IBA and IBAHRI condemn anti-Asian hate crimes and call for fortification of anti-racism legal frameworks

Friday 7 May 2021

The International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemn the surge in hate crimes targeting Asian communities in countries with minority Asian migrants and descendants who have become discriminatorily associated with the spread of COVID-19. The IBAHRI calls on states, including Australia, Canada, European states and the United Kingdom to urgently address the rise in such crimes through the strengthening and implementation of national anti-racism legal frameworks and the establishment of expeditious investigations and prosecutions.

IBA President,Sternford Moyo, stated: ‘We call on world leaders to address prejudice against Asian communities. Furthermore, where pertinent, we call for people in power and of influence to refrain from espousing rhetoric that may perpetuate racism and potentially lead to members of any segment of society being victimised and violently attacked.’

Mr Moyo added: ‘Also, we remind all actors that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) obliges state parties to “condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races”. In addition, the Convention further asserts, “the right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution.” We call for States to demonstrate their full commitment to international law by fortifying anti-racism legal structures and ensuring violators face the full force of the law.’

Commentators have said that the former US president Donald Trump’s speeches that referred to COVID-19 as the ‘China Flu’ fuelled hate and violence against people of Asian descent in the US. According to data from Stop AAPI Hate – a coalition that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States – there have been 3,800 incidents of hate directed at Asian Americans reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic; a significant increase on the previous year’s figure of 2,600. In addition, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, based in California, found that the number of anti-Asian hate crimes reported to police rose 150 per cent during the first quarter of 2021.

On 16 March 2021, eight people, six of whom were Asian women, were killed in shooting incidents across three massage parlours in Atlanta, Georgia. These attacks drew greater national and international attention to the physical assaults, racial slurs and verbal abuse Asian communities in the US have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other attacks include a brutal assault, captured on CCTV, of a 65-year-old Asian woman on 30 March 2021. She was later hospitalised. The following month, on 26 April, a 61-year-old Chinese American man was killed as the result of a racially aggravated assault.  Both attacks occurred in New York.

President Joe Biden responded by publicly condemning the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and establishing initiatives to address the phenomenon, including through the US Department of Justice and the creation of a subcommittee under the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Additionally, the US Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on 22 April 2021, by an overwhelming vote of 94 to one, and will direct a Department of Justice review on hate crimes and provide support for local law enforcement responding to violent incidents.

IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis commented: ‘The measures taken by President Biden and the US Senate are much welcomed. Discrimination in all forms must be rooted-out. Those most vulnerable in our communities must be protected and perpetrators of the xenophobic attacks against Asian people must be held accountable under robust and unequivocal legislation. Asian communities have suffered appalling physical and verbal abuse because of ignorance, misconception and long-standing bias throughout this pandemic. It is hoped the international community will be encouraged tofortify respective legal frameworks to halt the rise in such attacks and protect Asian minorities.’

In the UK, police data revealed that there was a rise of 300 per cent in hate crimes against Chinese, East and Southeast Asians in the first quarter of 2020. Other countries including Australia, Canada and several European states have also followed this trend since the pandemic began.

A November 2020 study, conducted by the Australian National University, found that more than eight in ten Asian persons have experienced racism during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Asian Australian Alliance confirmed that nearly 380 racially-fuelled attacks had occurred over the course of two months, equivalent to approximately 47 attacks a week, with the majority of the victims being women.

In Canada, statistics from the Vancouver Police Department show anti-Asian hate crime incidents rose by 717 per cent from 2019 (12) to 2020 (98). While in France, a report by two French lawmakers stated that the marked increase of anti-Asian racist attitudes and hate crimes accompanying COVID-19 was ‘rooted in both long-standing conspiracy biases and current issues.’

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, commented: ‘Asian communities across the world are facing a global crisis of discrimination in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, for which they are being scapegoated. This experience is especially suffered by Asian women who face double discrimination based on their race and sex. The viral spread of hate must be actively combatted through state policy, not only to safeguard human dignity and equality, but to protect civilians’ right to life, which is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’

Furthermore, General Comments No 32 of the United Nations-appointed independent experts comprising the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination hold that temporary special measures and ‘positive actions’ must be adopted by states, through laws, policies and practice, designed to secure to disadvantaged groups the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as part of that state’s international obligation under the treaty.


Image Credit: Ron Adar / Shutterstock.com

Notes to the Editor

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  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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