UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk warned 'discrimination and racism are virulent threats' across the world

Geneva (AFP) - In a passionate appeal, the United Nations rights chief decried on Tuesday the impact of racism, discrimination, and violence against women, LGBTQ people and other minorities around the world.

Listing countries from Afghanistan and Iran to the United States and Russia, Volker Turk warned “discrimination and racism are virulent threats”.

“They weaponise contempt. They humiliate and violate human rights, fuelling grievances and despair, and obstructing development,” he told the UN Human Rights Council.

Delivering his first update on human rights around the world to the top UN rights body since taking office six months ago, Turk voiced alarm at “the scope and magnitude of discrimination against women and girls”, describing it as “one of the most overwhelming human rights violations worldwide”.

He highlighted the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have effectively squeezed women out of public life since sweeping back to power in August 2021.

“The repression of women in Afghanistan is unparallelled,” he said. “Such a tyranny must not escape accountability.”

- ‘Deeply dangerous’ -

He also pointed to Iran, which was rocked by months of nationwide protests last year after Mahsa Amini died in custody following her arrest for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women.

“It is urgent for the authorities to act on the demands of protestors, in particular women and girls, who continue to endure profound discrimination,” Turk said.

Beyond country crackdowns on women’s rights, Turk said he was “shocked to the core by the contempt for women… spawned across the internet by so-called influencers,” condoning “the pervasive commodification of women”.

Women and girls are not the only ones targeted by “vicious hate speech”, Turk said, adding attacks on “people of African descent, Jews, Muslims, LGBTIQ+ people, refugees, migrants and many other people from minority groups”.

He deplored “deliberate provocations… intended to drive wedges between communities,” like the recent Koran burning in Sweden, as “deeply dangerous”.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights underlined how police violence in many countries disproportionately affects people of African descent, revealing “the deep structural harm rooted in racial discrimination”.

He noted repeated reports from his office of “excessive use of force, racial profiling and discriminatory practices by police”, in numerous countries, including France, Britain and Brazil.

- ‘Very troubling’ -

In the United States, where people of African descent are reportedly nearly three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, he hailed the unusually swift action taken to prosecute officers involved in the brutal death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis earlier this year.

“In the US and all other countries, swift and determined action to hold perpetrators accountable in each case should be the rule, not the exception,” he said.

Turk also voiced concern at the “growing agitation against the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals in many countries,” and especially at recent crackdowns and political rhetoric inciting hatred against them in East Africa.

He highlighted the “very troubling” so-called anti-homosexuality bill tabled in Uganda’s parliament last week, and 24 mainly AIDS educators arrested in Burundi.

“It is unthinkable that we are facing such bigotry, prejudice and discrimination in the 21st century,” he said.

Amid a broad range of issues over the situation since Moscow invaded Ukraine a year ago, Turk also saw a “troubling development” with the recent broadening of a law in Russia banning so-called “propaganda of non-traditional relationships”.