The Commonwealth Secretary-General has made an impassioned plea for member countries to focus their energies on rooting out the “stain of racism” in their societies.
Speaking to an audience at a virtual discussion on racism and racial discrimination in the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland said the death of George Floyd was “a deafening reminder of the challenges we all still face”.
She added: “The hard truth for all of us is that no one country has perfected a way to deal with this, no one institution or nation is in a good place when it comes to truly tackling the racism that seeks to divide us all.
“I have hope that we are able to beat this, but we can only do so if we can see the bitter racism which has managed to poison minds and institutions and if all of us resolve to eradicate it.
“We must also understand that the only antidote to contradict the flawed and bitter ideology of racism is through the strong values of equality and inclusion.”
The Commonwealth Charter requires member countries to respect international human rights obligations, and oppose all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.
The Secretary-General expressed concern about fear and misfortune caused by the health, social and economic impact of COVID-19, saying the Commonwealth cannot afford to allow racism to divide and drive us into social unrest.
She said: “It is only if we join together, in the face of our competing viewpoints and ambitions, that we can hope to defeat this pandemic, regenerate our communities and take on the economic and environmental challenges that this planet faces and defeat the corrosive stain of racism which would seek to tear us apart.”
Ambassador Penda A. Naanda, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva said: “The pandemic of racism cannot be addressed without acknowledging the past and confronting the legacies of colonialism and slavery. We need to dismantle the racist structures and reform the racist institutions that have existed in our societies since time memorial.”
The webinar was an interactive session attended by High Commissioners, Academics, Permanent Representatives, civil societies and partner organisations to discuss challenges and share best practices.
In his contribution to the discussion, John Walters, the Ombudsman of Namibia, told the webinar that the Commonwealth is the right platform to discuss issues of race and racial discrimination and called on governments to use provisions provided in the law to protect its citizens.
Using Namibia as a case study, he said: “ Even though the constitution promises justice, liberty and equality, the constitution is not self-executing, it cannot eliminate racism and racial discrimination, it is the government’s duty to implement.’’
Philip Parham, the UK envoy to the Commonwealth said his government will play every part it can in exploring how the Commonwealth can renew and refresh and take forward its commitment to equality.