Human Rights: Sustainable development programmes characterised by shallow commitment to racial justice and equality, warns UN expert

Geneva, 5 July, 2022.- The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is characterised by a shallow commitment to racial justice and equality and fails to address systematic racism and xenophobia, a UN expert told the Human Rights Council today.

“Despite the 2030 Agenda’s promising rhetoric, it largely fails to fulfil its pledge to ‘leave no one behind’ when it comes to the principles of racial equality and non-discrimination,” said E. Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Presenting the conclusions of her report on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development Goals and the fight against racial discrimination, Achiume acknowledged that the 2030 agenda represented important improvements on earlier development initiatives, but insisted more commitment was needed to combat racism.

“Racial justice commitments are largely absent from the operationalisation of the SDGs, as seen through the lack of racial disaggregation in the SDG Targets and Indicators,” Achiume said. “The persistent lack of resources, failure to collect disaggregated data and dearth of political willpower still limit progress toward racial justice in virtually all national and international contexts.”

The Special Rapporteur attributed the entrenched challenges of promoting racial justice and racial equality through development initiatives to the racialised origins of the modern international development framework. Citing the deep racial inequalities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Achiume explained how global economic and financial systems continue to be engines of racially discriminatory “underdevelopment”. The mainstream international development framework remains ill-suited to challenging this status quo, she said.

Achiume said a vast body of research had demonstrated that the international economic, development and financial order perpetuated human rights harms and economic inequality, dismantling social safety nets in the global South and increasing dependency of formerly colonised peoples. Her report emphasised the urgent need for decolonising global economic, legal and political systems — a goal which could only be achieved by disrupting international hierarchies and moving beyond Euro-centric visions, models and means of economic development.

During her presentation, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the racial justice uprisings that mobilised the global community in 2020, observing that they had significantly shifted the terms of debate at the United Nations and elsewhere.

Achiume expressed her unwavering support for those actively challenging systemic racism within international institutions. She noted that racially and ethnically marginalised employees in particular, were voluntarily taking on institutional anti-racism work, providing vital leadership without compensation.

“For anti-racism initiatives to be successful, institutional leaders must commit necessary resources and political willpower to transformation, by making institutions more representative of the populations they serve, especially at decision-making levels,” the Special Rapporteur said.

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