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Trump is 'legitimizing' hate incidents against Asian Americans: U.N. experts

The experts wrote that “U.S. authorities have utterly failed to take the steps required to detect, monitor, and prevent racist and xenophobic incidents” toward Asian Americans.
Image: The Headquarters of the United Nations ahead of the 74th Session of the U.N. General Assembly.
The Headquarters of the United Nations ahead of the 74th Session of the U.N. General Assembly.Valery Sharifulin/TASS / Getty file

United Nations experts issued a mandate expressing “serious concern” regarding heightened racist and xenophobic attacks against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the document made public this week, experts appointed by the Human Rights Council wrote that violence and attacks against people of Asian descent have reached an “alarming level” since the start of the outbreak. They also wrote that the reports indicate officials have taken insufficient action to mitigate the severity of the situation.

Based on the information provided to them, “U.S. authorities have utterly failed to take the steps required to detect, monitor, and prevent racist and xenophobic incidents,” the experts wrote. “One result of this state of impunity is that, many victims of such attacks are reportedly reluctant to seek justice.”

E. Tendayi Achiume — an author of the mandate who serves as special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — told NBC Asian America that it’s difficult to draw a clear link between the “China virus” rhetoric, frequently used by President Donald Trump, and the hate attacks. But she said that’s not necessarily the point.

“I think it's absolutely the case that if you have the head of government speaking about groups in ways that stigmatizes them and associates them with the virus, it creates an environment where violence is more permissible and attacks are more permissible,” she said. "It really does legitimize those kinds of acts."

"The head of government is essentially legitimizing a climate where certain groups are wrongfully associated with a virus that affects everybody equally," Achiume said. "It's really a serious problem from a human rights perspective."

The mandate lays out examples of physical and verbal racist attacks and discrimination toward Asian Americans, including instances of stabbing, vandalism and refusal of service. It also points to the “China virus” rhetoric as among the verbal attacks, with experts writing that they are concerned with the “contribution of the President of the United States in seemingly legitimizing these violations.”

Achiume said thus far there’s been no accountability from the U.S. government on the issue. With the release of the mandate, she hopes the administration will respond, providing what steps they’ve taken to ensure Asian Americans aren’t subjected to this kind of discrimination and intolerance.

While mandates such as this have been met with varied degrees of enthusiasm in the past, Achiume said the relationship between the HRC and the Trump administration has been “especially hostile to engagement with international organizations like the U.N.”

“I don't want to make it seem as though this is a purely partisan issue where, you know, one party always responds and one party always fails to respond,” she said. “However, the Trump administration has taken a very antagonistic stance with respect to the U.N. generally and the Human Rights Council."

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The U.S. withdrew from the HRC in 2018 as Nikki Haley, who was the ambassador to the U.N. at the time, accused the body of being "hypocritical and self-serving."

While Achiume hopes the Trump administration will take action, she said she believes the real mechanism for change and the true strategic value in the international body is to call attention to cases of intolerance and discrimination, particularly in cases that do not receive as much attention. Such actions aim to “ensure that there [are] groups at the national, the local level that will then take action to solve these problems,” she said.

“These are problems that have to be solved from within the U.S., rather than expecting that some kind of international cavalry will come in and solve the problem,” she said. “I think that's just not how we get change in the world.”

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