UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging a global fight against racism and discrimination following what he calls the “murderous act of police brutality” that has led to widespread protests in the United States and cities around the world.
The U.N. chief has been speaking out against increasing racism and xenophobia since he became secretary-general in January 2017, but he said the “brutality” of George Floyd’s death while being detained by a police officer in Minneapolis has put a spotlight on the need to tackle it now.
“The position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear: this scourge violates the United Nations Charter and debases our core values,”Guterres said in a letter to U.N. staff Tuesday and remarks from a town hall last week. “Every day, in our work across the world, we strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice, dignity and combat racism in all its manifestations.”
Guterres cited the U.N.’s “proud record of fighting racism and all forms of discrimination” from its leading role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to welcoming American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. And he pointed to illustrious U.N. diplomat Ralph Bunche, an American, who was “the first person of color to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and a front-line figure in the civil rights struggle.”
But Guterres said “the primacy of reason, tolerance, mutual respect” common to many civilizations and cultures around the world is being called “dramatically” into question by nationalism, irrationality, populism, xenophobia, racism, white supremacy and different forms of neo-Nazism. He added that anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred also have “a racist dimension.”
A central problem is not only police brutality, he said, but “the difficulty of many authorities to deal with diversity.”
Guterres called for all police forces to be fully trained on human rights, saying that “many times police brutality is the expression of the frustrations of the police officers themselves, as well as of the lack of adequate psycho-social support to them.”
He said it’s also important to recognize “that this is an ideological battle” in which it is essential to assert the values of common humanity, equality, non-discrimination, mutual respect and the U.N. Charter, which reaffirms the human rights, “dignity and worth” of all people everywhere.
“It is clear that diversity is a richness, not a threat,” the secretary-general said. “The societies that are diverse can only succeed if there is a massive investment in social cohesion, by governments, local authorities, civil society, churches, against discrimination and inequality.”
He said these values are central to U.N. goals for 2030, including ending extreme poverty, promoting gender equality and preserving the environment.
Guterres said that when social cohesion doesn’t exist and discrimination does exist, “those grievances have a legitimate right to be expressed in societies.”
“And for that demonstrations are something that is perfectly normal,” he said.
“It is our role to ask for demonstrations to be peaceful and at the same time to ask authorities to listen to the grievances and for police forces and others to be restrained in the way they handle these situations,” Guterres said.
He also said that if racism exists everywhere, it also exists within the United Nations and he called for a one-year debate on “racist bias and racist discrimination” in the 193-nation organization.