There is no harmony in racism: SACRU message for the International Day of Peace

In light of the International Day of Peace, promoted by the UN on Wednesday, 21st of September, the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU) condemns the persistent inequalities that racism fuels, further aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The answer lies in education as a vehicle for promoting a culture of peace

The International Day of Peace was implemented in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which also designated it as a period of non-violence and a cease-fire in 2001. This year, the recurrence is focused on the crucial theme of ending racism and the inequalities it creates. Too often, racism is thought to be something from the past that no longer grips our society. Unfortunately, race-based discriminations continue to persist and manifest in several forms: war, unequal access to housing, food, and water, as well as finding a job and getting an education. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shown that some racial groups have been hit much harder than others. The war in Ukraine has added to the several conflicts worldwide that cause people to flee and be discriminated at borders.

Inspired by its peaceful mission of global cooperation for the Common Good and the conviction that education plays a significant role in promoting a culture of peace, the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU) has collected some insights from various experts on the topic. SACRU is a network composed of eight Catholic Universities from four different continents. The contributions represent the personal views of individual academics and are not intended as the official positions of SACRU and its partner Universities.

Contributions by experts – SACRU Universities

Universitat Ramon Llull (Spain)

Written by Albert Caramés Boada, Associate Professor at the Blanquerna School of Communications and International Relations

Against the criminalisation in the fight against racism 

In a context of the rise, in Europe and Western countries, of hate and racism speeches, repression, and authoritarianism practices, where human rights were already at a recessionary stage, the context of contemporary armed conflict has more seriously limited the most fundamental human rights: the right to life, the right to peace, the right to housing, the right to education, etc. At a time when the pandemic is being closed, but in the middle of the climate crisis, a certain collective reflection needs to be generated to promote global and coordinating solutions to the threats that affect our survival as humankind.

We must defend human life and promote those social, economic, political, and other changes that would ensure a dignified quality of life, a healthy and viable environment, as well as a fair and peaceful environment. Many of these solutions also involve the elimination of cultural and structural violence that discriminates based on origin or race, whether in the treatment of migrant people (as we see today rooted in the necessary refuge of Ukrainian people, for example) but also in the treatment and media perception of conflicts and their solutions.

It is essential to create a critical awareness and education, which, far from favouring a culture of violence, encourages the prospect of a culture of peace. This kind of culture should create global consensus on shared and common security, create spaces of confidence (not spaces of distrust), promote enlargement and the defense of human rights, and not restrict them, favour disarmament rather than the escalation of armaments. Any action of hostility and criminalisation against individual and collective activities of solidarity, against racism and discrimination must stop. In the fight against racism, it is essential to work towards a set of policies that impact the causes of racism and discrimination, being able to make the rights of all people compatible. A particular emphasis on the right to asylum, opening communities to foreign people, the enhancement of cultural diversity, attention to vulnerable people and the humanisation of social relations with a gender perspective must be addressed.

Universidade Católica Portuguesa (Portugal)

Written by Ana Maria Evans, Professor in the Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE) program

Fostering peace tackling racism: Societal challenges, technological solutions, and multi-level policy

“Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”

Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II, 1965, #29.

Racism, understood as deliberate or unconscious cognitive, discursive, and cultural understandings of distinct ethnic, cultural, gender, and religious communities that support and perpetuate exclusion and/or discrimination in access to rights, freedom, and opportunities, is resilient across societies. Notwithstanding decades of equality and non-discrimination policy production by multilateral institutions and national decision structures, racism remains embedded across cultures. According to the European Union´s Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025, “over half of Europeans believe that such [racial or ethnic] discrimination is widespread in their country.”

Academic and policy studies indicate that racism affects career and life opportunities, personal and public health, and the length of life, propelling political instability and conflict and undermining well-being, social mobility, justice, and economic growth. Buckman et al. (2021) estimate that the U.S. economy has lost nearly $23 trillion since 1990 due to ethnic inequities. In African and Middle Eastern countries, ethnic and religious discrimination has resulted in waves of political violence, sectarian persecution, social misery, large-scale refugee displacement, civilian deaths, and ethnic cleansing.

In recent years, technological advances have led to new ways of ethnic discrimination. Online racist speech and disinformation campaigns are easily spread on global IT platforms of communication, notwithstanding the commitment by corporations to monitor and remove illegal content. In the coding and machine learning world, which plays a growing role in supporting important individual and public decisions, the great challenge is to prevent algorithmic bias that induces discrimination.

Effective anti-racism policy must combine a multi-level approach involving multilateral institutions, national legislation, local initiatives, corporate policy, civil society engagement, and technological advances. Multilateral institutions produce critical international norms on equality and non-discrimination, provide funding for economic and social development in contexts of social poverty, and address conflict via peacekeeping interventions. National legal instruments and action plans steer non-discrimination practices, supported by effective monitoring, benchmarking, and enforcement mechanisms.

Methods of co-creation that engage the participation of discriminated communities are effective in creating stakeholder awareness, identifying effective solutions, and designing best practices. Participatory approaches also tackle under-reporting problems resulting from discriminated groups’ low levels of trust vis-à-vis public institutions. Training and education programs implement co-created policy, stimulate awareness of conscious and unconscious bias, and offer best practices. Corporate non-discrimination policy (which contributes to brand-building) reinforces the implementation of norms and practices in business conduct. Technical solutions that evaluate fairness and non-discrimination metrics in artificial intelligence applications support emerging international standards on the ethics of AI use.

Racism remains embedded in the form of unconscious and deliberate discrimination. The virtual platforms that provide so much current societal interaction replicate the resilient phenomenon. Fostering peace while tackling racism relies on an inclusive policy approach, co-produced by public sectors, civil society organizations, academic institutions, corporate actors, technology firms, and the victims of discrimination, to design adequate policy and secure effective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. At Universidade Católica Portuguesa, we join the worldwide movement to end discrimination and racism and pledge the most advanced practices in protecting dignity, equality, freedom, and justice.

Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Written by Thula Pires, Professor from the Law Department

There is no peace in racism

It comes as a great opportunity that 2022’s International Day of Peace presents the fight against racism as its motif. There can be no peace as the end of all violence in the world if the structures that perpetuate racism remain unchanging and divide what is human or inhuman. Racial repression make us witness multiple forms of terror throughout the world, which disproportionately impact racialized non-white groups, especially black and indigenous women. However, we must also pay attention and care to other forms of violence that prevent the realization of peace and that are based on this same foundation.

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, after the vaccines proved to be safe, there was a process of disproportionate distribution of the cure. If one were to look at the rules of migration and refuge that dictate the (im)possibilities of movement in the world, one would find the undesirability for black bodies, be it times of stability or war. It is also the non-white population that suffers the most from worldwide hunger. In 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “peace takes root when people live free from hunger, poverty, and oppression”. Hunger, poverty, and oppression have color. There is no peace in racism.

Australian Catholic University (Australia)

ACU’s Rome Campus hosts conference on peace and Ukraine

ACU’s Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry is co-organising an international conference, Unwounded World: A Marian Peace for our Shared Future, to be held at the Rome Campus on 5-6 October 2022. Dedicated to the suffering of children, women and men in Mariupol, the symposium addresses the possibility of a future politics through Mary as a universal symbol of peace and protection from violence.

The Ambassadors of Ukraine, Australia and Slovenia to the Holy See will give the conference opening addresses. The two-day program includes sessions on the sacralization of violence and the roots of war; interreligious reflections on suffering and peace; Marian approaches to justice, peace building, mourning and suffering; Russian Church documents on the war in Ukraine; narratives of peace; and the aftermath of war.

ACU’s Professor Claude Romano will address the hope for peace in an unprecedented war in Ukraine. He argues that the ‘special operation’ launched by Putin represents an unprecedented form of war with the nuclear weapon used as an aggressive dissuasive weapon for the first time since World War II. The transformation into an unlimited licence to assault with impunity consequently brings all other countries to intervene directly militarily under threat of a nuclear world conflict.

Director of ACU’s Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Professor Peter Howard, will chair the sessions and give a concluding reflection. The conference is jointly organised by ACU, University of Notre Dame (USA), the Science and Research Centre Koper (Slovenia) and the European Academy of Arts and Sciences (Austria) with financial support from ACU and the Slovenian Research Agency. It is part of a larger program of research activities on the Rome Campus, including a public lecture series in September with distinguished international theologians, philosophers and historians.

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile)

Written by Fernando Pairican, Academic of the School of Anthropology

Opposing the reduction

In the context of the historic plebiscite for a new constitution held a few weeks ago in Chile, the State proposal that the indigenous movement put forward in the South American country aimed to provide a solution to the crisis that led to a social outbreak last October 18, 2019. The indigenous issue was one of the main causes of this citizens’ movement that led to a new constitutional project for the country. In Chile, it is estimated that about 2 million people identify themselves as indigenous, equivalent to approximately 13% of the total population (19 million), most of whom belong to the Mapuche ethnic group.

Today, in light of the results and according to some surveys, this indigenous cause was decisive for some people to reject the text proposed by the Constitutional Convention (the rejection reached 62% of the votes, only 38% approved). What was the goal of this text in terms of peace and dialogue with the native peoples of Chile? The purpose was to recognize in this country a Plurinational and intercultural State as a proposal to lessen what has been the increase of the Mapuche conflict, in which factors such as identity, race, violence, and poverty play a huge role.

With this climate of polarization regarding the indigenous issue, there was undoubtedly a lack of time to develop political work, to make this proposal known in detail in cities and communities with a larger indigenous population, as was done in Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where the new constitutional proposal concluded with a 55.6% adhesion.

Why did this same relationship with the constituent proposal not occur in other parts of the country, and what image does this project about racism in Chile? The answer may come by analyzing the behavior of the political opposition to a new Constitution: during the campaign, they chose to focus on the indigenous issue and highlight dichotomies such as the critical adherence of Mapuche sectors to the same proposed rights.

In the context of the International Day of Peace by the United Nations, it is important to highlight the campaign, often expressed as hatred, that existed in Chile (and in other Latin American countries) against the native peoples and how the rights of these native peoples were distorted, under the concept of an “indigenist constitution”. The anti-indigenous campaign has not yet concluded in Chile, with one sector seeing the defeat of the plebiscite as an opportunity to send the Mapuches back to the reduction.

As journalist Pedro Cayuqueo wrote, what happened was a “reality check”. Does it mean that indigenous peoples have the right, as people or as individuals, to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international human rights law? That indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination in the exercise of their rights, particularly that based on their indigenous origin or identity? Or that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination in their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development?

International standards on the subject continue to maintain that every State must guarantee the exercise of collective rights. The proposal of a plurinational State is a transitional formula for the need to advance the rights of indigenous peoples within a democratic framework. Political and intercultural reforms remain the best way to address these rights in a climate of peace, but the vote of the constituent plebiscite shows that it is necessary for those who feel represented by the Mapuche movement to initiate a process of greater articulation to avoid being sent back to political reduction, the punishment to which their ancestors were brought for resisting the Occupation of Araucania, and which, one hundred years later, continues to prove to have forced the diaspora and impoverishment of the native peoples.

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy)

Written by Claudia Mazzucato, Professor of Criminal Law and Restorative Justice

Building peace and justice. Together

“Achieving true peace entails much more than laying down arms. It requires the building of societies where all members feel that they can flourish. It involves creating a world in which people are treated equally”: this statement describes the focus of the UN 2022 International Day of Peace. It neatly outlines not only the wishful conditions for positive and stable peace but indeed the necessary conditions for it. Those who live in divided and polarized societies, where violence and armed conflicts (either ongoing or not) leave individuals and communities filled with resentment and hatred, know far too well how true this statement is, and how positive peace is not a mere option but a true necessity for survival. To take this statement seriously requires in turn to seriously engage in bottom-up, grassroots, interventions where those affected by conflicts and violence – those harmed and those responsible for the harm – can participate together actively and voluntarily in working out a future of togetherness. These are the tools of restorative diplomacy (Braithwaite, 2002) and restorative justice (UN ECOSOC, 2002).

Togetherness too is not an option: to envisage a world of ‘no enemy’ – whose starting point is the othering of others, and whose ending point is often the dreadful dream of eliminating them – results in an endless cycle of violence. Building conditions to live in peace and respect with others, mainly with the (former) enemies, is the beginning of another story and perhaps another history. It involves – as the UN statement says – “creating a world in which people are treated equally”, which means – let us be clear on this uncomfortable issue – to acknowledge equal human dignity to both victims and perpetrators, those harmed and those responsible for the harm. The challenge is demanding, but the fruit is positive peace. The world is disseminated with lucid and inspiring examples showing that togetherness is indeed possible. Those examples appeal to each of us, wherever we live, on the micro and macro scale of our inhabiting the Earth. Together.