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Racism still igniting and fuelling violence and conflict – UN experts

Racism continues to ignite and fuel violence and conflict in different parts of the world, two United Nations experts in the fields of racism and minority issues have said.

In a message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the experts said that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are often among the root causes of internal and international conflicts, including armed conflicts.

This is due to the marginalization, discrimination and sometimes dehumanization that they foster within societies and between population groups, the experts said.

“The struggle against racism must be intensified and given higher priority by all States and at all levels as a key human rights objective and a means to prevent conflict and maintain peace,” said the experts.

The United Nations experts stated that “racism continues to be a major obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among peoples and nations. Similarly the absence of democratic structures, the weakness of the rule of law, and political institutions which are not representative of the entire population, may in the long run contribute to triggering conflicts along group lines, if not handled in an adequate and comprehensive manner.”

Mutuma Ruteere, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance said: “All relevant actors should pay attention to early warning signs, including the marginalization and social exclusion of specific groups of individuals; discriminatory legislation and policies; the persistence of racial prejudice and negative stereotypes; hate speech by public officials and the media; and violent attacks and harassment targeting ethnic groups,”

According to the UN experts, greater attention to prevention is essential and early action is needed in response to the first warning signs of tensions caused by racism and discrimination that may lead to violence and conflict situation with serious violations of human rights.
 
“Ensuring equality for all in the enjoyment of civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights including the rights of minorities, without any discrimination based on race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin is indeed one effective way through which a State may prevent and address the rise of tension and conflict. Good governance, democracy, respect for the rule of law, and meaningful participation of minorities in political institutions are also essential to prevent and defuse tensions which may lead to situations of conflict,” stated Rita Izsák, the UN’s Independent Expert on minority issues.
 
Ms. Izsák and Mr. Ruteere drew attention to the important role of non-States actors including civil society, the media, national human rights institutions, and political parties. They said that these non-State actors can serve as watchdogs for discriminatory government policies and play an important role in the promotion of tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for diversity.

In post conflict situations, the participation of and genuine dialogue among all components of society are also critical to consolidate the often fragile peace.

The UN experts pointed out that justice, truth and reconciliation mechanisms to deal with the legacies of the grave human rights violations committed during conflicts are also crucial. There can be no sustainable peace if justice is neglected and the suffering of the victims denied. Those responsible for serious human rights violations, including war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted and sanctioned, they said.

Ms. Izsák and Mr. Ruteere emphasized the key responsibility of the international community including the UN, in detecting early warning signs of racism, xenophobia, intolerance and racial discrimination that may ultimately lead to conflict. “While each State has the responsibility to protect its population from gross human rights violations, in cases where a State fails or refuses to protect its population, the responsibility to protect of the international community is vital,” stressed the UN experts.

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