Experts consultation on racism and discriminations in Europe

The third edition of the UNESCO Regional Expert Consultation Series held on 6 October 2020 gathered a distinguished panel of experts for a discussion on racism and discriminations in the European region. They exchanged valuable insights and perspectives on its roots and effects in light of the cases of discrimination and violence in the region, as well as in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the already adverse socio-economic conditions of the most vulnerable groups in society.

Aida Guillén, Director of Citizens Rights, Barcelona City Council, touched upon the socio-economic aspect of the crisis by illustrating the situation as a “competition for resources” and discussing the reality that a greater suffering exists among the most vulnerable groups in society, especially those who are discriminated against – including migrants and other minorities. The issues of job loss and social needs were also more evident within these groups with a growing rate of up to 40% of those with migrant background in social needs.

Nick Glynn, Senior Program Officer, Better Policing, Open Society Initiative for Europe, discussed the dimension of power especially in line with extensive police powers and its disproportionate use on people of color a matter of great concern in moving forward. On another end, he noted how the crisis has also revealed resourcefulness in terms of crisis response with the enactment of solutions that were not seen as possible before as he shared that “we have been able to see things that initially or in the past were impossible to solve – with COVID, all of a sudden they became possible.”

Prof. Evelyne Heyer, Professor of the National Museum of Natural History, pointed out the need to combat this deeply rooted prejudice by freeing ourselves from the influence of prevailing erroneous concepts surrounding racism. She illustrated how ”racism is synonymous with domination” in a competition between groups who want to serve their interest and take advantage of the other in the process. A point was also raised regarding the reinforcement of racist categorization when fighting against racism as opposed to adapting a universal approach, which works “as if races actually existed and they were not just the product of social constructs.”

Mehrdad Payandeh, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – CERD, discussed the significance of ensuring collaboration among different institutions and organizations at various levels in addressing racial discrimination. In the context of the institutional cooperation exemplified during the crisis, he noted that “this is a good example of how institutions can work together and raise the visibility [as you said] of each other.”

Moha Gerehou, Journalist and 2020 European Young Leader, discussed how social media functions as both a reporting and an awareness-raising mechanism as well as a unique avenue for knowledge sharing, inclusion, and public accessibility. This is witnessed in how it acts as a platform for “voices that have been historically excluded in the global conversation on different topics” through the information that is made accessible to the public.

Siegfried Nagl, Mayor of Graz, in a video message, discussed the role cities play in tackling racism, and mentioned two main strategies, namely the elimination of the structure of racism and the creation of a culture of inclusion and human rights. He also stressed the importance of facilitating the exchange of experiences and good practices among cities from all around the globe including recommendations to work on data collection and identify approaches in fighting racism and discrimination, among others.

The main overarching themes of the discussion revolved around data collection, construction of knowledge and deconstruction of racism, empowerment of youth and civil society, collaboration as well as intersectionality. Recommendations were made in line with these priority areas.

Organized by UNESCO, this Series aims to unpack the societal challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic related to racism and discriminations and seeks to facilitate the necessary deep reflection on what direction the international community should take amid a renewed emergence of racist agendas.

This edition was moderated by Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Lecturer in City Diplomacy at Sciences Po, and École Polytechnique.

Since 18 September, UNESCO held three consultations focusing on the African region, North America and Europe. The last two editions of the series on the Asia-Pacific and the Arab regions are scheduled on 20 and 21 October 2020.