U.N. chief seeks to clarify protest advice, telling staff to fight racism

FILE PHOTO: Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting about the situation in Syria at U.N. Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

NEW YORK (Reuters) - United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday told staff they were not banned from joining anti-racism demonstrations sweeping the United States and other countries, in a letter that aimed to clear up any confusion on the world body’s guidance.

“It does not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the face of racism,” Guterres wrote in a letter to staff. “To the contrary, there is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity.”

In the letter, obtained by Reuters, he said recent guidance by the Ethics Panel “was meant to emphasize the need to balance such activities with one’s best judgment as international civil servants and our official duties.”

The largely peaceful U.S. protests over the past two weeks were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis with a white policeman’s knee on his neck. Some cities have had to deal with arson, looting and clashes between protesters and police.

Earlier this month Guterres urged Americans protesting racial inequities and excessive police force to do so peacefully and called on U.S. leaders and authorities to listen to them and show restraint.

People have also taken to the streets in countries including Britain, France and Australia for anti-racism protests.

“The position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear: this scourge violates the Charter and debases our core values,” Guterres wrote to staff. “Every day, in our work across the world, we strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice, dignity and combat racism in all its manifestations.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio