|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
14th & 17th Meetings (AM & PM)
General Assembly Adopts Declaration Intended to Mobilize Political Support
for Ending All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Related Intolerance
Commemorating 2001 Durban Conference,
Plenary, Round-Table Speakers Call for Greater Efforts, Despite Progress
Acting to bolster global resolve to combat racism, the United Nations today adopted a Declaration aimed at mobilizing political support to end all forms of racial discrimination and related intolerance, and to place victims at the centre of measures to promote equal opportunity, openness and inclusion.
The General Assembly capped its High-level Meeting to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action by approving a consensus text containing the Political Declaration titled “United against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”. The Declaration reaffirmed the outcomes of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, and the Geneva Review meeting held in 2009.
The Declaration adopted today welcomed the progress achieved in many parts of the world in the fight against racism and racial discrimination since 2001, but acknowledged that, in spite of the international community’s concerted efforts, they still existed, including in new manifestations, “and countless human beings continue to the present day to be victims” of discrimination and related intolerance.
Further, it reaffirmed that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance constitute “a negation of the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The Declaration reaffirmed equality and non-discrimination as fundamental principles of international law. As such, Member States “resolve to pursue our common goal of ensuring the effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, especially for victims of racism”.
In his remarks before the action on the resolution, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that 10 years after adopting the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, new laws had been enacted and new institutions established to pursue justice. The international community was better prepared to prosecute and protect against grave crimes such as genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and modern forms of slavery, he said.
Yet, even though “our antennae are better attuned to see the insidious forms of discrimination [and] institutionalized prejudice that can be every bit as destructive as outright aggressive behaviour”, everyone, he said, must acknowledge that intolerance had actually increased in many parts of the world over the past decade. The resurgence and persistence of “such inhumane attitudes and detrimental practices” indicated that not enough had been done to stem the tide.
Admitting that the original Durban Conference and its 2009 follow-up Review had caused “immense controversy”, he urged Member States to use the tenth anniversary to further the world’s essential fight against racism. “We should condemn anyone who uses this platform to subvert that effort with inflammatory rhetoric, baseless assertions and hateful speech,” he emphasized, adding that the international community’s common commitment must be to focus on the real problems of racism and intolerance.
Summing up the meeting, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser (Qatar) said that the event — which featured two round tables focusing on recognition, justice and development for the victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — had provided an opportunity for Member States to share experiences of progress towards realizing the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination.
“Unfortunately, we have also heard that, despite concerted efforts, racist attitude and racial discrimination continue to perpetuate deeply embedded social and economic disparities,” he said. Such rising inequality made meeting the commitments outlined in the Durban outcomes and the Political Declaration just adopted more urgent than ever, the Secretary-General added. “It is vital that we go further and implement measures to counter intolerance and eradicate advocacy and hatred, incitement and discrimination.”
He issued a strong call for dialogue that would increase understanding among communities, and for intensive collaboration to combat discrimination on all fronts. Expressing his firm belief that equality and non-discrimination were essential for social harmony, the promotion of good governance and the rule of law, sustainable development and the fair distribution of resources, he said: “I urge you to continue to speak with one voice, to unite your efforts and to collaborate more intensively to combat racism and to make the world a safer and more harmonious place for us all.”
Hailing the centrality of the Durban process in the global fight against racism, Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the relevant outcomes listed a wide range of victims and grounds, citing the plight of the Roma, people of African and Asian descent, migrants and indigenous peoples. They also included condemnation of stigma and discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS, descent, and the multiple forms of exclusion faced by women.
“In sum, [they] encompass victims, sources, causes and forms,” she explained, adding that they also dealt with racism in the media and new information technologies, trafficking, migration, conflict, poverty and displacement. The outcomes also made clear that the anti-discrimination agenda “belongs to all of us, irrespective of race, colour, descent, ethnic or national origin, affiliation, religion or belief”. Their principles were reliable foundations for action and continued to provide guidance in the face of changing circumstances and new challenges.
“Today, we must confront the regrettable gap between commitments made at the time and the concrete and effective action actually undertaken,” she said, noting that, while some States had made incremental progress by enacting or amending laws, tangible progress could not be attained without the political will to implement and enforce them. Moreover, the international community had allowed politics to cloud the global response to racism. “Let us pledge here and now to revitalize our efforts,” she said, stressing that the victims of racism demanded and expected the United Nations to do better.
Delivering a compelling address, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa said that, while his country had had the honour of hosting the Durban Conference, inviting political leaders there to discuss racism would have been inconceivable just a decade before. The Conference was a testament to humanity’s success against the “scourge and demon” of racial discrimination, he said. It was also confirmation of the international community’s success in the struggle against racism, which the United Nations had boldly and correctly declared to be a crime against humanity.
Yet, eradicating discrimination remained as much of a challenge today as it had been in 2001, he noted, describing racism and racial discrimination as an ongoing “brutal attack on human dignity, an affront to the self-worth of individuals”. Facing that stark reality, the world must not be distracted from its noble struggle against racism, and should continue with the same resolve and determination that had led to the end of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, he emphasized.
Welcoming the apologies made to victims, the return of cultural artefacts to their places of origin and the payment of reparations, President Zuma stressed that more remained to be done, saying that he supported the initiative, led by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to erect a permanent memorial in honour of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Finally, he called on Member States and the wider international community to reaffirm their political commitment to full and effective implementation of the Durban outcomes.
The first round table was co-chaired by Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini of Swaziland and Arvin Boolell, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of Mauritius. The second interactive discussion was led by Co-Chairs Mohamed Mouldi Kefi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, and Ricardo Bucio, President of Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination.
Prime Minister Dlamini’s concerns echoed those raised by many speakers today. He said that, despite the centrality of the Durban outcomes, millions of people around the world still faced discriminatory systems that “defeated their dreams and aspirations, not because they had committed any crime, but because they were born into a certain race or ethnic group”.
Outlining emerging forms of racism and groups of victims, he said the Internet had become a forum for racism targeting the younger generation in particular. As a result, racist activities had increased, he said. Racism, discrimination and xenophobia were not the result of “instinctive impulses”, but social and cultural phenomena that must be addressed as such.
Both discussions featured Member States and civil society representatives sharing experiences of discrimination in their own countries and calling for action to fill gaps in implementing the Durban Programme of Action. Several speakers stressed that those States and blocs of States still working against the action plan should abandon their political manoeuvring. Indeed, one delegate noted, whatever had been said in or about the Durban meeting, or its consensual outcome, would not belittle its extraordinary achievement in making the struggle against racism a primary responsibility of all States.
Also addressing the opening plenary were the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia (on behalf of the Group of Asian States); the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Jamaica (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), and the Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan (on behalf of the Group of African States).
Others addressing the opening plenary were representatives of Romania (on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States), Monaco (on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States), and the Board President of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights.
During the closing plenary, Prime Minister Dlamini presented a summary of both round-table discussions.
NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar), President of the General Assembly, said today’s gathering was reaffirming that all nations “are one family, rich in diversity”, adding that, it was that diversity that enriched humanity and steered progress. “And it is through the celebration of diversity, as well as through the promotion of tolerance and dispelling fears of the other, that we build a more peaceful world.” Such a world was based on the fundamental principles of equality, trust and mutual respect.
The meeting, he continued, was an opportunity for world leaders to speak with one voice on one of the most critical global challenges of the twenty-first century: the continuing scourge of racism and xenophobia. It was also an important opportunity to recommit to the full and effective implementation of the actions outlined in the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Together with the outcome of the Durban Review Conference, held in Geneva earlier this year, the Programme of Action was the most comprehensive framework for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, he said. It highlighted the issues faced by victims of discrimination, including those of African and Asian descent, migrants, refugees and specific vulnerable groups, such as indigenous peoples and other minorities.
He went on to say that the framework also emphasized the necessity for all States to remember the crimes and wrongs committed in the past, whenever and wherever they had occurred. “We must unequivocally condemn these racist tragedies and tell the truth about history,” he added, stressing that that would be essential for international reconciliation and the creation of societies based on justice, equality and solidarity. Unfortunately, despite some progress since the Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted a decade ago, instances of racism, intolerance and xenophobia had increased in intensity and severity, he said. Indeed, racist attitudes and hate speech could be found in many countries, and the Internet was proving to be a new vehicle for spreading such ideas.
While countries had come a long way in removing obstacles to the realization of the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination, much more remained to be done, he said. “I would encourage all countries, individually and collectively, to intensify efforts aimed at reducing instances of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” It was the responsibility of States to take the necessary legislative measures to prevent discriminatory practices and grant justice to the victims. In addition, Governments, working with stakeholders including civil society and business, should intensify awareness-raising initiatives and enhance education to combat ignorance and effectively address the root causes of prejudice and negative stereotypes, he said, adding that today’s Meeting was an opportunity to come together in unity and address those critical challenges.
BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that 10 years ago, in adopting the Durban outcomes, the international community had acknowledged that no country could claim to be free of discrimination and intolerance. Ten years later, that was still the case. However, the international community had come a long way, and had seen new laws enacted, new institutions pursuing justice, new initiatives promoting dialogue, and new mindsets taking hold.
The world was better prepared to prosecute and protect against grave crimes such as genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and contemporary forms of slavery, he continued. The antennae of the international community were better attuned to see the insidious forms of discrimination — the subtle face-to-face interactions and institutionalized prejudice that could be every bit as destructive as outright aggressive behaviour. Yet, it must be acknowledged that intolerance had increased in many parts of the world over the past decade, he noted. The resurgence and persistence of such inhumane attitudes and detrimental practices indicated that not enough had been done to stem the tide.
He noted that participants in the Meeting had before them a global action plan containing recommendations for combating discrimination against Africans and persons of African descent, Asians and persons of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, minorities, the Roma and others. The international community must do more to embrace diversity and safeguard the dignity of those groups, he said. Welcoming this year’s observance of the International Year of People of African Descent, and the many constructive initiatives it had generated, he emphasized that the world must also stand firm against anti-Semitism, oppose Islamophobia, and reject discrimination against Christians.
Reiterating that bias based on religious identity had no place in the world, he said the international community must defend the rights of all, without distinction of any kind, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed. Neither race, colour, language, political nor other opinions, property, birth or other status should be a barrier to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms. The United Nations must remain the vanguard against bigotry and commit to fight discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, he declared, emphasizing that victims of prejudice must be at the centre of the Organization’s efforts. The stakes were very high indeed.
He went on to describe racism and discrimination as major obstacles to development, noting that all too often, there was a vicious cycle in which discrimination led to deprivation, and poverty deepened discrimination. A marked characteristic of virtually all extremely poor communities was that they lacked equal access to State institutions and services, he pointed out. The prevailing hard economic times only exacerbated the situation as competition for jobs and other difficulties triggered hostility towards migrants and minorities. Governments must ensure that unemployment and deteriorating living standards did not provide excuses for attacks on vulnerable groups, he stressed, adding that the international community must resist polarizing politicians who played on people’s fears and used stereotypes to gain electoral advantage.
Recalling that the Durban Conference and its follow-up two years ago had caused immense controversy, he urged the international community to re-state some basic principles on this anniversary — the process was meant to further the world’s essential fight against racism. Anyone who used the Conference as a platform to subvert that effort with inflammatory rhetoric, baseless assertions and hateful speech should be condemned, he said, emphasizing that the international community’s common commitment must be to focus on the real problems of racism and intolerance. The world must strive to ensure dignity, equality and justice for all, he reiterated, adding that it must work hand in hand with the civil society groups that were so central to that cause. He urged the international community to work in harmony to promote harmony.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, saluted the vast majority of Member States that were showing their support for the Durban outcomes — important achievements intended to combat racism and make a difference in the lives of so many victims worldwide. The lead-up to the commemoration had undoubtedly been challenging, in no small part because the issues were complex and sensitive. No country could claim to be free of racism, but all nations must stand resolute in finding the courage to unite and move ahead together, she said.
The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, as well as the outcome of the 2009 Review, provide a comprehensive framework to address the scourge of racism, she continued. Crucially, both documents placed victims at the centre of efforts against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. “They contain a genuinely universal condemnation of racism, which acknowledges the injustice of the past and forewarns against both resurgent manifestations and new forms of racism and intolerance.” The Durban outcomes listed a wide range of victims and grounds, citing the plight of the Roma, people of African and Asian descent, migrants and indigenous peoples. They also included condemnation of stigma and discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS, based on descent, and the multiple forms of exclusion faced by women.
“In sum, the documents encompass victims, sources, causes and forms,” she explained, adding that it also dealt with racism in the media and new information and communication technologies, trafficking, migration, conflict, poverty and displacement. They covered both private and public spheres and considered legal assistance and effective remedies for victims and those affected by racism. The outcomes also made clear that the anti-discrimination agenda “belongs to all of us, irrespective of race, colour, descent, ethnic or national origin, affiliation, religion or belief”. Their principles were the reliable foundations for action and continued to provide guidance in the face of changing circumstances and new challenges.
“Today we must confront the regrettable gap between commitments made at the time and the concrete and effective action actually undertaken,” she continued, noting that some States had made incremental progress in combating racism and xenophobia, largely by enacting or amending constitutional protections and domestic legislation. While such actions were crucial in providing avenues for remedy and redress, tangible progress could not be attained without the political will to implement and enforce such laws. “Let us pledge here and now to revitalize our efforts nationally, regionally and globally to combat the scourges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” she said, urging delegations to begin that effort today by underscoring that equality and non-discrimination were fundamental principles of the international community, thereby giving hope to victims.
Warning that the road to a world free of racism was not an easy one, she said anti-discrimination work required careful planning and a long-term focus. “It requires commitment and persistence,” she emphasized, highlighting the importance of developing the national action plans envisaged by the Durban outcomes, with the participation of victims and affected groups. The Office of the High Commissioner had been providing training and technical assistance in that area and stood ready to do more, she said. It would also continue to serve as a forum for dialogue and research on anti-discrimination issues while also continuing to support such mechanisms as the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and the Special Rapporteur dealing with racism and racial discrimination.
In conclusion, she said few people in the world today would openly deny that human beings were born with equal rights, and yet far too many were still victimized because they belonged to a particular group. The Durban outcomes provided a comprehensive framework for translating that sentiment into action. However, much remained to be done, she said, urging everyone to summon the political will to unite on the issue. “So far, we have done too little, too slowly,” she said. “We have allowed the global response to racism to be clouded by politics.” Urging Member States to do better, she stressed that the victims of racism demanded and expected that of the United Nations.
JACOB ZUMA, President of South Africa, said that 10 years ago, his country had had the honour to host the Durban Conference, which would have been inconceivable a decade before that. The Conference was a testament to the success of humanity against the “scourge and demon” of racism and racial discrimination. It was also a confirmation of the international community’s success in the struggle against the evil of racism, which the United Nations had boldly and correctly declared to be a crime against humanity.
He said that, in light of the preceding two centuries during which the African peoples had endured untold suffering, brutality and inhumane treatment under colonialism, occupation and apartheid, it was symbolic that the Durban Conference had been held on African soil, where the legacy of those ills was still visible. In Durban, the world had spoken with one voice and reaffirmed its commitment to continue to fight against the scourge of racism and to do everything to eradicate it, he said. The world had collectively agreed on the need for, and the significance of, a comprehensive framework to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The Durban outcomes provided a comprehensive assessment of those forms of intolerance and offered a collective set of actions to address them, he continued. South Africa appreciated the General Assembly’s decision to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Durban outcomes, he said, noting the progress made in implementing those outcomes in combating racism. However, it remained a challenge, as it had in 2001, he said, describing racism and racial discrimination as a continuing “brutal attack on human dignity, an affront to the self-worth of individuals”. They had a prolonged and negative impact on its victims and were a negation of the United Nations Charter, he said, warning that their prevalence would be an indictment on the Organization itself and its Members.
Pointing out that all had long agreed that racism was an affront to humanity, he said the world must not be distracted from its noble struggle against it, and should continue with the same resolve and determination that had led to the end of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. Welcoming the apologies made to victims, the return of cultural artefacts to their places of origin and the payment of reparations, he emphasized that more remained to be done, saying he supported the initiative to erect a permanent memorial to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
He called on Member States and the world in general to reaffirm their political commitment to full and effective implementation of the Durban outcomes, and encouraged them to continue to adopt national anti-racism measures. Racism and racial discrimination continued to pose a challenge to humanity today, and must be eradicated through a collective effort, he said, adding that he looked forward to the adoption of the political declaration this afternoon.
RAHAMTALLA MOHAMED OSMAN ELNOR, Undersecretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, addressed the Meeting on behalf of the Group of African States, describing the occasion as an opportunity not only to commemorate the Durban Declaration, but also to renew and reaffirm global political commitment to the full and effective implementation of all the Durban outcomes. The African Group was encouraged that in Durban’s wake, Governments had adopted progressive legislative and administrative measures to effectively combat racism and racial discrimination, protect the rights of migrants and ethnic or linguistic minorities, and combat incitement to hatred based on religious belief.
Yet, racism and intolerance persisted, routinely resulting in human rights violations, he noted, adding that they could also cause violence and suffering. The African Group remained concerned about diminishing civil liberties and was alarmed by “assaults on human rights and resurgence of violent incidents of racism”. Noting positive steps taken by Member States and the United Nations to oppose such actions, he said such efforts must be complemented and strengthened through responsible media awareness campaigns and the promotion, through education systems, of the principles of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding.
In light of persistent challenges in implementing the aims of the Durban outcomes, he said, States should translate the commitments outlined in those documents into concrete action. Greater resolve and political will were needed to tackle racism in all its forms, in all parts of the world, including areas under foreign occupation. The momentum gained by convening today’s Meeting created further impetus for States to accelerate implementation of the laudable objectives of the Durban outcomes.
He went on to reiterate that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid and colonialism, and new and emerging forms of slavery such as human trafficking, must never be forgotten. In that regard, the African Group welcomed the actions undertaken towards commemorating the 200th anniversary of the end of the transatlantic slave trade and the establishment of a permanent memorial at United Nations Headquarters, he said.
RADEN MOHAMMAD MARTY MULIANA NATALEGAWA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States, said he was confident that the text to be adopted reflected many common concerns in the area of racism and related intolerances. Today the international community had convened to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Durban outcomes, he said, recalling that it had met in 2001 not merely as Governments, but as peoples of the world who needed to fight against such prejudices with determination and perseverance, because they were a blight on humanity. The anti-racism struggle was one for human rights, dignity and the eradication of poverty. The adoption of the Durban outcomes underscored that, given the requisite political will, consensus could be reached on all issues, he said.
At the 2009 Geneva Review, the international community had collectively resolved to reinvigorate the political commitment of Member States to strengthen the anti-racism agenda, he said, noting that after a decade, the world must ask itself if it had truly unified its efforts to address the issues. It was a matter of great concern that, despite the efforts of many groups and nations and the ample evidence of its terrible toll, racism persisted. The eyes of the world, and those of the victims, were upon the General Assembly today, he said. It must find a new unity and make a concerted effort, particularly since new forms and manifestations of intolerance continued to emerge. There was a joint realization that discrimination did not go away by itself, but must be addressed seriously. Otherwise, it would remain a cause of social unrest and violence.
History was replete with terrible wrongs, manifested in many atrocities, he said. Despite the victory over apartheid, there remained a plethora of discriminatory laws affecting the lives of whole communities around the world. Slavery, slave trading and apartheid were major historical sources of racism and related intolerances. Past atrocities were manifest today in the form of poverty, underdevelopment and social and economic exclusion, which had affected developing countries over the years. Mobilization of the political will to effectively implement the Durban outcomes would enable the international community to truly combat racism in all spheres of life and in all parts of the world, including those under foreign occupation, he said, proclaiming the commitment and determination of the Asia-Pacific States to make the fight against all forms of racism a high priority.
SIMONA MIRELA MICULESCU (Romania), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, said the international community’s pledged commitment to combat racism could only be successful through concerted action at all levels. To that end, although some Member States of the Group were not participating in today’s meeting, they all remained determined supporters of the global fight against racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, at all levels, in their respective societies and communities.
While much had been achieved over the past decade, much remained to be done she said, adding: “Action is needed now, since, in spite of our rhetoric and all our good intentions, many regrettably continue to be victims of racism.” All States should, therefore, stay committed and alert in addressing and pre-empting all acts of racism, incitement to violence, hatred and segregation, she continued. “We have the means; we only need to seize the momentum,” she said. All efforts must be guided by full respect for all fundamental freedoms, in line with international human rights law.
In that regard, she continued, it was necessary to press for full ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Pointing out the key role played by the United Nations, including its Human Rights Council and the Special Rapporteur on the issue, she urged continued and enhanced engagement with civil society, saying its contributions would be essential to enhancing the fight against racism and discrimination “from the ground up”. Many challenges remained and new obstacles were emerging, she noted, emphasizing that the Eastern European States were nevertheless certain that “everything can be overcome in the light of reason”.
KENNETH BAUGH, Deputy Prime Minister of Jamaica, spoke on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, saying that its member Governments had sought, at the national level, to protect the diverse and multicultural nature of their societies. Some States had created specialized national mechanisms to combat racism and racial discrimination, and to promote equality and justice, he noted. However, despite the progress made, the effective implementation of the Durban outcomes had not been satisfactory.
Victims in many parts of the world continued to suffer violence on the basis of their ethnic origin or religious affiliation, he pointed out. Migrants and migrant workers were still easy targets in manifestations of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination. Member States should develop policies and programmes to protect their rights, he urged.
Stereotyping based on religion or belief and an increase in the number of incidents related to religious hatred were still factors that must be addressed, both at the national and international levels, he stressed. The proliferation of hate speech also remained a challenge in many parts of the world, exacerbated by the misuse of new technologies for the mass dissemination of negative and/or stereotypical information. It was, therefore, necessary for all Member States to promote greater levels of social inclusion, which was essential to reducing intolerance, he said.
He said today’s commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the Durban Conference and its outcomes presented an opportunity to mobilize the necessary political will for the global resolve needed to end racism and place victims at the centre of deliberations. The Durban process, if given the necessary support of all Member States, could lead to the eradication of all forms of racism and intolerance, thereby allowing people everywhere to experience the full enjoyment of their fundamental human rights and freedoms.
ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, recognized that racism and related intolerance undermined the principles of the United Nations Charter, emphasizing that all people were born free and equal and deserved to live lives free of discrimination. The fight against racism was a fight for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
She emphasized that while some members of the Group were not participating in today’s Meeting — mostly those not participating in the Durban process — they were all nevertheless committed to combating racism and racial discrimination in all its forms. The Group reaffirmed the importance of promoting education and awareness, especially regarding tolerance and dialogue, and all its members reaffirmed their support for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism and Racial Discrimination, the foundation of all national and international actions towards that end.
SARAH WHITE, Board President of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, said she was speaking for the countless victims of racial discrimination all over the world, adding that it was an honour to carry those voices at the General Assembly today.
Speaking “as the voice of those who have been excluded, marginalized, violated and denied their basic human rights”, she detailed the plight of Mississippi catfish workers, who faced battles for human rights and justice every day. They were made to stand for 12 hours a day in ankle-deep water contaminated with chlorine and other harmful chemicals, which caused severe skin rashes and other ailments.
She went on to say that white male supervisors forced workers to speed up the assembly line so that the company could make maximum profits. Uncaring about the well-being of the workers, they said “speed it up or lose your job”. Daily sexual and racial harassment, in addition to denial of bathroom privileges, were among the indignities suffered by contemporary workers in the catfish and poultry industries because of their skin colour and economic class, she said, adding that she was at the General Assembly to let the international community know that the workers had risen up and fought for justice and human rights.
They had held labour strikes and begun a workers’ rights movement all over Mississippi, she continued, adding that plants had begun to organize. Although many battles had been won, the struggle must continue. Amid racial profanity, intimidation and harassment on a daily basis, extrajudicial killings took place even today, she said, pointing out that workplaces remained segregated, with black workers assigned to the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. They were forced to work under conditions that looked “a lot like slavery”, she said, adding that people were still dying to make a living.
While the Center had started 15 years ago, helping low-wage African-American workers, it now helped all workers, giving them a platform upon which to organize themselves to fight racial injustice and providing education about rights and laws. People of African and Asian descent, as well as women and children, found their strength from organizing and bringing their voices together on one platform to make the Durban outcomes work, she said.
Action on Draft Resolution
Acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted a resolution titled “United against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” (document A/66/L.2).
Assembly President AL-NASSER ( Qatar) thanked the draft’s facilitators of the text for ably handling the sensitive negotiations.
Round Table 1
The Assembly then held two round tables under the theme “Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: recognition, justice and development”.
Co-chairing the first round table were Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland, and Arvin Boolell, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of Mauritius. The panellists were Anwar Kemal, Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Edna Maria Santos Roland, a member of the Independent Eminent Group of Experts on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Co-Chair DLAMINI said that, while the Durban Declaration was the most comprehensive framework of its kind, forming a bulwark against racism, discrimination and xenophobia, millions of people around the world still faced discriminatory systems that defeated their dreams and aspirations, not because they had committed any crime, but because they had been born into a certain race or ethnic group. Outlining emerging forms of racism and groups of victims, he cautioned that the Internet had become a forum for racism that targeted the younger generation in particular.
Racial discrimination and xenophobia did not result from instinctive impulses, but was a social and cultural phenomenon that must be addressed as such, he stressed. Swaziland prohibited all forms of racism, discrimination and intolerance, and was a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It supported the construction of a monument commemorating the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. “Let us not forget the victims, who look towards us to contribute to the improvement of their lives and to provide relief from the effects of this scourge,” he urged.
Co-Chair BOOLELL said it was one thing to have a plan of action, but another to ensure its implementation. Those who had not yet done so should accede to or ratify the Convention as a matter of priority, he said, emphasizing that doing so was a moral imperative. New frontiers in the struggle must be broken on the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration, he added, suggesting that the fight was like waging a “holy war”. New forms of discrimination and intolerance, including against migrant workers, were in fact unsung wars, he said, noting that the issues were constantly on the rise and at times far-reaching. The political will was there and the best effort must be made to translate it into action.
Mr. KEMAL said that his Committee — which monitors implementation of the Convention by States parties — placed a high value on the outcomes of the Durban Conference and the 2009 Review, and had adopted two general recommendations dealing with those texts. He described the Convention, which had entered into force 40 years ago and was just shy of universal ratification, as a “living document” that had evolved to address new situations. The Committee, for its part, focused on vulnerable groups facing multiple forms of discrimination and favoured special measures and affirmative action to address their problems. He affirmed the vital role played by civil-society actors, particularly national human rights bodies, in that regard, and called for addressing the phenomenon of hidden discrimination.
Ms. SANTOS said the international community had used a “panoramic lens” in its discussion of racism in 2001. Among its other achievements, the Durban Conference had acknowledged that slavery was a crime against humanity and recognized a number of specific groups, including people of African descent and the Roma. Underlining the persistence of great inequalities in terms of employment, income, education and health, she pointed to growing religious intolerance and increased bigotry. Additionally, technology was being misused to spread discrimination, she said.
Meanwhile, some minority groups in several Latin American countries were being victimized by armed groups and drug traffickers, she said, calling for a system of social indicators for the creation of an index to evaluate racism and discrimination. It was also necessary to reinforce the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. Where there was political will on the part of Governments, support from the United Nations system and civil-society action, the Durban Programme of Action was being implemented, she said.
When the floor was opened, the representative of Gambia stressed that denial could not continue, and victims must be acknowledged. Alarmed at the widespread increases in religious extremism and the unwillingness of some societies to embrace diversity, he criticized the media’s role in promoting intolerance by fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia. “You do not treat another human as less than human, unless you are less than human yourself,” he said.
Several speakers said that those States and groups of States still working against the Durban Programme of Action should abandon their political manoeuvring. The document was a cornerstone of global efforts to combat racism, discrimination and xenophobia, representing a turning point in the history of human rights, they argued, with one speaker emphasizing the need for a human rights approach that would encompass the principles of Durban as the best way to ensure sustainable development.
Disagreeing with those who would limit victims of discrimination to people from certain continents or of certain ancestry, the representative of Belgium said that continuing dialogue would help efforts to overcome the differences created by racism and discrimination, which knew no boundaries. More must be done to ensure that people who discriminated against others were dealt with under the law.
While it had taken decades for legislation on sexual orientation to develop, the fight against racism and intolerance had led to the creation of a powerful body of human rights legislation in Europe, he said. However, punitive measures were insufficient and States must take positive steps, including in education and public information. He agreed that the fight to end racism must not be clouded by politics and the international community should seek both a unity of purpose and a global perspective. “The word ‘dignity’ should guide us today,” he said, stressing the need to protect the victims of racist violence and hate.
A number of speakers highlighted national policies and efforts to address victims’ grievances, with several delegates calling attention to the discrimination inherent in the occupation of Palestine and strongly underlining the historical intolerance directed against the Palestinian people. Other speakers worried that too little progress had been made, saying that racism, religious discrimination and xenophobia were on the rise, particularly in developed countries where right-wing rhetoric and discriminatory immigration policies were proliferating.
The representative of Amnesty International said the number of Governments admitting the persistence of racism, discrimination and xenophobia in their countries was too low, stressing that the insufficient progress on the issue was the result of States playing politics. While it was relatively easy to discuss what was needed in the abstract, it was far more challenging to recognize the victims of actions often carried out by State officials. Whether more real action was taken would determine whether the next review conference would be able to celebrate true progress or merely provide an occasion to repeat the lament that not enough had been done.
Other participants in the round table included Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers and other senior officials from Mozambique, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Cuba, Iran, Finland, Lebanon and Kazakhstan.
Round Table 2
Co-chaired by Mohamed Mouldi Kefi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, and Ricardo Bucio, President of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination of Mexico, the second round table featured panellists Verene Shepherd, a member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and Mohamed Siad Doualeh (Djibouti), Rapporteur of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Co-Chair KEFI opened the discussion by asking whether — 10 years after Durban — the international community could say that racism and other forms of intolerance had significantly been rolled back, and whether international actions were in accordance with the principles of the Durban Conference. The results were mixed at best, he said, adding that the international community should ask itself how racism could persist despite attempts to eradicate it.
While it was clear that progress had been made, the steps forward were not equally distributed, either geographically or socially, he said. Marginalization, exclusion and poverty led to injustice and despair, and that was the reason behind radicalization and certain extremist reactions. Countering racism went beyond national purview, he said, pointing out that lack of understanding was a global challenge that the world must tackle together. Furthermore, a settlement of the Palestinian question must be based on a legitimate international solution or the policy of double standards would continue to exacerbate instability in the Middle East.
Co-Chair BUCIO said the denial of human dignity was the common denominator of racism and related intolerance. The many forms of discrimination denied the rights of victims all over the world. It had been exercised against people of African descent, indigenous peoples, and other disadvantaged groups, including the disabled, young people and the elderly, he said. A historical debt was owed to all those victims, who must be compensated.
Efforts to effect legal changes based on the Durban outcomes had not changed cultural perception of certain groups and individuals, he continued, noting that social diversity had not been taken into account. Legislation was needed to prevent any kind of racial discrimination, as well as machinery to protect those at risk, he said. In addition to cultural and legislative changes, there was a need for special agencies with broad legal mandates, as well as the infrastructure to create equal opportunities and treatment for people of every group found in society.
Ms. SHEPHERD said that even as the international community applauded the tenth anniversary of the Durban Conference, it was important not to forget all the human rights movements that had existed before the 1979 anti-racism conference in Geneva and since. The plight of the victims of injustice remained a stubborn feature of the global landscape, she said, adding that it manifested in Afrophobia, Islamophobia, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia towards migrants, refugees, displaced persons and asylum-seekers. There were also discriminatory actions based on age, gender, colour, class, sexual preference/orientation and culture, which were demonstrated in the persistence of modern-day human trafficking and even slavery, she noted.
Mr. DOUALEH said the text adopted today would go a long way towards bolstering the morale of victims. The international community needed to accord priority to expunging racial discrimination and promoting a “breeding ground” of new discussions on eradicating racism and related intolerance. The implementation of the Durban outcomes was a responsibility that the international community must fulfil, he stressed, noting that the 10-year anniversary was an opportunity to scale up commitments while also understanding that there was an upsurge in the troubling phenomenon of racism. While there was a right to express religious or cultural views, there was also a distinction to be made between such views and hate speech, he cautioned, saying the international community must mobilize to eliminate the latter.
In the ensuing discussion, participants described various efforts to eradicate intolerance and warned against the dangers of allowing prejudices to continue or intensify.
The representative of South Africa stressed that since 1994 his country had put new institutions in place to combat racism, and the Government had developed policies to support the poor. Like all other States, South Africa was facing tremendous discrimination-related challenges, and the international community must coordinate its collective efforts to free the world of racism, he said, adding that it was also necessary to ensure justice and social solidarity for all.
Many speakers addressed the need for inclusiveness within a State’s social fabric, with the representative of Brazil emphasizing that his country’s multi-ethnic and multiracial character was part of its identity — as a people and as a nation. The struggle against racism was a joint endeavour of humanity and must not be forsaken, he said, adding that one could not expect others to understand one’s own plight if one ignored the painful reality of others. Regarding Durban, he stressed that whatever had been said in or about the Conference or its outcome would not belittle its extraordinary achievement, which had made combating racism a primary responsibility of the State.
Several speakers called for reparations to be paid to victims of racial violence and discrimination, with many also voicing support for the permanent memorial to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, to be erected in a prominent place at United Nations Headquarters.
Referring to the recent xenophobia-based violence in his country, the representative of Norway said discrimination fed mistrust, resentment, violence, crime and insecurity. Racism and xenophobia remained among the most dangerous forms of discrimination, and could easily lead to hatred, violence and — in the worst cases — full-blown conflict, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Exactly two months ago today, on 22 July, Norway had suffered such an eruption of violence in which 77 people had been killed and many more wounded, he recalled. The attacks had appeared to be politically fuelled by hate towards a multicultural society, different religions, cultures and individual rights. It had been an attack on Norway’s democratic society and its values, which were based on equality, non-discrimination and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The country’s response had been to intensify its resolve to push for more democracy, more openness, and more inclusiveness because “we must never allow terrorism to dictate our agenda”, he said. In a new action plan for the period 2009-2012, aimed at promoting equality and preventing ethnic discrimination, the Government had fortified its efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, he said. It was now more important than ever to combat those ills, and to insist on unconditional respect for human dignity and human rights for everyone, everywhere, and at all times.
Quoting the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s speech to the League of Nations, the representative of Barbados said that, until the philosophy that held one race superior and another inferior was finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, and until the colour of a man’s skin was of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, “everywhere is war”.
Other participants speaking were representatives of Algeria, Nepal, Uruguay, Honduras, Ecuador, Fiji, Argentina, Mauritania, Barbados, Russian Federation, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Colombia, Pakistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Morocco and China.
* *** *For information media • not an official record