Inaugural European Parliament Commemoration of the European Day for the Abolition of the Slave Trade


Distinguished panelists, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I am very pleased to participate in this virtual event “Recognizing the Past, Repairing the Present, Building the Future” for the Inaugural Commemoration of the European Day for the Abolition of the Slave Trade of the European Parliament. 

It may be tempting to relegate slavery to the past, and this commemoration could be seen as an important moment for us to gather and activate this tragic memory. But the consequences of slavery are still very much alive today! 

We have neither repaired past wrongdoings nor fixed our unfair and unequal societies. The legacy of slavery has infested all our political, legal, cultural and socio-economic structures for centuries, and this year it has been further strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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%. Even if we do not have consistent clinical data for Europe on the racial dimension of the COVID-19 infection, we know that the situation can be comparable to other regions. In the US, African-Americans are twice as likely to be contaminated, and three times as likely to die from Covid-19. In Chicago, Black people account for 67% of deaths while they make up only 32% of the population. In Canada, COVID-19 has had an important impact on populations who face greater health inequities. In Toronto, Black people and other people of colour reportedly make up 83% of reported COVID-19 cases, while they only make up half of the city’s population. 

In the same vein, other racial/ethnic minorities, including indigenous populations, are likewise affected by the current conjuncture. In Canada, the percentage of First Nations individuals living on reserve reported positive for COVID-19 is currently one-quarter the rate of the general Canadian population. 

The pandemic crisis reveals the structure racial inequalities but also the social and economic inequalities of our democratic societies.   

This is why first I would like to congratulate the European Parliament for backing the important resolution to recognize the slave trade as a “crime against humanity” and make 2 December “European Day commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” 

As you can imagine, this Resolution resonates strongly with UNESCO’s mandate and commitment to address the history of slavery and its tragic consequences in today’s world, in line with the recently adopted EU Anti-racism Action Plan for 2020-2025. 

UNESCO has been fighting against racism and discriminations for more than 70 years – from the intellectual initiatives led by Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1950s to several programmatic activities such as the General History of Africa, the Inclusive Cities network, the Slave Route Project and Master Classes against Racism and Discriminations. 

Today, we are scaling up our work to combat racism and discriminations through the development of a roadmap which includes a scanning project to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks, affirmative actions in public and private sectors, and anti-biases trainings that fight stereotypes and promote positive role models. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact of discrimination and racism in our societies, with the most disadvantaged groups being affected by the pandemic. The crisis has also had a disastrous impact on women – violence against women and girls increased by 70% in some countries due to lockdown measures, like a shadow pandemic. 

The long-standing legacy of racism and prejudice inherited from slavery has prevailed and continues to expose the wounds in our societies. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has simply revived these scars. 

Also in Europe, prejudice and exclusion continue to prevail in the lives of people of African descent. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the proliferation of racist programmes and acts of violence against people of African descent has increased by 14% since the pandemic. 

In this sense, the present, before turning to the future, must go through the first reparation: the history. An objective and serene history freed from the prejudices inherited from the period of slavery and integrating in its proper place the contribution of these populations in national narratives and their contributions to the general progress of humanity. 

The present must also understand what inexorably links it to the past and therefore what needs to be “healed”. While slavery has been abolished, the poison of racism continues to contaminate our societies, to kill, discriminate and humiliate. Despite international conventions and national laws, millions of people continue to suffer from racism and discrimination. We urgently need to put an end to structural racism and offer everyone fair treatment in terms of education, employment, access to justice, health or housing. 

Racism is also very costly! According to the US report on “Closing the racial inequality gaps” by CITI, closing the black racial wage gap 20 years ago might have provided an additional $2.7 trillion in income available for consumption and investment. Facilitating increased access to higher education for black students might have bolstered lifetime incomes that in aggregate amounts to $90 to $113 billion. 

Here we are, halfway through the International Decade for People of African Descent, which has made it possible to put the issue at the very center of the agenda of the international community, giving to each State and each institution the opportunity to finally give themselves the means to achieve more justice, more development, and more recognition for these populations. 

This is why, in 1964, UNESCO launched the elaboration of the General History of Africa (GHA) to remedy the general ignorance on Africa’s history. The challenge consisted of reconstructing Africa’s history, freeing it from racial prejudices ensuing from the slave trade and colonization, and promoting an African perspective. In 1994, UNESCO launched the Slave Route Project, which has broken the silence surrounding the slave trade that concerns all continents and caused the great upheavals that have shaped our modern societies. 

This meeting is very important. But the follow up to this meeting, and how we are going to work together to build synergies and coordinate our action, will be even more important.  

Lastly, I would like to quote the great African philosopher, Professor Achille Mbembe: 

“The imperative to “deracialize” is also valid for Europe, for the United States, for Brazil and for other parts of the world. The emergence of new varieties of racism in Europe and elsewhere, the reassertion of global white supremacy, of populism and retro-nationalism, the weaponization of difference and identity are not only symptoms of a deep distrust of the world. They are also fostered by transnational forces capable of making that same world inhospitable, uninhabitable and unbreathable for many of us.” 

In a spirit of solidarity, and in order to “build forward better”, it is necessary to dismantle racist structures, and reform racist institutions, legal frameworks and practices, upon which our societies are built. It is also necessary to change mindsets and undermine the racist stereotypes that persist in our imaginations. The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and to ensure that “no one is left behind”. 

Thank you. 

“Transforming mentalities: engaging men and boys to address the root causes of violence against women” High-level Roundtable, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Distinguished speakers,

Honorable participants,

Welcome to this high-level roundtable on “Transforming mentalities: Engaging men and boys to address the root causes of violence against women.” I want to thank our dear Ambassadors friends of gender equality, and the Co-Chairs, the Ambassador from Iceland and from Oman. Welcome to the many speakers that join us today, infatigable champions in this battle. I also want to welcome our wonderful speakers, who have been championing this cause.

It is emblematic that one of the last events I held in presence last March was exactly to launch an Action Plan to end violence against women. At that occasion, we invited two survivors to share their experiences with us. Charlote kneer, a woman who endured violence for more than 10 years, and that when she found herself capable of killing her husband, she better left home and founded an NGO to help other women. We also heard Luke Heart, a young man campaigning against violence, after witnessing her mom dying in the hands of his dad. No human being should have this kind of experience!

I was already shocked at that time and we put together a meaningful agenda to increase the visibility of this problem and to take action.

Who would have told us, that 8 months later, today, we will be meeting to confront the harsh reality of a significant increase of this evil due to the pandemic? 30, 40 or even 50% increase in many countries? Who would have told us that the Secretary General of the UN would have called it the “other pandemic”?

The answer is simple. The COVID 19 magnified our vulnerabilities, our fragilities and violence against women is one of the worst expressions of what is wrong in our societies.  Hopefully, as with many other lessons, will also provide us with the opportunity to put an end as we build forward better.

The task is not easy. The worst of this problem is not the suffering it brings to people, or even its economic cost that is valued on the billions worldwide, as promundo has shown. The worst is that it is condoned, it is accepted, and even a large share of women justify when their husbands exert violence against them!

Our societies justify aggression. At the end, “boys will be boys”.

This is the only case where violence is minimized as a normal state of affairs, and institutions and legal frameworks seem unable to put an end.

This tolerance to violence, is also linked to the gender stereotyping, that reproduce dominant ideas and representations of what is considered appropriate behaviors and attributes for men. When boys are educated to be tough, to exert dominance, competitiveness, we should not be surprised that the finest expression of this education is violence against their own family.  

This is not only incredibly harmful to women and girls – it is also to men and boys. It is the reverse of the kind of stereotypes that tell our girls not to be self-sufficient or outspoken.

Promundo, whose Founder and CEO is with us today, estimates that if a social change occurs within societies and the current set of pre-existing harmful norms of masculinity was eliminated, then sexual violence could be reduced by at least 69%, and bullying and violence against women by 40% every year.

Therefore, to turn the story around, we should also change men’s mindset.  Men actually can become a powerful catalysts of change, by rejecting these harmful role-models, and play a positive role models to their peers and especially to younger generations. They can contribute to change the narrative of abuse and violence. They can publicly refuse to endorse or condone the harmful behaviors and attitudes that lead to violence against women and girls.

By changing this mindset, we will be contributing to the broader strategy to build more peaceful world. This is UNESCO’s core, and peaceful worlds start at home. Starts at school and in the textbooks when they are gender neutral. And when our institutions and legal frameworks deliver for good in all cases.  When incentives, and all stakeholders reject violence.

In UNESCO where gender is a global priority, we will be working on this fighting stereotyping for both, and to end discrimination and racism. We are also doing through the recommendation of ethics of artificial intelligence.

My question to you now is: What should we do to ensure the full success of our efforts to engage men and boys, transform mentalities and foster long-lasting change?

I am looking forward to your answers.

European Coalition of Cities Against Racism (ECCAR) General Conference 2020

Mayor Virgilio Merola,

Mr Benedetto Zacchiroli,

Distinguished representatives of European cities,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my privilege to welcome you to the 2020 General Conference of the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism. I am honoured to represent UNESCO in a Sector that is the contact point for inclusive cities, who are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic.

I was equally pleased to recently meet the President of ECCAR, and I look forward to establishing a strong cooperation with him and this coalition. Since my arrival in July in UNESCO, I was looking forward to meet you. Actually, I was before at the OECD, and it was your network that inspired the Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth.

The time could not be more complex, but where cities have a really important tole to play. Many of your members  have adopted measures to fight the pandemic and protect the most vulnerable populations.

We see global reports on COVID, but it is you who are in the frontline, and I want to commend this effort. I hope we will be able to overcome this dark period together,  with its immense human, social and economic cost.

 I particularly commend the efforts of the inclusive cities which have prioritized anti-discriminatory and antiracist actions against vulnerable groups, and efficiently dealt with homelessness, migrants, segregation, despair and shelters for battered women. Keep up this work!

In the context of increased discrimination, UNESCO is being called by its members to upgrade its actions in this domain. Thus, we were pleased to find that the European Union recently launched its anti-racism action plan for 2020-2025, aiming at increasing the number of countries with dedicated national plans that stands at only 15 from the 27 members. Let’s join forces in this endeavour. We should work in tandem  and develop a common action plan, that will bring the EU, UNESCO and ECCAR together to fight this challenge.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the issue of racism and discriminations across Europe is extreme in magnitude and scope. The proliferation of racist actions against people of African descent has reached as high as 14% annually across the European Union. The Agency also reported that discrimination related to anti-gypsyism has seen a 50% increase in the educational segregation of Roma children as recorded between 2015 to 2020. Regarding antisemitism, 39% of those surveyed have experienced some form of harassment. And the same regarding islam.

But not only that, even in Europe, Violence against women is rapidly escalating! The 30% increase in reports of domestic violence in the European Union during the lockdown highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these already adverse conditions. There is an urgent need to strengthen existing measures, including the creation of more shelters and integrated centers as well as improvement in the training and preparation of police forces and social workers. With your help, I would like to organize a landmark event in 2021 that features the work of mayors to eliminate violence against women and girls. We need to recognize the problem, but we also need to energize ourselves with best practices from the continent.

The pandemic also came with disproportionate economic and social impacts. According to ILO, people living under the minimum wage in some European countries reported that 70% of them had a family member who lost their job compared to less than half for more affluent families.

Moreover, the European Network Against Racism shows that although there is an over-representation of more than 30 % of immigrants in COVID related incidences, the barriers to access health care and basic services are multiplying. While the pandemic has devastated the world, it has also presented us with an opportunity to address the social ills that the crisis has unveiled.

At the Social and Human Science sector I am overseeing, we are strengthening our work to deliver for inclusive societies and economies.

Since its creation, UNESCO promotes the values of diversity, tolerance and dialogue by fighting social inequalities through targeted initiatives. UNESCO is elaborating a Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the first global standard-setting instrument to address ethical and social issues related to discrimination, including gender biases.

We are at the core of the promotion of gender equality, including in AI, but in protecting legal equality and benchmarks. But we also have targeted initiatives to empowerment through sports and quality physical education. We will soon establish a global Observatory for Women, Physical Education and Sport. We have also joined the UN Women led Sports for Generation Equality initiative to make gender equality a reality in and through sport. 

UNESCO has been called upon by its Member States to scale up our work in the fight against racism and discriminations. In my new responsibility as UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, I am strongly committed to doing so in collaboration with ECCAR.

Some of you joined the UNESCO webinar series “Inclusion in the time of COVID-19” and highlighted the importance of addressing the social dimension through local policy interventions during the crisis. We also organized six Regional Expert Consultations which unpacked the societal challenges of COVID-19, resulting in a set of concrete recommendations that will guide UNESCO’s work.

We will develop a roadmap which includes as assessment to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks for anti-racism, affirmative actions in public and private sectors and anti-biases training, such as the intercultural competencies trainings and the Master Classes against Racism and Discriminations. A very successful and innovative edition was recently organized in Heidelberg, and other editions are foreseen in 2021 in Lausanne, Toulouse, Brussels and Liège.

I also commend the efforts of ECCAR through the City of Graz in Austria who partnered with UNESCO and the Arab Coalition of Cities to develop the Toolkit for Urban Inclusion. We will continue to broker for you in order to reach out to other cities.

Another significant platform for international collaboration is the recently concluded World Human Rights Cities Forum hosted by the South Korean City of Gwangju, which welcomed around 2,800 participants from 253 cities representing 76 countries. Four coalitions reviewed their Action Plans during this Forum by affirming their renewed commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals and Habitat III’s Urban Agenda.

The City of Gwangju offers an excellent opportunity for partnership with ECCAR, and we should leverage and encourage collaboration with other coalitions who want to work with us. It is only through collaboration and solidarity that our vision to end racism and discriminations once and for all can come to its full realization.

We look forward to many more years of fruitful partnership! Let’s join forces to deliver on the higher goals that bring us together.

Master Class on Tolerance

Mr Vishal V. Sharma, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of India to UNESCO,

Ms France Marquet, Principal Trustee of the Madanjeet Singh Foundation,

Distinguished laureates of the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence,

Dear students,

It is my great privilege to open this Master Class on Tolerance, which is held in celebration of International Day of Tolerance and of the 2020 edition of the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence.

Today’s session highlights the significance of the values of tolerance and pluralism, which are among UNESCO’s core values, in addressing the various contemporary global challenges and in fighting against social ills such as racism and discriminations. This is something you have joined us to fight for and I think that this fight is all the more important in the current times. We see the increase in racism, we see the increase in discrimination, we see that the current crisis is affecting groups of people so differently and therefore we need to raise our voices in a powerful way because only you can help UNESCO deliver on this.

Let me express my gratitude to the Madanjeet Singh Foundation. I also wish to thank the former and current Laureates of the Prize and of course you, the young advocates for tolerance, who have joined us from all around the world. We at UNESCO engage youth in many activities, we believe that they are not only the future of mankind, but they are also agents of change and that is why we need to invest in them. Within the current context of the pandemic, the role of youths has become increasingly evident in addressing the adverse effect of the health crisis as we can see from the various stories of youth-led responses around the world.

 We know also that youths are among the most adversely impacted by the crisis in facing the harsh realities of discrimination and intolerance in their everyday lives, noting significant challenges in access to civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Because of this, we know that youths are at risk of shouldering much of the long-term economic and social consequences of the crisis, leading to a decrease in well-being and intergenerational inequalities.

But you also have the power! You are among 1.2 billion young people  in the world, representing 16% of the global population. 70% of youth are active in online spaces worldwide. Youth have the means to reverse what UNESCO characterizes as the disinfodemic associated with the coronavirus pandemic which has contributed to hate speech, socio-political polarization and an gigantic increase in acts of violence against women and girls. This must come to an end!

We need to involve young men in combatting violence against women and girls. I know that the younger generation is less prone to reproduce these ills. During the pandemic, our societies have also been exposed to the increase in violence against women, increase in the risk of girls not going back to school and marrying younger and having their chances for life just curtailed because they were girls and therefore, we count on youth to build our antibodies against these ills. We need to involve youth in building resilience, and collaborate with the governments on its efforts to anticipate the impact and mitigation and recovery measures across different age groups, by applying effective mechanisms.

Let us strive to exemplify the value of tolerance in our lives through words and actions. Together, we can impart this message to all those around us – so that not only today, but every day shall we celebrate diversity and treat others with dignity and respect.

I am very proud to have you all around this table, and today is a day where in a conference in London, the founding fathers launched UNESCO. I think that it is a great occasion to remember that this institution, along with all of you as our partners, is here to protect and promote human rights and human dignity, as well as to promote tolerance and harmonious living together amongst all the communities in the world.

Thank you. I wish you a meaningful and enlightening session.

Curso Internacional de Derechos Humanos: Monitoreo, Documentación e Investigación en Derechos Humanos

Para la UNESCO es un privilegio apoyar esta cuarta edición del Curso Internacional de Derechos Humanos organizado por nuestro Centro Categoría 2, el Centro Internacional para la promoción de los Derechos Humanos –CIPDH, basado en Argentina. Gracias su directora, Patricia Tappata y todo su equipo.

Un gusto que nos acompañen los Ministerios que han sido campeones en este esfuerzo, tanto del Ministerio de Justicia y derechos humanos, con la Ministra, de Relaciones exteriores, y los miembros del Consejo del Centro. Saludo a la fiscalía de la corte penal internacional y el enfoque de genero, tan necesario en el momento actual, ya que el COVID no solo nos remarca las brechas en tantos ámbitos, sino que nos recuerda que las mujeres todavía no pueden ni asegurar su integridad física con la violencia rampante. Por ello, este curso es importantisimo.

Este Centro es una maravillosa joya para la UNESCO. Como dijo Patricia es el primer Centro Categoría 2 que creamos especializado en derechos humanos, y es el único bajo el sector de Ciencias Sociales y Humanas en América Latina y el Caribe.

Aprovecho para agradecer y felicitar a la Argentina por su apoyo al Centro. Esto habla muy bien del compromiso del país con los derechos humanos, y su liderazgo para que este tema se mantenga vivo en la agenda internacional. La memoria, la experiencia han apoyado este esfuerzo, pero también la mirada a futuro.

Confiamos en que conjuntamente seguiremos fortaleciendo el Centro y consolidando sus iniciativas, y este curso es un buen ejemplo, que van en el camino correcto de promover y profundizar los derechos humanos.

Me da mucha alegría que este curso inicie precisamente hoy que es un día muy especial para la UNESCO. Un 16 de noviembre, pero de 1945, se firmaba, en Londres, el acuerdo que permitió el nacimiento oficial de la UNESCO.

Desde su nacimiento, los derechos humanos han estado en el corazón de nuestro mandato. Precisamente su fundación se daba con el firme propósito de afianzar la “solidaridad intelectual y moral de la humanidad” y buscar el respeto de la dignidad de las personas.

La UNESCO sigue siendo una apuesta por los seres humanos, por el conocimiento, por el aprendizaje. Y precisamente este curso, que empezamos hoy, es un espacio para aprender, intercambiar conocimiento, y para poner la dignidad de las personas en el centro de las prioridades.

Vivimos momentos donde persisten graves violaciones de derechos humanos en diferentes partes del mundo. Discursos racistas y xenofóbicos, violencia de género, ataques contra pueblos originarios, daños al medio ambiente, y una desproporcionada impunidad.

Pero también un mundo en donde demasiados grupos y países se están quedando atrás. Un mundo en donde el código postal de nuestro nacimiento, y la familia de origen establecen nuestras posibilidades de vida. Por ello, los derechos humanos entendidos en su globalidad, incluyendo lo social y lo economico. Y muchos otros derechos que la

UNESCO defiende, con libertad de expresión, de conciencia, de acceso a la ciencia.

Me complace que a lo largo de estas dos semanas se profundice en la documentación e investigación en derechos humanos, con un grupo tan diverso y multidisciplinario, para tocar todos estos temas. Necesitamos fortalecer las metodologías de investigación, impulsar indicadores de medición más robustos, y tener mejores políticas y decisiones judiciales en derechos humanos basadas en evidencia. Necesitamos seguir haciendo ruido. Nuestro progreso no esta ganado por siempre! Un paso adelante y quizá muchos para atrás. Por eso este esfuerzo es tan importante. No podemos bajar la guardia!

Desde UNESCO esperamos que este curso nos ayude a profundizar conocimientos, pero sobre todo que nos ayude a buscar estrategias de acción para superar los retos pendientes.

Cada uno de los que está acá juega un rol en la defensa y garantía de los derechos humanos. Confiamos en que los participantes terminarán el curso con más herramientas que puedan poner en práctica en sus propios contextos.

Felicitaciones de nuevo al CIPDH y gracias a todos ustedes por acompañarnos.

“Racial and economic justice in Covid recovery: Building on the movement for Black Lives” – Paris Peace Forum

Clear action against racism and discrimination is needed: scanning of discriminatory laws and institutions, affirmative action and anti-biase training… Check out this article on the Paris Peace Forum session on this topic, in which I had the opportunity to participate among incredible panelists.

Paris Peace Forum: What now for Black Lives Matter post-Covid?

As heads of state gathered for the third Paris Peace Forum to discuss what the Covid-19 recovery should look like, experts went online to give their input on how to build back better, taking inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement.