THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED NATIONS DECLARED MARCH 21 THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, IN COMMEMORATION OF THE SHARPEVILLE MASSACRE (SOUTH AFRICA), CARRIED OUT BY THE SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE IN 1960, AGAINST PROTESTERS TO THE APARTHEID IN 1960.

Since its beggining, the member countries of the United Nations have committed themselves to combating all forms of discrimination and guaranteeing equality. One of the purposes of the organization, enshrined in Article 1 of its Charter, is to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of their ancestry, color, gender, language, religion, political opinion or other status of any person.

The aforomentioned’s clearest expression is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted by the General Assembly (GA) in 1965.

The convention (sometimes referred to as a “treaty”) is explicitly dedicated to the elimination of xenophobia and all forms of discrimination. It is legally binding on member states that have an obligation to respect and apply its provisions.

Xenophobia refers to the combined use of power under the belief that some ancestries are inferior to others, which leads to the oppression or segregation of specific ethnic groups, and takes place through processes, behaviors and actions that generate differences in educational opportunities and employment, living conditions and health.

Despite the efforts of the international community to promote and achieve respect for human rights and non-discrimination, segregationist practices persist in most parts of the world and have become more prominent and widespread in some contexts. Certainly, the stricter immigration and asylum policies adopted by some States sometimes coincide with xenophobic rhetoric and activities, while there have also been ethnic cleansings and atrocities against the rights of minorities, migrants, applicants for asylum and indigenous peoples based on their descent. Furthermore, millions of people face discrimination in employment, education and health care on a daily basis, simply because they belong to a particular ethnic group.

Legislation should ensure that equality is promoted and discrimination is challenged to promote equal opportunities and good relationships between people of different groups.

However, at present, the application of the treaty approved more than 50 years ago has developed forms not foreseen by those who drafted it: xenophobia has mutated and developed in new versions that deepen the current challenges to build a world free of discrimination and intolerance. .

The global health crisis is providing a carte blanche to express hostile attitudes towards specific groups and individuals for reasons that reflect the mainstreaming of discrimination. Undoubtedly, more than a year after its appearance, COVID-19 is not only a serious challenge for global health: it also constitutes a dispute for the exercise of our rights since it has affected all countries and has exacerbated inequalities facing minority and vulnerable groups.

As Covid-19 further exposed divisions in our societies, we must make every effort to address the disparate effects suffered by discriminated minority groups regarding access to education and health care services (including vaccines), care, employment and housing tasks. We insist that States have the responsibility to protect them by adopting policies that favor their inclusion, starting with public institutions and the educational system. With specific measures we can tackle xenophobia in all its complexity.

The consequences of the pandemic have harmed the most vulnerable, to whom we must pay more attention. Thus, our obligation is to approach the victims of xenophobia and discrimination to protect them and establish solid legal frameworks and public policies to avoid their segregation and exclusion. By preventing and countering inhumane acts and hate crimes, our society will become more inclusive and resilient in these times of crisis.

No person is defined by a single trait; gender, age, economic and social position combine to multiply the impact of discrimination and exclusion. We must work together with those affected to build a society that strives to address human rights in their diversity.

Xenophobia, intolerance and prejudice are complex and deeply rooted forces. It will be our task to overcome the barrier of discrimination to aspire to a peaceful coexistence, maintaining as a principle solidarity and respect for all dissident groups, regardless of their ethnicity, race or choice of life.