Senior UN officials of African descent issue call to end racism

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks at a press conference after the WHO emergency committee's meeting on the novel coronavirus in China at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2020. (Xinhua/Liu Qu)
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)

More than 20 senior officials in the United Nations (UN) who are African or of African descent have put their names to a personal and hard-hitting statement, expressing their outrage at pervasive and systemic racism, UN News reported Sunday.

The signatories include high-profile heads of UN agencies, such as World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Executive Director of the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS Winnie Byanyima, and Executive Director of the UN Population Fund Natalia Kanem.

The statement recalled the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Citing the “deep trauma and inter-generational suffering” that has resulted from racial injustice, particularly against people of African descent, the statement said it is time to go further than simply condemning acts of racism, which is “a global scourge that has been perpetuated over centuries,” according to UN News.

The leaders called on the UN to “step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups,” citing Article 1 of the UN Charter, which stipulates that the intergovernmental organization shall promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

The statement also called on the UN to “use its influence to once again remind us of the unfinished business of eradicating racism, and urge the community of nations to remove the stain of racism on humanity.” Acknowledging efforts by UN chief Antonio Guterres to address systemic racism at all levels, the authors of the statement noted that the organization must lead by example, with “an honest assessment of how we uphold the UN Charter within our institution.”

The expression of solidarity with peaceful demonstrations is “well in keeping with our responsibilities and obligations as international civil servants to stand up and speak out against oppression,” the officials said, adding “we share the core beliefs and the values and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations that do not leave us the option to keep silent.”

The officials commit to harness their expertise, leadership and mandates to “address the root causes and structural changes that must be implemented if we are to bring an end to racism,” they said in the piece.

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