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UN official warns against racist, xenophobic hate-speech in Australia

5 December 2016 16:15

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A United Nations (UN) official has called on politicians in Australia to confront racism and bigotry, warning that failure to do so would legitimize the phenomena.

“If they do not speak out, they lend legitimacy to them,” Mutuma Ruteere, the UN special rapporteur on racism, said on Monday, referring to Australian politicians and acts of racism and hate-speech. “It’s very easy for darkness to drive out the light. It’s very easy for the bad to demean the good. It’s much harder to clear out the political space once it’s infected by racists.”

Ruteere warned of the “danger” of extremist “fringe elements” becoming mainstream in Australia and other democracies, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

He said politicians “have to make the decision whether to confront the bigots and racists who purport to speak for the people but contradict” democratic values.

He also referred to attempts by certain lawmakers in the Australian parliament to scrap a piece of anti-hate speech legislation and said the potential revocation of the law would allow racism and xenophobia to rise.

Referring to section 18C of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, Ruteere said, “Removing this provision would undermine the efforts taken by the various levels of government for an inclusive Australia and open the door to racist and xenophobic hate speech, which has been quite limited thanks to this provision.”

“Section 18C sets the tone of an open, inclusive and multicultural Australia, which respects and values the diversity of its peoples and protects indigenous and migrants against bigots and extremists who have become more vocal in Australia and other parts of the world,” he said.

Speakers raise their fists at a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney, Australia, on July 16, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

 

While the Australian government, which earlier had plans to have the provision reviewed, has changed its mind, calls continue by a number of politicians to modify the law or shelve it altogether. Among them is the leader of far-right One Nation Party, Pauline Hanson, whose rhetoric has widely been branded as racist.

Ruteere, the UN official, also said he was “concerned about some remarks made by elected politicians about newly arrived migrants, and in particular against Muslims.”

He said political leaders had to “denounce and censure this kind of divisive and racist rhetoric… and urge those sections of the media to resist the tempting descent into racist and xenophobic stereotyping rhetoric and scapegoating.”

Australia has already been criticized by rights organizations for its treatment of the Aboriginal population in the country as well as refugees coming from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa.

Last month, Francois Crepeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, arrived in Australia to probe the country’s treatment of refugees. Almost a year earlier, he had cut short a similar trip due to the alleged lack of full cooperation from Canberra.

The Australian government diverts all refugees arriving irregularly by sea to off-shore detention camps, where there have been reports of wide-spread abuse against them. In mid-October, however, the Australian government said it had signed an agreement with the United States to resettle an unknown number of the refugees who were being held at offshore detention facilities to US territory.

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