it into undeniable truth, leading to a hierarchy of people. 

World Jewish Congress highlighted an alarming rise of anti-Semitism and glorification of Nazism across the globe and regretted that disagreement with Israel’s policies had led to virulent anti-Zionism.  The organization had therefore launched an information campaign together with UNESCO on “Facts about the Holocaust” to educate those unaware of the horrors of the Holocaust.  International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) raised concern about the use of the term “nationalist populism” instead of “racism” by the Council.  It strongly objected to political leaders abusing freedom of expression to spread hatred, for example the Hungarian Foreign Minister in the previous session of the Council had linked migration with terrorism and there had been no appropriate response.  World Evangelical Alliance was concerned about the rise of nationalism based on Christian roots and values, noting that those movements were not compatible with Christian doctrine.  It was important to recognise that everyone was part of the human family; the unchecked rule of the majority could lead to the rule of the mob.

Russian Federation voiced concern about the rebirth of aggressive nationalism in Europe, stating that many of those movements were hiding behind the guise of freedom of expression.  The first step to combatting that trend was to withdraw reservations to article 4 to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and it asked the panel how useful it was to allow the principle of freedom of speech to override the principle of non-discrimination in the fight against growing racism.  Ecuador expressed sincere condolences to New Zealand.  More than 50 years had passed since the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and yet xenophobia, racism and nationalism remained challenges facing the world because some actors continued to tolerate and encourage human rights violations. 

State of Palestine said that the horrific attack in New Zealand was an assault on the core of common humanity.  It reminded that the Israeli Parliament had approved almost 60 racists laws, including the Nation State Law, which identified Israel as a Jewish State, meaning that the right to self-determination was unique to Jewish people.  Tunisia pointed out unprecedented violence, making everyone aware of the need to exert international efforts to combat supremacist ideologies.  What had just happened in New Zealand could happen anywhere else soon.

Lebanon noted that it placed the principles of tolerance, dialogue and power sharing at the very core of its political system.  At the international level, supremacist doctrines were enemies of the liberal international order and lent themselves to military adventurism, neo-colonialism and breaches of sovereignty.  The Gambia conveyed heartfelt condolences to the people of New Zealand and condemned actions of some countries engaged in populist practices in their own backyards.  It called on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to call those countries on their behaviour because hate language disguised as freedom of expression should not be supported.  Iran noted that populists in Europe and elsewhere had capitalized on popular apprehension about terrorism to garner support for policies that were blatantly discriminatory.  The current political and social climate in some European countries and in North America was alarming as they were waving the same xenophobic flag of “we first.”

South Africa conveyed the country’s deepest condolences to the Government and people of New Zealand.  It asked the panellists to reflect on how the Human Rights Council could differentiate itself from the Office of the High Commissioner, by raising its profile and making an impact.  Brazil extended its solidarity and sympathy to the victims of the attacks in New Zealand.  With regard to the statements made with respect to Brazil, it reminded that President Bolsonaro had won more than 55 per cent of the democratic vote, and the Government had repeatedly pledged its support for equal rights.  India condemned the terrorist attacks in New Zealand.  It regretted Pakistan’s attacks on India, stating it was the last country to preach on violence, extremism and intolerance, given its behaviour.

Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The expressed its condolences to the people of New Zealand.  It lamented how popular demagogues projected support for human rights, whilst quickly scapegoating minorities for electoral gain.  Action Canada for Population and Development, in a joint statement, noted that the backlash against women’s and girls’ human rights by populist regimes was well documented. The side-lining of feminist knowledge was regrettable, and if States wanted to tackle the root causes of xenophobia, they would do well to learn the lessons of feminist activists who had battled it for many years.  Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation stated that the Sinhalese Buddhists made up 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population since the 1950s, and that Sinhalese politicians had often demonized the other communities, primarily Tamils and Muslims, for electoral gains.  The organization asked the Council to condemn such nationalist populism.

Concluding Remarks

SITHEMBILE NOMBALI MBETE, Lecturer at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, said that the Council had instruments and tools to counter racism and supremacism, such as commissions of inquiry.  The white supremacist threat was growing internationally and it operated across borders.  She encouraged the Human Rights Council and certain Member States to stop seeing it as a fringe threat.  As seen by the attack in New Zealand, it could happen anywhere and it should be taken seriously.  As seen in the United States, white supremacism was a greater threat to human security than the threat of Islamist ideologies.  

PEDRO MARCELO MOURATIAN, Diversity Director of the Governance Study Centre in Argentina, clarified that he had not called into question the legitimacy of the Brazilian Government, but that he had engaged in an analysis of its discourse.  Public policies were not sufficient to tackle racism and discrimination, which continued to be a scourge for societies.  The situation did not only have to do with racism as a scourge for ethnic groups, but it had a huge effect on the profound hatred for migrants.  States had a responsibility to pave the way for inclusion.

RAFAL PANKOWSKI, “NEVER AGAIN” Association and Collegium Civitas (Poland), noted that Islamophobia was one of the main drivers of racist extremism.  In Poland, the Muslim and Jewish communities were very small, yet there was a phenomenon of “Islamophobia without Muslims” and “anti-Semitism without Jews,” illustrating the fear of the other.  With freedom of speech came the responsibility to respect the other and both were very important values.  In the same way, the majority rule was important in a democratic society, but so were the rights of minorities.  Extremism existed in every country, but what mattered most was the reaction of the social and political mainstream to it.  Political and religious leaders were role models and they had to reject extremism, which had no place in any decent society in the twenty-first century.

IRENE SANTIAGO, Specialist on peace and security and Peace Adviser to the Mayor of Davao City in the Philippines, called for continued discussions such as the current panel because there was a great need to use imagination and not do the same kind of analysis.  There was a need for innovative and fresh thinking in order to come up with comprehensive, coherent and imaginative ways of addressing the problems discussed. 



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/44E