An Academic Summary of the Seminar on “Addressing Contemporary Forms of Racism: Challenges Posed by the Pandemic and the National Responses”
December 31,2020   By:CSHRS
An Academic Summary of the Seminar on “Addressing Contemporary Forms of Racism: Challenges Posed by the Pandemic and the National Responses”
MAO Junxiang* & GUO Min**
Abstract: The seminar on “Addressing Contemporary Forms of Racism: Challenges Posed by the Pandemic and the National Responses”,guided by the China Society for Human Rights Studies and co-hosted by the Center for Human Rights Studies of Central South University, Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre-Vrije University Amsterdam and China Top Think Tank-Wuhan University Institute of International Law, was held on July 3rd, 2020. Nearly 20 experts and scholars in the field of human rights from China, the United States,the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and other countries, as well as the United Nations attended the seminar. The seminar focused on addressing contemporary forms of racism, the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the national responses, which has important theoretical significance and practical value for eliminating racism worldwide,constructing a global community of health for all and achieving the common development of mankind.
Keywords: racism · the COVID-19 pandemic· human rights protection ·a global community of health for all
The seminar on “Addressing Contemporary Forms of Racism: Challenges Posed by the Pandemic and the National Responses”, guided by the China Society for Human Rights Studies and co-hosted by the Center for Human Rights Studies of Central South University, Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre-Vrije University Amsterdam and China Top Think Tank-Wuhan University Institute of International Law, was held on July 3rd, 2020. This seminar was the seventh of the international conference series on “Global Pandemic Prevention and Control and Human Rights Protection” organized by the China Society for Human Rights Studies. Nearly 20 experts and scholars in the field of human rights from China, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and other countries as well as the United Nations attended the seminar. The seminar focused on addressing the forms of racism that had emerged during the pandemic, the challenges posed by the pandemic and the national responses to it. In doing so, it delivered an in-depth analysis of the grave challenges posed by contempo-rary forms of racism and explored the solutions of various countries, with the aim of establishing a fair and reasonable international human rights governance system and building a global community of health for all.
According to discussions at the seminar, it was widely held that racism and racial discrimination are deeply rooted problems, and the pandemic has aggravated the situation facing certain races and ethnicities and created new challenges for the effective handling of racism, which requires active response from all countries by taking effective measures. Professor Tendayi Achiume, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,pointed out in her keynote address that in the months since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus there have been a stunning rise in the number of racist and xenophobic incidents targeting certain groups worldwide due to race, ethnicity, or religious reasons. States should commit themselves to racial equality and non-discrimination, and all actors should ensure that their work is free of racism and xenophobia and contributes to people’s health and well-being, as countries around the world are coordinating efforts to end this pandemic. Wang Xinping, Party secretary of the Law School of Central South University, said in his speech that since the outbreak of the pandemic,international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic has been accompanied by rampant racism and xenophobia in some countries. Since the novel coronavirus is still spreading around the world, the international community will face more severe difficulties and challenges, which requires the joint attention and cooperation of all countries to cope with it.
I. Overall Cognition of Contemporary Forms of Racism
As stated in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” For a long time, the international community has made great contributions to the elimination of all forms of racism and the realization of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all mankind. However, racism and racial discrimination have been long-standing problems, and it will take concerted and continued efforts to
eliminate such deep-seated social ills.
A. Contemporary forms of racism are deeply ingrained
According to Augustine Hungwe, a researcher at the Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre-Vrije University Amsterdam, racism and racial discrimination are ideas produced during the European Enlightenment period. Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Rousseau and Hegel provided a philosophical justification for the defense of racism. The immediate legacy of this idea is scientific criticism, which is, specifically, to highlight the inequalities suffered by black people. Serges Alain Djoyou Kamga, professor of human rights at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute of the University of South Africa and Professor of the Human Rights Center of University of the Free State, also believes that the root of racial discrimination comes from enlightenment philosophers. Such as Aristotle’s conception of equality “with inequality at the core” and John Locke’s enlightenment thoughts of “theory of no contribution of black people” allowed, and the ideology of “color-coded, black or white” concealed in the enforcement of US laws with formal equality, which has resulted in the United States facing multiple challenges in combating racism and racial discrimination. Professor Brij Mohan, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work at Louisiana State University in the United States, talked about the recent George Floyd case in the United States, arguing that such incidents originated in the racism inherent in the United States. The ingrained idea of inequality in the United States is rooted in American society, and is the source of inequality in the United States.
B. Racism and racial discrimination are widespread problems in urgent need of resolving
At the end of May 2020, George Floyd, an African American from Minnesota was killed by a white police officer, sparking protests and demonstrations in many cities across the United States and drawing international attention. In fact, this racist incident did not happen in isolation, similar incidents are widely found in certain countries and regions. Dr. Ding Peng from the School of Law of Wuhan University believes that according to the current international human rights law, the definition of discrimination within the scope of racism and xenophobia can be divided into four categories: first, direct discrimination, such as Asians receiving poor treatment during the pandemic because of their ethnic identity; second, indirect discrimination, such as the seemingly neutral laws or standards set by some countries during the pandemic that are actually putting Asians in a more disadvantageous position; third, refusal to provide reasonable convenience; fourth, harassment, hatred and structural or systemic discrimination.
The participating experts and scholars widely listed phenomena of racial discrimination and xenophobia in some countries, and it was generally agreed that racism has seriously hindered the overall pace and effectiveness of the global pandemic prevention and control measures. In her keynote address, Professor Tendayi Achiume said that the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) stated that people of Chinese or Asian descent were discriminated against in their access to goods and services,including health services and education; children who are seen as Asian are harassed on the street and bullied at school; politicians and other public figures use derogatory and xenophobic language against Chinese or Asians. Professor Tom Zwart of Utrecht University and Director of Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre-Vrije University Amsterdam,noted that the Chinese community in the Netherlands has long suffered from racism, even though they are generally better educated and better off financially. Krish Chetty, chief researcher in inclusive economic development at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, believes that racial tensions in South Africa have been exacerbated by the entirely different life experiences of poor black working class people and wealthy white people. Professor Peter Herrmann of the Human Rights Center of the Central South University and Academician of European Academy of Sciences and Arts, pointed out that the social construction of racism actually means social deconstruction, which is the negation of socialization and family humanization.
II. COVID-19 Poses an Enormous Challenge to the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Over the centuries, the spread of pathogens, from the plague to the coronavirus that caused SARS, has always fomented racial discrimination, accompanied by the prevalence of racism and xenophobia. The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus around the world has brought new severe tests and great challenges to the elimination of racial discrimination.
A. COVID-19 is deteriorating the situation facing certain ethnic groups
Krish Chetty pointed out that the root of inequality lies in a bourgeois system that treats people differently based on income. The differences in access to services, opportunities and justice between the rich and the poor in South Africa were caused by racial divisions and the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated the divisions and challenges. As Tendayi Achiume pointed out, since the outbreak, Asian-Americans, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino and Burmese, have been subjected to racist and xenophobic attacks. These attacks include physical assault, vandalism of property, verbal harassment, and denial of access to services and public space. Dr.Peng Qinxuan, an associate researcher at Wuhan University Institute of International Law, pointed out in a featured speech that data from the US Disease Control Center shows that one-third of COVID-19 deaths in the United States are African Americans. The pandemic, instead of being a great equalizer, actually amplifies all existing inequalities, exacerbates existing racism, sexism and age discrimination, and magnifies the disadvantages of certain social groups.
B. Erroneous remarks by some public figures and politicians have fomented racial isolation and xenophobia
Since the pandemic outbreak, some public figures and government officials, most notably US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have repeatedly resorted to discriminatory rhetoric on public occasions and the media. They deliberately use the term “Chinese virus”, “Wuhan virus” and other discriminatory names with regional directivity rather than internationally recognized ones to refer to the novel coronavirus. Such erroneous and misleading remarks made by influential public figures are aimed at associating the source of the pandemic to a specific country. While isolating and stigmatizing a specific ethnic group, such comments have also enflamed the spread of racism and xenophobia, arousing widespread questioning and condemnation from the international community.
Professor Hao Yaming of the Center for Human Rights Studies of Nankai University used “officially driven racial discrimination” to refer to the practices by some government agencies taking advantage of the current COVID-19 pandemic context to incite and guide discrimination and prejudice against certain ethnic groups to achieve their specific political, economic, social, cultural and even illegal purposes. As Professor Tendayi Achiume pointed out, it is the nationalist and populist leaders who have set racism and xenophobic statements at the core of their political platform that are attempting to impute the novel coronavirus to certain countries or peoples. In many countries, populist regimes are exploiting and fueling pandemic anxiety among their citizens, doubling down on the demonization of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, while defying or eliminating checks and balances on their power. Sun Shiyan, a research fellow at the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the pandemic-related news is mainly spread from person to person through online social media and technology platforms used in people’s daily lives, and although the spread is fast, the audience reached is limited. However, the mainstream media are controlled by leaders, public officials, religious leaders and other powerful people, and the consequences are most severe when those people use the mainstream media to make racist remarks. Professor Mao Junxiang, executive director of the Center for Human Rights Studies of Central South University, pointed out that the “virus discrimination” rendered by state leaders and the media, including the “Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan virus”, is racial discrimination, ethnic discrimination and other forms of discrimination under the banner of freedom of speech. As far as state leaders are concerned, racial slurs made at news conferences are no longer “personal comments” with limited influence and should be regulated by the governments. At the national level, state leaders have a special identity, and when they make remarks as state leaders, they are exercising national official acts, while their racist remarks actually represent national acts. The racist remarks made by a state leader and the acts of racial discrimination by a country are even more contrary to the UN’s long-standing commitment to eliminating racial discrimination and realizing common development for all mankind, and therefore should be condemned.
III. Joint Efforts are Required from All Sides to Address Contemporary Forms of Racism
A. All states should take positive measures to eliminate racial discrimination
Sovereign states are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic and the elimination of racial discrimination. At the crucial stage of global fight against the pandemic, all states should take positive measures aimed at eliminating all forms of racial discrimination or hatred, cooperate and fight side by side to combat the pandemic, and put the life and health of people in the first place, striving to create an international community free from racial segregation and racial discrimination and achieve the goal of common development for all mankind.
Professor Tendayi Achiume indicated that to ensure equitable and non-discriminatory public health responses, all states must accommodate the needs of racial, ethnic and religious minorities in public health decision-making and resource allocation.This requires more than a mere survey of these populations and taking their needs into account at the policy implementation stage. It also requires ensuring that they have a meaningful seat at the table from the very beginning of the process, from the question raising to the formulation and implementation of appropriate solutions. Besides, states should actively ensure that the principles of human rights, equality and non-discrim-ination are enshrined in public health and in all other government policies. Professor Mao Junxiang believes that the state has the obligation to regulate “virus discrimination” in the private media, and all state parties should take positive measures to eliminate racial discrimination in accordance with their obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Augustine Hungwe pointed out that the sources of racism against people of African descent have been around for a long time, and to eliminate racial discrimination, Africa’s former colonial powers should apologize and pay compensation. In addition, racial discrimination and hatred perpetrated by some racist groups in Europe in the name of the far right should be prohibited by the states.
B. The international community should foster a correct value orientation for racial equality
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Guided by this fundamental spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others should be a common standard and goal that people around the world strive to achieve. To eliminate racial discrimination and achieve common development, the positive actions taken at the national level are still insufficient, and it is also necessary to foster ideological reform and overall orientation for racial equality in the international community. In response, Tom Zwart pointed out that we need to fight against racism and discrimination, but as the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made clear, the fight should also be done at the individual level, not just by the states. The fight against racism and discrimination is a people’s war. Professor Mao Junxiang stressed that the international community should unite as one to fight against “virus discrimination” and foster a positive discourse atmosphere against “virus discrimination”. Professor Serges Alain Djoyou Kamga argued that elimination of racism requires integrating all classes and groups of society, including the disadvantaged, elites, politicians, etc. Professor Brij Mohan argued that racial equality is possible to achieve only by changing people’s underlying ideas about racism, and that to achieve racial equality and human freedom we need to launch a new Enlightenment.
C. Public figures and the media should bear a greater responsibility in eliminating racism
Public figures, government officials and other groups with a greater discourse power and influence play a significant role in eliminating racial discrimination and promoting racial equality. As Professor Tendayi Achiume suggested, if government officials do not truly understand the significance and requirements of international human rights, racial equality and non-discrimination principles, they are unlikely to take full advantage of the potential of those principles. Professor Mao Junxiang, executive director of the Center for Human Rights Studies of Central South University, stressed that state leaders and the media shoulder more important social responsibilities and should refrain from spreading, disseminating or supporting racist remarks and racial discrimination.
D. The international human rights legal system requires further improvement
As Professor Serges Alain Djoyou Kamga pointed out, we need a systematic and serious transformation effort, coupled with strict enforcement of the law, so that together we can build a community with a shared future for human beings where all citizens share the same future to reduce the differences between people and groups, which is a systematic project. Professor Tendayi Achiume held that greater and more substantive education on racial and xenophobic discrimination is needed in law schools and elsewhere, since human rights issues require a comprehensive international legal framework for human rights. Dr. Peng Qinxuan stressed that multiple discrimination should be incorporated into the legal system so that the law can step in and play a role when people suffer from severe inequality for one or more reasons. Multiple discrimination is not just a legal concept, but a reality for many people.
To sum up, the theme of this seminar tallies with the current situation of prominent racial discrimination issues in the international community during the pandemic, and it is both academic and practical. The seminar was attended by scholars and experts from multiple countries and regions, featuring broad representation. Participating experts conducted full exchanges and in-depth discussions, and the seminar delivered productive results. The convening of this seminar has positive practical significance for the international community to eliminate contemporary forms of racism, fight against the pandemic and build a global community of health for all.
(Translated by NIU Huizi)
* MAO Junxiang ( 毛俊响 ), Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights Studies of Central South University.
** GUO Min ( 郭敏 ), Ph.D candidate of the Center for Human Rights Studies of Central South University
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