United Nations rapporteur Rita Izsák-Ndiaye speaks on building connected communities

May 10, 2019

This spring, SFU hosted United Nations representative Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, a human rights expert from Hungary. She has worked with the UN as the former Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, and currently lives in Senegal and serves as the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

In partnership with Equitas and SFU Lifelong Learning, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement hosted an event in the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre on March 12, “Building Connected Communities – A Woman’s Journey for Human Rights.” The evening featured a talk by Izsák-Ndiaye on her experiences with rights-based advocacy around the world.

As a Special Rapporteur, Izsák-Ndiaye has travelled to countries across the globe to hear firsthand what the issues of racial discrimination are in each nation, speaking to marginalized community members and those who experience racism. She explained that the most marginalized groups rarely make it to Geneva or to New York to address the UN about issues in their country — so special rapporteurs must go to them to report back on their stories.

“When you come from a minority group, people easily think that your skills are limited and that your life opportunities are limited. And it’s so easy to believe it. It’s so dangerous to believe it.”


Izsák-Ndiaye sits on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which receives reports from UN member nations on their progress on addressing racism. They follow up with nations on human rights complaints related to racial discrimination and monitor cases that have been raised to them.

“The question is whether there are different mechanisms and laws in place to cater to people’s needs, but at the same time, to let them freely enjoy their identity and live with their identity.”


Izsák-Ndiaye shared what drove her towards work in the UN, coming from Hungary as a person of Roma and Hungarian descent. Her experiences with discrimination based on her own ethnicity have led her to work in the fields of discrimination, racism, minority rights, and social inclusion.

Following her talk was a panel discussion on how to create more inclusive, resilient, and connected communities. Izsák-Ndiaye was joined by Robert Daum, Fellow and Senior Consultant for SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue; Brenda Morrison, Director of SFU’s Centre for Restorative Justice; and Hana Woldeyes, a community activist who organizes around youth and immigrant issues. The conversation was moderated by Angie Osachoff from Equitas.

“You have a shared province. You have a shared country. But do you have shared realities? Do you have the same understanding of what people go through? Do different communities coming from different backgrounds have different understandings of what is going on?”


In advance of the public event, the UN Rapporteur met with local community engagement and advocacy workers at 312 Main to discuss share their experiences working in the areas of social and racial justice. When it comes to taking action locally, she encourages people to reach out to special rapporteurs on human rights issues in their communities. You can find all special rapporteurs, organized by topic, on the UN website.

Equitas also provides resources related to human right education, evaluation, and implementation — all of which are available for free online.

Watch the video from the March 12 event on Youtube.

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