Protests against racism and police violence were held in New York City after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Photo:UN Photo/Evan Schneider

An independent UN expert in late October, strongly criticized countries which continue to boycott the 20-year-old Durban Declaration against racism and called on them to recommit to combatting discrimination and intolerance, in line with the landmark conference which took place in the South African city, in 2001.

Two decades after Durban, Tendayi Achiume special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, presented a report to the General Assembly highlighting the contributions of the Durban Declaration, including recommendations for fighting intolerance and structural inequality.

“The Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA), agreed two decades ago, offers a principled and practical blueprint for undoing discriminatory structures and achieving equality and justice for marginalized and exploited groups and individuals,” she said.

Still at a crossroads

The UN expert told the Assembly that the unequal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is the most recent reminder of how “deeply entrenched racial, ethnic and national disparities remain in enjoyment of fundamental human rights.”


Yet, despite two decades of dedicated advocacy and grass-roots mobilization, just as the world “stood at a crossroads in Durban” 20 years ago, today it “stands at a similar crossroads” now, she noted.  

The special rapporteur urged all countries to reaffirm their commitment to the transnational fight against racism. 

“I urge UN Member States—and the entire international community—to reaffirm the commitments enshrined in the Durban Declaration and take concrete steps to realize the promise of transnational racial equality and racial justice”.

Protest, don’t boycott

Ms. Achiume criticized the countries that announced their non-participation in a recent General Assembly commemoration of the Durban Conference and the Declaration, or in the Durban Process. 

“Rather than using the DDPA to fight against racism, several States have instead signaled they intend to abandon the Durban process,” she said. 

The group of non-supporters includes some of the greatest beneficiaries of colonialism, slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the UN expert noted.

“I call on States participating in any form of DDPA boycott to instead demonstrate their genuine commitment to racial justice and equality by implementing the DDPA and engaging in its follow-up mechanisms,” she concluded.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary, and the experts are not paid for their work. (UN News)