Statement to the Special Rapporteur on racism – UN Human Rights Council, 32nd session
Minority Rights Group International
UN Human Rights Council, 32nd session
ID with SR on racism (item 9)
27 June 2016
Speaker: Mr. Glenn Payot
Thank you Mr. President,
Mr. Special Rapporteur,
Minority Rights Group (MRG) welcomes your report as a timely contribution to the necessary reflection about xenophobia, a phenomenon which is on the rise in many parts of the world. The context of this surge of xenophobia, in words and deeds, is well known: firstly an increased mobility of human beings, resulting from economic or security factors; secondly mounting fears of economic and social disenfranchisement within societies which makes the other, the foreigner, the outsider appear as a “threat” to jobs, to the social welfare system or to the national security; lastly a certain degree of tolerance or complacency towards xenophobic discourse among governmental, intellectual and media elites.
MRG would like to make two comments.
Firstly, we would like to stress the positive role that can be played by civil society actors in addressing xenophobic prejudices, especially at the national and local levels. Examples are manifold. In South Africa, an NGO has set up anti-xenophobia help desks available to migrants, which are as many safe spaces where victims of xenophobia and hate crimes can report these incidents and begin a dialogue to work towards peace. In the UK, an NGO serves as a watchdog for anti-Muslim discourse and attitudes, recording, reporting and documenting incidents, and training police officers. In South East Asia, NGOs have worked to challenge xenophobic prejudices in the media, by raising awareness among journalists, by encouraging citizen journalist initiatives or even by establishing community radio stations run by affected communities. These civil society initiatives, close to the realities of each national and local situation, should be encouraged and not suppressed by authorities.
Secondly, it is important to note that – just like with racism – xenophobia is a phenomenon which is rooted in mentalities and collective representations. The perception of the “other” as a threat, and the “them versus us” narrative are fundamentally prejudices that need to be challenged. Addressing xenophobia therefore requires challenging mentalities at all levels. Your report mentions trainings and awareness raising campaigns targetting officials, media people and civil servants. While we share the idea that these efforts are instrumental, we also strongly believe in the need to reach out to a wider audience, and to find ways to get the people at large to question their prejudices. MRG has been experimenting the use of art and in particular street theater to challenge stereotypes and misrepresentations of minorities and migrants. Representation through art can be a powerful tool, as it is accessible at least in some form to all people, whether through street theater, radio plays, fiction films or other forms, and as it has a unique power of generating empathetic responses that touch people at a deeper level and positively change their views, thereby fostering attitudinal change. The importance of reaching out to the wider public through artistic productions should not be underrated, and civil society initiatives in that sense should be encouraged.
I thank you.