Navi Pillay warns against mounting racism in Europe

Navi Pillay

Navi Pillay speaking at the opening day of the 26th session of the Human Rights Council. Geneva, 10 June. [UN/Flickr]

The United Nations has reacted to the success of the far-right in the European elections during a session in Geneva on 10 June. EURACTIV France reports.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, opened the UN’s Council on Human Rights with a graph showing the situation of human rights across the globe. Numerous far-right MEPs, new and old, featured.

She spoke of the death penalty and highlighted regions in the world where civil liberties are being undermined, such as Syria, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Thailand and Venezuela. The Human Rights Council are meeting in Geneva over ten days to report on the state of human rights across the globe. Pillay stressed the dangers linked to far right politics in the EU.

Hate speech

Navi Pillay condemned hate speech by political leaders in France, Italy and Germany.

“I am disturbed by the recent increase across the political spectrum in several states in Western Europe of a discourse rooted in anti-immigrant and racist sentiment and religious intolerance,” Pillay said.

Pillay, a South African of Tamil origin, clearly targeted the President of France’s National Front, Marine Le Pen, as well as Udo Voigt, the only MEP elected from the German NPD, and Mario Borghezio, MEP for Italy’s Northern League.

She was saddened that the European Parliament would welcome Udo Voigt, the German political leader who said that “Europe is the continent of white people and it should remain that way.” Voigt is widely viewed as a neo-Nazi. Joachim Gauck, President of Germany, labelled members of the NPD as “loonies”, an expression which was endorsed by Germany’s top judge.

 >> Read:  European debut for Germany’s ‘dying’ extreme right?

She criticised views expressed by the leader of the National Front, comparing “peaceful Muslim street prayers to the military occupation of her country by the Nazis.”

This comparison saw Marine Le Pen lose parliamentary immunity last year when French prosecutors opened a case for hate speech. She came under fire after saying that “there are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation all the same and it weighs on people.”

>> Read: Marine Le Pen loses immunity as MEP in racism case

Mario Borghezio, from Italy’s Northern League, also featured in her speech. He was found guilty in 2005 of arson after setting fire to pallets belonging to immigrants who were living beneath a bridge in Turin. He also caused controversy when he praised Anders Breivik, the man who committed the 2011 terrorist attack in Norway in which 77 people lost their lives.

“There is a road to perpetration of human rights violations. And hate speech – particularly by political leaders – is on that road,” said Navi Pillay, whose mandate ends on 1 September and gave her last address to the council in Geneva.

Attacks in a “climate of extremism”

The UN representative also criticized “violent attacks based on religion or ethnicity”, making reference to the deadly assault on the Jewish Museum in Brussels (24 May), in which four people lost their lives. Navi Pillay insisted that such acts “are not unconnected to this climate of extremism” in Europe and called for an education campaign on human rights to “counteract these alarming trends”.


Eurosceptic political parties are blossoming in many European countries, but their backgrounds and causes are very different. Analysts have argued that even though the next Parliament could have a much higher number of eurosceptic, even populist MEPs, they have a smaller chance of forming a coherent bloc.

Even if the extent of their political influence in the next parliament is unclear, the recent success of far-right parties has been a cause for concern. The EU elections witnessed the rise of Eurosceptic, anti-EU, anti-immigrant, populist, reactionary and even neo-Nazi parties in several EU member states. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for a human rights education campaign to halt the rise of extremism in Europe.

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