• 20-04-2021 11:31

EU/Presidency: Pandemic saw 'escalation' of racist discourse - Portugal official

Lisbon, April 20, 2021 (Lusa) - The Covid-19 pandemic has brought an "escalation" of xenophobic and racist discourse in Europe and exacerbated "the social exclusion of those who were already in a vulnerable situation", the secretary of state for foreign affairs of Portugal, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, warned on Tuesday.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has ... highlighted what remains to be done in terms of human rights, promoting the disintegration of communities and being fertile ground for the escalation of xenophobic and antisemitic practices and discourses," stressed the official, Francisco André, at the opening session of the High Level Conference "Protection against Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance", organised by the Portuguese presidency.

This "dangerous trend ... has exacerbated social exclusion, stigmatisation, of those who were already in a vulnerable situation" as well as "compromising social cohesion and development," he stressed, speaking on behalf of the presidency. "Intolerance is a violation of human rights. There is no political, biological or cultural superiority that can validly be evoked."

André also pointed out that "in some countries, anti-discrimination legal frameworks either do not exist or are not aligned with international instruments, which has to change."

Recalling that "the fight against all forms of discrimination is a priority for the government and the Portuguese presidency" of the Council of the EU, the secretary of state stressed the need to "strengthen a European Union in which everyone is equal and receives equal treatment."

At the national level, he explained, Portugal's government had this year established "a working group composed of experts and representatives of civil society to assess the national situation and propose ways to fight racism and discrimination.

"The result is now under public consultation until mid-May and will be approved as the first national programme against racism and discrimination," he said.

Last year, in June, saw the launch of the Nunca Esquecer (Never Forget) programme, which "aims to raise awareness and promote research on the Holocaust and human rights" including "the Portuguese effort to protect and support the victims of Nazism."

According to André, "the academic community and the media can also play a fundamental role" in combating hate speech and racism.

"Stereotypes and prejudices perpetuate models of discrimination based on the idea that some people are superior to others," he said. "Although the fight against xenophobia, antisemitism and anti-Gypsyism have their own specificities, they are all strains of a common virus."

Organised by Portugal's presidency of the Council of the EU, in partnership with the Nunca Esquecer programme, the High Level Conference forms part of the programmes of the trio of Council presidencies - those of Germany, Portugal, Slovenia - and is part of a series of initiatives related to the promotion of European democratic values.