Image credit: UNESCO - Photo: 2022

Putting Anti-racism & Anti-discrimination High on the International Agenda

Viewpoint by Simone Galimberti*

KATHMANDU (IDN) — A recent UNESCO Forum provided some impetus to the fight against racism and discrimination, but the level of the problems involved required a much bigger commitment.

It is unfortunate that the second edition of the Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination, organized by UNESCO in Mexico City on November 28-29, did not get the attention and visibility it should have commanded.

An initiative of such importance went instead totally under the radar almost as it was a second- or third-class event. Was it because it was hosted by Mexico that, despite the challenges, put up a valuable effort in the organization or was it because UNESCO is, sadly, among the weakest of the UN programs and organizations? Or was it simply because the world does not care about racism and intolerance?

It is hard to decipherer the reasons behind such outcome, but the truth is that there was almost no news coverage of the Forum—nor was UNESCO too worried about providing timely information and summary of the discussions held.

It should not be this way because we are living in an era where far right parties and ethno nationalism are rebounding and attracting more and more votes from Rome to Stockholm to New Delhi not to mention the vast areas of the USA that still are solidly pro-Trump.

Certainly, the organizers in Mexico City did a valiant job at trying to put together a program with a wealth of expertise and diversity of opinions though the structure of event was too much based on panel discussions with too many participants in it.

Moreover, because funding is always a big challenge for UNESCO, the agency mastered the job of making virtue out of necessity by rolling out a list of powerful philanthropy organizations, in addition to several national governments.

Ford and Kellogg both among the biggest private foundations offered, together with the governments of Canada and Mexico and Korea, the indispensable support to make the event happening.

Such partnerships are indispensable if UNESCO wants to really assume some meaningful role in shaping the global agenda against racism and discrimination but at the same time it is key to broaden up the list of partnerships.

The Forum is a core part of the UNESCO Roadmap against Racism and Discrimination, a plan of action approved in March 2022 that strives to raise the levels of discussion and visibility of what are some of the toughest topics for governments to discuss.

Working with big foundations will also allow to better reach out the civil society as organizations like Ford and Kellogg have the wherewithal to really change the equation and elevate racism and discrimination on the top of the global agenda.

At the same time, UNESCO must do a better job at involving and engaging the whole UN System in this fight.  It was noticeable that the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights did not have any role in the organization of the event.

Let’s not forget that OHCHR is the guardian of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, the most progressive global resolution against racism and discrimination.

Certainly, there are reasons why the Durban’s agenda was not at all present in the discussion in Mexico City and it is unfortunate that groundless accusations that keeps portraying it as anti-Semitic, preclude the possibility to further and enhance key aspects of its implementation.

The truth is that, till date, there is still no document that better offer a variety of solutions to fight discrimination and racism than Durban’s. Even setting aside Durban, the OHCHR must be part of the equation and work in tandem with UNESCO.

Yet it is understandable that UNESCO, one of the most politicized UN agencies, put Durban under the carpet but yet its vast references and ideas should still guide and inspire us.

Indeed, if only the international community were able to implement and enforce its principles and proposed actions, starting from embedding anti-racism at school levels, we would have certainly been in a much better place in the fight against racism and discrimination.

Unfortunately, these are inconvenient and uncomfortable issues that are not prioritized among the global leaders. In short there is lack of political will and it is hard to fathom how the Mexico City Forum could change the status quo.

At this point we should ask ourselves how racism and discrimination can gain relevance and prominence on the world stage. How can we amplify the debate so that these two issues can become a central issue as important as climate change?

We should not forget that Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation that was present at the opening of the Forum, focused on social justice in his intervention. He did rightly so because racism and discrimination can only be holistically tackled from the point of view of social justice as Ford Foundation is trying to do.

Societies certainly needs stronger legal frameworks without which the fight against discrimination including casteism, cannot be won.  But we need a whole of society approach, an approach that inevitably is rooted on the quest for a more just and fair society.

At more practical level UNESCO has the challenge to engage and involve other members of the UN System, ensuring that anti-discrimination and anti- racism efforts are embedded in all agencies ‘plans of work.

We do not make tokenistic commitments but real and concrete pledges for change that are translated through clear measures and initiatives. That’s why it is also essential that Secretary General Antonio Guterres lays out his vision for the next UN—what he calls Our Common Agenda, with a clear commitment against racism and discrimination.

His resolve should not be taken for granted considering that he preferred to attend the Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations that was held in Fez, Morocco but not being present at  UNESCO event in Mexico City.

Last but not the least, the UNESCO communication team should do a much better job at creating interest on the issues at stake, also creating linkages across different policy sectors because, ultimately, racism and discrimination relate to the whole policy making.

And amid competing priorities and multifold agendas that UNESCO has to deal with, racism and discrimination deserve priority. Moreover, probably it will be interesting for UNESCO to explore new engagements and partnerships with more governments from around the world.

The choice of whom to approach should be dictated by not only a genuine interest by a nation to work on these issues but also by its genuine disengagement and discomfort about it. Why not involve the governments of Italy, Sweden and India to revamp the issue of racism and discrimination at the global level?

Meanwhile our congratulations to the government of Mexico, Korea and Canada for putting a big effort to highlight something that it is easier and, for many, more convenient to forget and neglect.

UNESCO has a huge task ahead and alone it won’t be able to reactivate and reboot the global agenda against racism and discrimination. We need political will, we need partnerships and creativity to elevate anti- racism and anti-discrimination at the highest levels of international policy making.

*The writer is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives. [IDN-InDepthNews — 03 December 2022]

Image credit: UNESCO

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