Racism and us | Sunday Observer

Racism and us

2 July, 2023

Has the UN failed? It would be a ludicrous question, most would think. The UN evolved from the League of Nations at a time the world was recovering from the repercussions of World War carnage. How could anyone suggest the UN has failed when World War has been avoided, and there has been no atom bomb attack since Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

How can anyone say that the UN has failed when there have been organisations such as the UNDP assisting the developing world and the UNHRC policing human rights?

Okay, so the UN has basically averted war and to some extent helped countries get their act together? In other words, the UN has prevented the world from reverting back to the status quo ante of the bad old days of World War I and II? So is the UN primarily a preventive body, that providentially sort of brought us back from the brink?

Was it some sort of organisation devised by humanity to save humankind in spite of themselves? The role of the UN was to avert disaster and not to ensure that nations evolve into those that strive together for the common good of mankind?

If it is accepted that the UN has acquitted itself as an organisation that kept humans at bay from destroying themselves, what can we say, whoa, good job? But wasn’t that what the United Nations was expected to do, and was designed to do by default?


Accepting that the United Nations has done its job would be like saying we are not human we are vegetables, merely managing to exist and get by, in spite of ourselves. Today, the United Nations seems either unwilling or unable to do anything about the most telling scourge of our time, racism.

Now, if the answer is that the UN was not formed to fight racism, then we should all rest our case maybe and get onto a different topic because talking about the world body without factoring in the most important issues of the day would be ludicrous.

If the United Nations can bring up issues concerning member nations such as Sri Lanka with regard to human rights, nations such as Sri Lanka together with scores of other countries should be able to bring up issues that deal with the race relations record of many countries that have not dealt with racism properly either internally as in with regard to the racism record relating to policing, or externally as in with regard to its racism record concerning immigration.

Racism is, perhaps, the foundational scourge that accounts for many of the global inequities that divide the globe in terms of ‘North’ and ‘South.’

The system of debt-enslavement of developing nations in some way are residuals of racism and the old colonial order, and who is to say that that global order of Empire was not primarily a race based construct? Today, we see the detritus resultant from that sort of precipitate plundering, in the form of a myriad abominations such as the Windrush scandal in the UK and so on.

So, in other words, race based Empire and resultant hegemony created the current World Order, and it exists to this day even though not in the form of outright, blatant and exploitative domination a la full-on colonialism. The UN is paralysed in the face of this old World Order, and even though experts have been prattling on about a new World Order for decades there is no such thing, because the New Order looks and feels just like the Old World Order, so there.

The significant world powers — the US and the big powers of Europe — all voted against the Resolution to implement with more teeth, the Dublin Declaration on racism for instance, and most of Europe abstained. UK and the US, at the 51st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, voted against concrete action to put an end to racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.


Meanwhile, there is nary a month that passes without an accident involving an immigrant ship, the latest being the vessel that capsized off the shores of Greece.Nobody cares, but millions are spent to dredge out a sub sight-seeing the Titanic wreck. The UK government, nevertheless, introduced laws that stripped rights of asylum seekers and other vulnerable people, states a Human Rights Watch report.

A 2023 report by a UN Working-Group stated that there is institutional racism in the Courts of the United Kingdom against persons of African and Asian descent in particular. The above are a mere sampling of issues related to racism in countries such as the UK, with that country by no means being the only significant Western power that’s remiss on this count.

Despite all this, the UN or any other body has not been able to make significant progress on ridding the world of institutionalised racism and xenophobia, but then again it’s not surprising. The UN is also subject in its inner workings to the same race-based order of business, so what would you expect?

There is no problem it can be assumed if through UN bodies the human rights situation of certain countries be subject to scrutiny, but why by the same count is it not possible for countries such as Sri Lanka, or Jamaica, or Surinam or any one of scores of nations to hold nations that haven’t improved on their racism record to account?


If that’s a good question, the only good answer is that scrutiny on human rights with regard to nations such as Sri Lanka is substantially powered by the use of economy related ‘conditionalities’ whereas the nations that want to hold certain powers to account on race based issues have no such instrument by which they could give some teeth to their concerns.

It means in effect that the Old Order based on race basically perpetuates the Old Order based on race. How could the United Nations be considered to have succeeded as an institution if this is the situation that prevails and passes as the World Order, even though there has been talk of ‘new World Orders’ at the drop of a hat since the UN was formed?

There are no easy answers to the question of how to deal with institutionalised racism when the countries that are victim or have populations that are victim are coping all the time with existential issues such as debt and economic survival, which makes it extremely difficult for these nations to mount any credible effort against racism leave alone the World Order —a dice that’s perpetually loaded against their interests?

Less problems confront Third World nations when it comes to joining the global effort on climate change for instance, though even with regard to this issue, it’s difficult to get the powerful nations to pay for climate related damage that impacts developing countries.

But at the very least with regard to climate change, rich and poor countries on principle unite on the same platform. Not so with regard to racism. As Somdeep Sen, an academic in International Development Studies stated in a recent article, “Committing to reparative action for their past crimes could threaten the West’s privileged standing on the global stage.” Committing to any action against racism, in effect, could threaten that privileged standing.