Following is a transcript of the questions and comments from Silvio José Albuquerque e Silva, a member of the UN’s anti-racism committee, during the body’s first-ever review of the Palestinian delegation. For more information, see UN watch’s legal brief summarized here and UN Watch’s oral presentations from the session. 

Silvio José Albuquerque e Silva, member of UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:

Madame Chung, Mr. Diaby, and myself took part in a very enlightening meeting two hours ago with NGOs from the State of Palestine and Israel. And despite the fact that they disagreed about almost every issue that was discussed, the civil and highly respectful dialogue through the three of us that they held was proof to me about the possibility of coexistence, so it was a pity that just three of us members of the committee were present, but I was very impressed by the civility and the strength of the arguments presented by them in a very constructive way. 

Well, let me refer to an issue linked to education and the fight against racial discrimination that was already raised under some different perspectives by some of my colleagues, and especially by the rapporteur. In the beginning of this year, in January of this year, the Secretary-General of the UN attended the Holocaust remembrance ceremony in New York City’s historic Park East synagogue.

In his address, he warned that Antisemitism, which he called, and I quote, “the world’s oldest prejudice,” is again tormenting new generations all over the world. He pledged that the UN, and I quote again, “will always be at the forefront of the fight against all forms of hatred and work to strengthen efforts to uphold human dignity for all.” 

In August of this year, this month, Mr. Antonio Guterres recalled that the situation in the Middle East is sometimes used as a pretext to voice Antisemitism. In the Secretary-General’s words, and I quote again, “To express the wish to destroy the State of Israel is an unacceptable form of modern Antisemitism.” 

In general, these incidents tend to occur more frequently when tensions mount in the region, as all of us are very well acquainted with. 

Mr. Chairman, esteemed Head of the Delegation of the State of Palestine, colleagues, 

This committee has received, and not only on paper, but during this meeting that I referred to some minutes ago, disturbing information about the presence of Antisemitism and discriminatory contents in textbooks used by children and teenagers in Palestinian schools. When I say that, I recognize what was expressed by the Head of Delegation about the review of many textbooks with discriminatory contents. But anyway, various examples of allegedly racist and Antisemitism language contained in textbooks until 2018, at least, were provided to our committee. 

As you know, the Declaration and Plan of Action of the Durban Conference held in South Africa in 2001 made it clear the obligation of states to intensify their efforts in the field of education, including human rights education, in order to promote an understanding and awareness of the causes, consequences, and evils of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. The Plan of Action of Durban has encouraged educational authorities and the private sector to develop educational materials, including textbooks and dictionaries aimed at combating these phenomena. 

Our convention, in its Article VII, obliges state parties to adopt, and I quote, “immediate and effective measures,” particularly in education, to combat racial discrimination, prejudice and encourage understanding and tolerance between different racial, ethnic, and national groups. Our jurisprudence in many recommendations addressed to state parties has been persistent in calling upon states to give importance to textbooks and curriculum review and amendments so as to eliminate any elements that might promote racism, racial discrimination, or reinforce negative stereotypes and to include material that refutes such stereotypes.  

Dear Colleagues, 

We all know that there is no innate atavistic racism for all human beings. Racism and racial discrimination are inherently plural and are not diffuse manifestations since they are frequently motivated by local political products rather than abstract theses about the scientific nature of mankind. Education is the most efficient mechanism of prevention of racial discrimination. This has been empirically attested by studies conducted, inter alia, by UNESCO since the beginning of the 50s.  

And let me tell you, if I were not convinced about the fundamental importance of human rights education to eliminate racial discrimination, I would have no interest in taking part in this honorable committee, since I have always been very skeptical about the efficiency about purely repressive responses to racial discrimination. 

I am not innocent about the undeniable fact that some people, especially adults, are beyond reaching and teaching of human rights education. Surprisingly, some are hardened, not softened, by exposure to plurality of ideas and diversity of peoples. But I still trust, supported by the conviction expressed by somebody who was a great friend of the Palestinian people, Nelson Mandela, that this is not necessarily true when you talk about children and pre-teens.

I would appreciate very much if the delegation of the state party could provide concrete and factual examples of recent reviews in textbooks eliminating direct or indirect reference to Antisemitism and racial discrimination. 

 Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. 

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