23 November 2015
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning opened its eighty-eighth session, hearing an address from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session, which is taking place from 23 November to 11 December, during which it will review anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by the Holy See, Lithuania, Egypt, Slovenia, Mongolia and Turkey.
In his opening statement, High Commissioner Zeid thanked the Committee for dealing with challenges affecting its work. Anxiety across the world was very deep and hurtling towards the unknown. The accumulation of crises had demonstrated that the international community could not gather itself in the right way and overcome narrow national interests. Ethnic nationalism was reviving itself in dangerous ways. Often governments cut corners and stoked resentment against racial and ethnic groups. There was scapegoating of various segments of society due to economic crises. The work of the Committee was fundamental in dealing with the aspects of such phenomena. Not enough had been done given the scale of challenges that the world faced.
High Commissioner Zeid expressed hope that the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention would reaffirm the commitment of States to uphold their human rights obligations, and urge them not to stoke the lowest and basest instincts in human beings for the sake of narrow political goals. Those problems could not be solved simply through the enactment of laws, but through education and change in the overall cultures of peoples. The Committee’s recommendations were invaluable in that respect. In the wake of horrific terrorist attacks and all the turbulence, there was a need to stay optimistic and to maintain rational thinking. The system was broken and it needed to refine itself. For example, intense discussions in New York on the upcoming climate change conference in Paris were rather somber and there was doubt on whether results could be achieved. The system would not work well unless members of the international community re-thought it, the High Commissioner concluded.
Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the High Commissioner and thanked him for all of his statements to defend the rights of indigenous peoples. He regretted the attacks in various countries, notably in Mali, Nigeria, and France, and he deeply lamented the situation in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Committee had warned of the consequences if nothing was done about the Islamic State, and it would do everything possible to denounce such attacks. He asked colleagues to observe a minute a silence to honour the victims of recent terrorist attacks.
Committee Experts appreciated the firmness and frankness of the High Commissioner’s statement. They highlighted the importance of the Committee’s work in light of the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention. Now more than ever the situation of indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent had to be stressed. The upcoming climate change conference in Paris would bring attention to many issues, such as natural resources which were crucial for indigenous peoples. Experts recognized that legislature and culture were not developing at the same pace. The Committee thus looked at the cultural aspect and its influence on racial discrimination, and it was trying to promote cultural diversity through its work. A very challenging time was ahead of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as terrorist attacks had caused a great deal of fear, which could not be taken lightly. It was important that the fight against terrorism be conducted in a way that was respectful of human rights. Minorities were disproportionately victims of those tragic events, and they should not be scapegoated in the fight against terrorism. Experts also drew attention to the fact that additional budgetary resources were scarce and noted that the Committee would welcome greater support from the High Commissioner with respect to the allocation of more human resources.
Responding to Experts’ comments, the High Commissioner stated that victims of the current rise in ethnic nationalism were usually repeat victims. In addition to having suffered in their country of origin, they also suffered on the way to supposed safety. The international community had to be very sober about the current state of affairs. The underfunding of human rights was chronic. The total value of capital markets amounted to hundreds of trillions of dollars. Yet, the human rights agenda could hardly gain several millions. In the overall scheme of things, if people were not given dignity, the backlash could be severe. The maintenance of the human rights system was therefore fundamental. Resources had to be found elsewhere and treaty bodies indeed needed more human resources.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 November, to hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation in the countries whose reports will be reviewed during the session.
For use of the information media; not an official record