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Vatican Entity Urges Support for African Migrants on Durban Declaration Anniversary

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States. Credit: Vatican Media

The Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has called for support of Africa’s rising numbers of refugees and migrants who, he says, continue to experience racism and xenophobic attacks in the countries of destination.

The Vatican official made the remark at the United Nations high-level meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA), which proposed concrete measures to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, “and related intolerance.”

“Many persons of African descent around the world are migrants or refugees that after leaving their homes, or being forced to leave, face racism and xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance in countries of destination, rather than the support that they need,” Archbishop Gallagher said in a Wednesday, September 22 Vatican message that was addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.

He added, “My Delegation hopes that the recent establishment of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent will contribute to local, national and international efforts aimed at providing justice and support for victims of racism.”

The United Nations General Assembly has operationalized the Forum on People of African Descent as “a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent, as well as an advisory body to the Human Rights Council, in line with the program of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent and in close coordination with existing mechanisms.”

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In his address on the declaration that focuses on “reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”, Archbishop Gallagher noted that the Holy See is party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and is “in accord with its particular nature and mission and in a spirit of cooperation, is engaged in combating all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

The English Catholic Archbishop explained the meaning of racism, which he noted is rooted in the “erroneous and evil claim” that one human being has less dignity than another.

The claim, he said, not only disregards the truth that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” but also the foundational ethical summons to act toward “one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

According to the Archbishop, Universal human rights are indivisible and interdependent and thus cannot exist in opposition.

He noted that laws and norms that seek to root out discrimination and intolerance must therefore respect the right to freedom of opinion, thought, religion, and conscience.

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The official of the Holy See said that monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance should never become a justification for States to violate the human rights of minorities or to censor minority opinions.

“Racism can and must be defeated through a culture of encounter, fraternity, and solidarity,” he asserted, and added, “While adopting international agreements and declarations such as the Durban Declaration are an important and necessary step, they must lead to real change through implementation by governments as well as through education and ethical media reporting, providing fact based and objective information in ways that respect the dignity of all and do not foster a divisive ‘us against them’ mentality.”

In his address to President Ramaphosa, Archbishop Gallagher observed that the Durban Declaration rightly expresses concern about intolerance, hostile acts, and violence against religious groups. 

“Intolerance on the basis of religion or belief leads to restrictions to the right to practice one’s chosen religion freely and in its most extreme forms can cause hostility, violence, and atrocity crimes,” the Archbishop warned.

He added, “Disregard for the right to freedom of religion and belief leads to the violation of further human rights.”

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“In recent years, we have witnessed an overall rise in religious persecution by both State and non-State actors,” the Archbishop said, and added, “Individuals and entire populations are discriminated against because of their faith while perpetrators often enjoy impunity.”

He expressed regret that some religious minorities in certain regions face extinction, including Christians who he said represent the most persecuted group globally.

Another form of discrimination is what the Archbishop referred to as “the insidious practice of eugenics.” He explained, “Today, we could say that a eugenic mentality often lurks behind artificial procreation techniques and the dark sides of pre-natal diagnostics, where the idea that there are human beings of inferior value because of disability, sex, or other traits often leads to the denial of their right to life.”

The practice of eugenics, the Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See said, “entrenches principles of discrimination squarely opposed to the Durban Declaration and cannot be ignored.”

President Ramaphosa was also reminded that the Durban Declaration recognizes the role of religion in promoting the inherent dignity and worth of every person and in eradicating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. 

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The role of religion, Archbishop Gallagher maintained, must be coupled with legislation and functioning institutions.

The Vatican-based Archbishop, however, noted, “racism will disappear…only when it dies in people’s hearts.”