Egypt tells UN: Arabs, but not Gypsies, deserve mentions as victims of racism

Reporting by Leon Saltiel.

At the UN Human Rights Council today, Egypt as chair of the African group led informal consultations on its draft resolution on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance sponsored by the African Group. Click here for text of resolution.

Parts of the resolution as well as certain Egyptian statements on who qualified as victims of racism were received with concern by the representatives of Western democracies. One paragraph that provoked a great deal of debate was OP2a, instructing the Special Rapporteur on racism to focus on:

Incidents of contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination against Blacks and people of African descent, Arabs, Asians and people of Asian descent, migrants, refugees, asylum seeks and indigenous peoples

Belgium on behalf of the European Union, Switzerland, Canada, USA, India, and even Russia asked for more generic language, so as not to exclude any particular group nor give greater prominence to any particular victims of racism.

Belgium proposed language to the effect that the Special Rapporteur should focus on all victims of racism, as detailed in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. The Korean representative made the point that many nations in Europe can be considered of “Asian descent,” such as the Finns, Hungarians, Turks and so forth.

Egypt, in trying to defend the phrase’s logic, argued that it was drawn from the 1993 resolution of establishing the mandate, and that any change of the wording would mean that the above listed groups are no longer victims of racism, which, it said, is not the case.

To the contrary, the Egyptian diplomat continued, their situation has worsened. His position was supported by the representative of Nigeria who argued that one cannot combat racism without mentioning the specific categories of people against whom it is directed.

Portugal was unsatisfied with the response and gave the example of the Roma/Sinti/travelers who would not be covered by this paragraph. (Of course, no one dared to mention the paragraph’s section on Jews.)

Without hesitation, the Egyptian diplomat, generally considered articulate and knowledgeable, responded that he does not believe that the Roma/Sinti face the same level of discrimination as other groups mentioned in the paragraph. His response visibly shocked many of the people in the room, leaving them speechless.

The incident raises several questions:

  • In a meeting of diplomats intended to combat racism, should well-known victims of racism like the Roma (Gypsies) be so summarily dismissed?
  • Who, if anyone, should judge which group or individual is a greater victim of racism?
  • Apart from gasps and nervous chuckles, why did none of the diplomats respond to Egypt’s offensive statement? Is it because they were taken aback by their colleague’s candor? Or was it because this is just another of the many absurdities and offenses one witnesses every day at the UN Human Rights Council, with the effect that the sense of outrage — and will to defend basic principle — has been long lost?

Just another day at the UNHRC…


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