NEW YORK, Nov 20 (IPS) – Amid the Israel-Hamas conflagration, an important anniversary at the UN – October 24 was the 78th anniversary of its founding – went unnoticed around the world. But the UN’s work – and important problems – continue. Among the problems is deep-seated institutional racism. It is time for this issue to be addressed in depth, not just in words.
The UN was founded in the aftermath of World War II to prevent a recurrence of such catastrophic events, with a commitment to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person” and, in proclaiming “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. »
On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Racial discrimination is a profoundly harmful and widespread violation of human rights. man and human dignity which affects all countries. It is one of the most destructive divisive forces in societies, responsible for death and suffering on a grotesque scale throughout history. Today, racial discrimination and the legacies of slavery and colonialism continue to ruin lives, marginalize communities and limit opportunities, preventing billions of people from realizing their full potential. »
There are visible contradictions in the way the UN deals with racism and racial discrimination, which run counter to the stipulations of the Convention. United Nations Charter. This is partly due to systemic problems dating back to the founding of the UN.
The UN was created in 1945 as a solution for countries of European origin as they sought a new, stable international (and European) order. At this time, most parts of the world remained under European colonial rule, so the creation of the UN was led by these former colonial and slave-owning powers.
The wave of decolonization between 1945 and 1960 changed the face of the world order as well as the world body. UN membership grew from 51 founding members in 1945 to 127 in 1970, and currently has 193 member states. This aspect has contributed to changing the balance of power within the UN. These new member states were neither European nor white.
These new members persuaded the UN to accept the change in the world order and brought new ideas to the General Assembly, the main deliberative body of the UN, which now practices the noble principle “One nation, one voice” and with five Regional groups Member States – Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and other groups (including North America).
However, a similar transformation has not taken place among the staff of UN system organizations.
Staff at UN organizations experience or witness discrimination in the workplace, largely on the basis of national origin, race or skin color, according to findings from several surveys recent. Most cited their lack of trust in the system, including existing redress mechanisms, and believed that the organization would not provide any recourse if they complained about the racism they experienced.
The ICC review of racism and racial discrimination confirms that racism and racial discrimination are widespread throughout the system and that their magnitude is high, based on evidence of the prevalence, form and effects of racism and racial discrimination. It further revealed that “the likelihood of experiencing racism and racial discrimination is higher” among respondents of Black/African, Indigenous, South Asian and Middle Eastern/North African descent.
The JIU review found that one in five (20%) respondents had experienced racial discrimination or harassment, while the 2020 UN Secretariat survey on racism found that one person out of three (33%) respondents had been the victim of discrimination. The recently released results of the survey conducted by the United Nations Asian Network for Diversity and Inclusion (UN-ANDI) revealed that three in five respondents (61%) have experienced racism and prejudice, as well as than the distress that has been caused to them in terms of health, career and well-being.
More than half of the staff in the professional and higher categories of United Nations organizations are from Western countries or of European origin. There is therefore a disproportionate representation among the five regional groupings. This disparity contributes, directly and indirectly, to the current organizational culture that promotes racism and racial discrimination.
All organizations in the United Nations system should implement measures to reduce the proportion of the most highly represented regional groups and increase the proportion of the least represented regional groups, thereby reducing the overall imbalance between regional groups and making the United Nations organizations more representative of the populations they represent. serve, including at decision-making levels.
Combating systemic racism and racial discrimination within the United Nations system is not only an ethical issue but also a business issue. Racism and racial discrimination cause significant financial losses for all parties. Staff members suffer loss of income, health, morale, enthusiasm and job satisfaction over the course of their careers, while organizations suffer in terms of loss of time, resources, talent, committed staff, quality of work, on-time delivery, productivity and reputation, among others. others.
It is therefore important to assess the tangible impacts of racism, in monetary terms, on staff, organizations and their capacities to implement programs, particularly the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Such an exercise is essential if the United Nations organizations are truly committed to eliminating racism within them.
The world urgently needs UN leadership to combat systemic racism. The organizations of the United Nations system therefore do not have the time to devote another year to internal discussions and dialogues. Immediate implementation of Secretary-General’s strategic action plan to combat racism and promote dignity for all at the UN Secretariat would be a starting point, and similar action plans should urgently follow in all other UN organizations.
The time has come for the UN to act to completely eradicate racism and racial discrimination within its organizations.
Shihana Mohameda Sri Lankan national, is a founding member and one of the coordinators of the United Nations Asian Network for Diversity and Inclusion (UN-ANDI) and a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project and Equality Now.
UN-ANDI is a global network of like-minded Asians across the UN system working to promote a more diverse and inclusive culture and mindset within the UN system. UN-ANDI is the first-ever effort to bring together a diverse group of personnel (staff, retirees, consultants, interns, diplomats and others) from Asia and the Pacific (nationality/origin/ancestry) within the United Nations system. Please contact by email at UnitedNationsA(email protected) to connect and/or collaborate with UN-ANDI.
IPS UN Office
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