UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. 3rd edition: Europe

Distinguished panelists

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the third edition of the UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. I am really enthusiastic about the quality and the caliber of the experts that accompany us today and what we can learn together and do together to fight racism and discrimination.    

This consultation was launched because we want to learn from you – from the experts.  We need to benefit from your experience in order to speak up and to take action.

UNESCO has a legacy of working on these issues.  We were born with a mandate to fight discrimination and racism.  We have a long trajectory starting with the 1950s seminal work of Claude Lévi-Strauss on race and also in 1978 with the adoption of the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice.  We have the Slave Route Project, the General History of Africa, the Master Classes against Racism and Discriminations that were launched just recently and we have our network, our International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities. There is a full infrastructure to deal with these issues.  We are now passing a Recommendation on Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and among other things, we are also looking at how to avoid these biases that allow for discrimination and the lack of equal and fair treatment. 

Anti-racism should be a duty that we all carry every day.  Now, it is more important with what we are seeing in terms of the COVID pandemic.  These are unprecedented times for all of us.  It is more unprecedented for certain groups and we know that the impact of COVID had been completely asymmetric – the risk of being ill, the risk of dying, the risk of not being covered by the health system, the risk of violence in terms of women.  We know what quartiers or neighborhoods are more affected and this is something that we want to “build back better” as the United Nations Secretary General has spotted on. 

This expert consultation also comes at an opportune time because we know that the European Union has just launched its anti-racism action plan for 2020-2025. We are ready to pursue collaboration with the European Commission.  We all know that everywhere around the world, even those countries that have very strong institutional and legal settings, need to continue increasing the efforts against racism.  According to the 2019 report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, only 15 out of the 28 EU Member States have dedicated action plans and strategies to combat racism and ethnic discrimination.

The wealth of diversity in the region also brings along a myriad of intersectional challenges.

Across Europe, people of African descent are confronted with prejudice and exclusion. Racial discrimination and harassment are commonplace, and experiences with racist violence vary, but reach as high as 14 %. In the same vein, the effects of anti-gypsyism have further highlighted “the plight of the Roma” and this is a long-standing issue that we all care about.  The challenges linked to this issue range from educational segregation of Roma children which has seen a 50% increase in the five-year period from 2011 to 2016. Antisemitism is another pressing issue in the region. It has been documented that some form of antisemitic harassment was experienced by over 39% of those who were asked with an alarming number of respondents at 79% not reporting the most serious incident.  This is of course a sample but we wish that even in the smallest sample, we will not have these kind of numbers. 

Also in Europe, Islamophobia has been a significant issue which has resulted in barriers to employment, education and housing as a result of the discrimination faced by these groups. It is not only discrimination in terms of “race” or violence but it also refers to the opportunities that these groups have to fair a better life.  It was also recorded to have remained high in the region showing an increased trend in discrimination especially in these areas as well as in healthcare with two in five (40%) indicating unfair treatment. It must also be noted that many cases of discrimination still go unreported with only 12% reporting to the authorities as quoted in 2018.  So it’s a call, it’s almost an urgency call. We all need to step up our efforts to counter these numbers, and to counter this reality.  This has been exacerbated in the context of COVID – inequality and discrimination that existed in all the dimensions have also been magnified by COVID. 

There is the additional angle of gender. We have seen not only the fact that women are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic, especially the sectors, including the economic sector, that are being touched by the pandemic. More than anything, the increase on violence against women and girls is terrifying: 30% in France, 50% in Colombia, and unreported in Mexico. This is another angle that we need to take a hard look at in terms of how the lockdown has transformed itself into abuse against half of the population.  Sexual violence has been committed against women by intimate partners, and beyond Europe it has been the case of 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 in the last 12 months.  This is something that we need to tackle and this is something that I hope we will be able to hear from you.

So UNESCO is stepping up the effort and we do it in the best way we can, calling on you, calling on the experts, calling on those that are worried by the same issues and trying to grasp what could be done to improve our understanding of the issues and the dynamic of the issues. But beyond that, we need to get into very concrete actions at the legal level, at the institutional level, and look at action plans to counter these very important problems.  We will be scaling up our efforts and initiatives in the fight against racism and discrimination and I am sure that the insights and perspectives that our distinguished experts will share today will undoubtedly inspire reflection and action in the international community and help chart the path towards achieving our collective goal to eliminate any kind of racism and discrimination.  I am glad to be here with you and I am all ears to listen to the conversation that will follow.  

Thank you very much.

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