Commemorating the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

undayracismThe city of Malmö, Sweden is hosting a day-long event today to commemorate the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The event, featuring panel discussions, speeches, and films, is taking place in the city’s new Malmö Live Concert House.

RWI’s director Morten Kjaerum is opening up the event with a speech. You can read the full text below.

“Thank you very much for the invitation to come here today. I know it may sound strange, but it really make me sad to see so many people turning up here today. For me this is a strong indicator that something is wrong in our societies here in 2016. I would have preferred to be here alone, since that would indicate that the issue would be marginal and not relevant.

“I hope we during today will have good discussions on how to move forward on combatting discrimination in all its shapes and colours, in all its ugly manifestations in every day life to the big political discussions. I hope we together can discuss how we ensure the Right to a Future for everybody. Racism and exclusion is a profound and insurmountable barrier to enjoying the right to a future.

“Today, and over the coming years, the discussion about racism has to remain high on the agenda. Europe has received a higher number of refugees than normal – in Sweden alone 160,000 in 2015. In one way, the reception is the easy part of the work. The next step of inclusion and integration will be a challenge. And this will only be successful if discriminatory barriers are removed in all parts of society. If not, we will not succeed.”

“But why do we have the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination observed annually on 21 March? On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws.” In 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination proclaiming 21 March the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Morten Kjaerum1“The UN Secretary General said today that, ‘We must learn the lessons of history and acknowledge the profound damage caused by racial discrimination.’

“This was followed up by a strong statement from the three main UN antidiscrimination bodies. They say in a joint statement: ‘…we see an alarming increase of hate and xenophobic speech echoing across the globe. Political leaders, public figures and even mass media stigmatise and scapegoat migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and foreigners in general, as well as minorities.’

“These are powerful reminders, and in this regard the Nordic countries and Sweden are unfortunately part of the world. Racism is reality here as it is so many other places. The current refugee situation escalates the racist and xenophobic tendencies in Europe but they have not caused it – it has been around for long.

“Before I continue along that line I really want to remind us all about the tremendous good work done by millions of Europeans including hundred of thousands of Swedes in welcoming the refugees and assisting them in so many ways. There is humanistic strength in Sweden and in Malmö and that is what should be build on.

“Let’s give volunteers and activists a great applause as encouragement to continue.

“In the European discussions in recent months about refugees, we have heard from heads of states in Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics, and others, that they would have taken part in the European solidarity of helping refugees if the refugees had not been Muslims. It has been Islamophobia with no sugar coating.

“The level of Islamophobia in Europe can be compared to when Europe was in the midst of anti-Semitic sentiments in the beginning of the 1930’s. Today, after 25 years of intense anti-Islamic rhetoric in media, political life, at the work place, and elsewhere, we are all influenced. The big challenge is – how can this be turned around? I hope this will be part of the agenda today.”

“While addressing the current refugee situation, let’s not forget the other issues on the racism agenda because they are pressing as well. When the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published its first big survey on the prevalence of discrimination in 2009, we saw that the most discriminated groups were Roma and Sub-Saharan Africans. This survey will be repeated next year. Then, for the first time in Europe, we will be able to detect trends more clearly in this area, and that is needed in order to be more effective.

“The picture that prevails in Europe underscores the importance of the work done here in Malmö by many civil society organisations and the municipality addressing Afrophobia. In particular, I would highlight the survey done in relation to the Afro-Swedish community. It is only by asking people about their situation that the knowledge is produced to make better policies and actions. Further, I would mention the great work done in the schools and in sports. These are important areas because this is where exclusion and marginalisation really hurts on a daily basis for many youngsters. It hurts because this is where their future is outlined.

“In the surveys, the everyday racism stands out as a reality in the education system, in the health sector and labour market. When we digging into the issues we also realised that the discrimination is often not intended but structural – based on the concept: this is how we always have done things here. If people complain it is perceived as incidental or because the person is sensitive.

“When presented with survey patterns things start changing because it is difficult to escape those systemic patterns of exclusion. That’s why we need to dig much deeper into these issues in the future but also strengthen the complaint procedures in order for people to get reparation and recognition. And in particular to hold authorities accountable.

“There is currently a lot of talk about how to get the refugees into the Swedish labour market. It is a challenge with many facets, and one of them being discrimination. Many people with a non-Swedish background having lived in Sweden for long can testify that discriminatory barriers are not to be denied. The current situation can be an opportunity to check whether the anti-discrimination measures related to the labour market are efficient and effective. So let’s use the situation to address some of those old issues and make it easier for everybody to get a foothold in the labour market.

“Let me mention another issue of key importance: the fight against hate crime, meaning that you are attacked because of who you are. It is a key element because it is so closely linked to trust. Trust in your fellow citizens and trust in the institutions in society.”

“In all the different surveys we see that Roma and people with a sub-Saharan background are the most targeted. Other groups such as Muslims and Jews are also high on the list. On average across the EU Member States 25% of the respondents told that they had been confronted with violence due to their appearance as ethnic minority, first and foremost skin-colour.

“When asked what steps if any the victims had taken following the incident the overwhelming majority say that they did not turn to the police. When asked why, they responded that they do no trust the police, do not believe the police would take action or they had learned to live with the fact that being an ethnic minority entails a certain amount of hate crime directed against you.

“In the cases where the victim reports the crime there is almost impunity in relation to the hate dimension of the crime. The violence may be addressed but the motive is rarely raised in these cases even when it is very obvious. By not addressing the motive the victim will not get the recognition and reparation he or she often needs to move on.

“Hate crime has to be taken much more seriously than it does today because it injects fear and uncertainty into a person. As surveys show, it also injects a profound mistrust in the authorities that are there to protect you. All this can easily move from fear and angst to frustration and aggressions that are not conducive for the coherence of our society.

“So what does all this add up to? Two things: First, we need to do more of the good work that is already being done. We need to exchange more promising practices across the Nordic countries and in Europe to find more powerful ways forward. There is no time to lose.”

“Second, we need to find a common vision for Sweden and Europe. For long the talk was about the multicultural society as a vision. However, that was severely criticised and cannot stand as a common vision today. So now a new vision is emerging: the inclusive society within a human rights framework.

“An open inclusive society is where difference and diversity is appreciated and space created, for different cultures, religions, sexual preferences, for persons with disabilities, etc. The diversity is framed by human rights values. Human rights not being Swedish or European values but being global values that we all share. That is the basis for the cohabitation.

“This means that authorities in all their relations have to ensure respect for human rights. But it also means that people within their sphere of influence such as in the family, at the work place and elsewhere respect the human rights values including gender equality and rights of the child. This vision could help create coherent open societies and ensure the Right to a Future for everybody.
“I wish you all a great day and look forward to the outcomes of the discussions.”

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