Over the past weeks, millions of people around the world have united in peaceful protest to speak out against injustice, inequality, racism and structural discrimination in cities and urban settings around the world.

The images of police violence, including the brutal death of the African American George Floyd, have shaken us to the core and call us to reflect deeply on our values, attitudes and actions.

It is time to acknowledge that racism and structural discrimination is pervasive across the world and in many institutions

At UN-Habitat, the United Nations agency charged with promoting socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, we stand in solidarity with cities and communities across the world in condemning racism and discrimination in all its forms. We redouble this call against anti-black racism during this UN International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), declared as such to promote respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights by people of African Descent.

As the Secretary-General has stated, diverse societies require investment in social cohesion against discrimination and inequality by national and local governments and civil society. Cities and governments are confronting change, and with it the opportunity to prioritize respect for diversity and inclusion as a common good and shared responsibility.

City populations are diverse, which creates the space to be or become inclusive hubs of social interaction and exchange, and sources of creativity, enrichment and cultural expression. Cities must be planned and managed to ensure the skills, talents and abilities of all people are embraced and fostered so that no one and no place is left behind, and that all benefit equally.

Calling for an end to racism and racial discrimination is a duty enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN Charter states that one of the UN’s founding purposes is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

“In the UN, we have known from the beginning that secure foundations for peace in the world can be built only upon the principle and practice of equal rights and status for all peoples, respect and dignity for all,” said Ralph Bunche - a co-drafter of the UN Charter and the first African American man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

These values are at the core of UN-Habitat’s work for safe, resilient and inclusive cities and human settlements for all, free from racism and all forms of discrimination. Our work on urban issues, including accessible public spaces, slum upgrading and improving tenure security, is underpinned by the principle of working together to address structural discrimination and ensure equal access to opportunities.

We all - as individuals and as organizations - have an important role to play as we move forward. Each of us must consistently assert and demonstrate the values of diversity, non-discrimination inclusiveness and mutual respect in every aspect of our lives. Only then will we see progress towards ending the scourge of racism and all forms of discrimination.

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