The Portuguese Minister of Justice called for a collective commitment to combating racism and xenophobia, pointing out that “a doctrine of demonisation of the different seems to have taken hold in this, the 21st century”. Francisca Van Dunem believes that this is why “we must make a collective commitment to fighting racism, in all its different forms, and xenophobia”.
At the High-Level Conference on protection against racial discrimination and racial intolerance, under the framework of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Minister recalled that “we have seen the spread of radical movements that resort to hate speech, manifestations of intolerance and violence against certain groups and sectors of the population”, and that this phenomenon is particularly evident on the internet and is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Van Dunem reiterated that this is why the Portuguese Presidency shares the principle “that has driven the European response: what is considered illegal offline, should also be considered illegal online and, consequently, it is essential to improve our capacity to collect and preserve digital evidence so that the architects of unlawful activities that strike at the very heart of democracy can be brought to justice”. Diversity “is not a threat, but rather it is wealth: this is what Europe and European citizens expect from all of us”, the Minister concluded.
For a more inclusive and democratic society
The Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Francisco André, in turn noted that “racial discrimination and related intolerance are a violation of human rights. An affront to human dignity. There is no valid biological, political or cultural superiority explanation that can justify them”.
Francisco André, who opened the conference on behalf of the Portuguese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, pointed to the fact that “in some countries, legal frameworks for anti-discrimination do not exist or they are not in line with international human rights instruments, which has to change”. And he went on to say that “even in countries where there have been significant legislative developments, violations and abuse persist”, highlighting “the need to bridge the gap between the legal framework and social practice.”
Fighting against discrimination must be a global effort
The Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, who took part in the event via video conference, went back to the founding treaties of the European Union: “the treaty reminds us that the European Union was founded on respect for human dignity, in a society where pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women prevail. This is the essence, this is the DNA of Europe”.
In her message, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, highlighted the work being done in the EU to combat discrimination, with the European Anti-Racism Plan 2020-2025 and the 10-Year Plan to combat anti-gypsyism, but she also pointed out that it is crucial to “bridge the gap between the law and policy and take concrete steps towards making real changes” in behaviour, at global level.
This High-Level Conference on protection against racial discrimination and related intolerance falls under the umbrella of a series of initiatives related to the promotion of European democratic values. The first was the celebration of the “10th Anniversary of the Istanbul Convention: The State of Play”, followed by the “Informal Dialogue on Integration” conference, both in April. The next initiative will be in May, with the High-Level Conference on the Rule of Law.