File pic of UN chief Antonio Guterres
UNITED NATIONS: Acknowledging that racism also exists in the UN, its chief Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the “plague” of racial discrimination as he expressed shock at the “murderous act of police brutality” that killed African-American George Floyd and sparked global protests amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UN Secretary-General made the comments at a town hall meeting held last week. His statement was released on Tuesday along with a letter on racism Guterres wrote to the UN staff.
“Now, if racism is something that exists everywhere, racism also exists within the United Nations… We have very robust policies in relation to discrimination, harassment, abuse of authority… But we have not paid enough attention within the organisation to the specific question of racist bias and racist discrimination,” Guterres said during the meeting.
Guterres said there is a need to have an honest conversation on racism within the United Nations, where there have been inclusion dialogues but those have been generic in nature and not specific.
The UN chief said he has called for a plan of action for a one-year-debate on racism within the UN that is open, free-flowing and without any restriction.
“The position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear: this scourge violates the United Nations Charter and debases our core values. Every day, in our work across the world, we strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice, dignity and combat racism in all its manifestations,” Guterres said in the letter.
He said that there is widespread shock over the brutality of the murder of Floyd, adding that apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, the other urgent challenge facing nations is the “plague of racism, prompted by a murderous act of police brutality that has led to widespread protests in the United States and, now, cities around the world.”
“Now, racism is abhorrent, nasty, and must be rejected everywhere at any moment, condemned in a clear way. Racism is the rejection of our common humanity, which is a central aspect against the Charter of the United Nations. So something that justifies the Charter of the United Nations is the fight against racism,” he said.
Guterres said the values of the primacy of reason, tolerance, mutual respect that have been common to many civilisations and cultures around the world are now being put dramatically into question.
“It is nationalism, it’s irrationality, it’s populism, it’s xenophobia, it is racism, white supremacism, it is different forms of Neo-Nazism, that are apparent in our societies. And it is clear that in the centre of these drives to irrationality, there is racism, and many other things have racist components. We have been fighting a lot against antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred. And in antisemitism and anti- Muslim hatred, there is a racist dimension. So racism is in the centre of many other things that we deal with and fight against,” he said.
Underscoring that diversity is a richness, not a threat, Guterres said societies that are diverse can only succeed if there is a massive investment in social cohesion by governments, local authorities, civil society, churches, against discrimination and inequality.
“So our values are not only related to the questions of racism as a human rights violation, they are central to the questions of inequality and discrimination. And these are vital in the perspectives of the work we do in relation to the 2030 Agenda and to diversity,” he said.
The UN Chief said if there is no social cohesion or if different forms of discrimination exist, there will be grievances, which have a legitimate right to be expressed in societies. While demonstrations need to be peaceful, police forces and others must exercise restraint.
On the issue of police brutality, Guterres said, “we have seen a murder, but there are many other forms of police brutality that we see around the world, expressing racism. Police forces need to be fully trained on human rights. Many times police brutality is the expression of the frustrations of the police officers themselves, as well as of the lack of adequate psychosocial support to them.”
Floyd died after a white police officer knelt on his neck as he gasped for breathe on May 25 in Minneapolis, triggering widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
Guterres also asserted that there was no ban on UN personnel to express their solidarity with the anti-racism protests and demonstrations around the world. He said recent guidance issued by the organisation’s Ethics Office and relevant departments do not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the face of racism.
“To the contrary, there is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity; rather, the guidance was meant to emphasise the need to balance such activities with one’s best judgement as international civil servants and our official duties,” he said.
Guterres added that the United Nations has a proud record of fighting racism and all forms of discrimination, from its leading role in the struggle against apartheid to the welcome extended to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.