Fact Sheet 1

Why a World Conference Now?

"As we see all around us, racism and racial discrimination continue unabated. Although we refer to our world as a global village, it is a world sadly lacking in the sense of closeness towards neighbour and community which the word village implies. In each region, and within all countries, there are problems stemming from either a lack of respect for, or lack of acceptance of, the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. Our world is witness to serious ethnic conflicts; to discrimination against minorities, indigenous peoples and migrants workers; the accusation of institutionalized racism in police forces; harsh immigration and asylum policies; hate sites on the Internet and youth groups promoting intolerance and xenophobia." 

[Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 24 March 1999]

One of the guiding principles of the United Nations, created in 1945 at the end of the World War II, is the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of race. This principle is clearly stated in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, which reaffirms "faith in fundamental human rights, in dignity and worth of the human person". Subsequently, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments which specifically refer to this principle have been adopted by the United Nations.

Scope of the Problem
Despite continuing efforts by the international community, racial discrimination, ethic conflicts and widespread violence persist in various parts of the world. In recent years, the world has witnessed campaigns of "ethnic cleansing". Racial minorities, migrants, asylum seekers and indigenous peoples are persistent targets of intolerance. Millions of human beings continue to encounter discrimination solely due to the colour of their skin or other factors that indicate the race to which they belong. Effective and early action, as well as early warning measures, are required to prevent the growth of ethnic hatred and potential violent conflicts.

The Global Commitment
The Secretary-General stated on 10 April 1999: "As we review what has been achieved since 1945, we can see how right the drafters of the Charter were to link human rights and the maintenance of peace and security. Today, with 50 years of experience behind us, we can reaffirm the crucial importance of that link. Our experience has also taught us that respect for human rights is crucial to peace-building, and to the broader task of ensuring development."

Three Decades of Focus
Between 1973 and 2003, the General Assembly designated three decades for action to combat racism and racial discrimination and to ensure support for people struggling for racial equality.

*  The Programme of Action for the First Decade was structured around measures which should be taken to implement the United Nations instruments concerning the elimination of racism and racial discrimination and the pursuit of a worldwide education campaign.
*  The Programme of Action for the Second Decade emphasized recourse procedures for victims of racial discrimination. Its programme included a world public information campaign for human rights and the drafting by the Commission of Human Rights of a "model national legislation" to guide Governments in the enactment of legislation against racial discrimination.
*  The Programme of Action for the Third Decade, which ends in 2003, underlines the pivotal role of human rights education in securing respect for human rights. It has been marked by a broadened view of the problem of racism and the realization that every society in the world is affected and hindered by discrimination. It is no longer sufficient for the world community to address conflicts relating to racism as they arise; it is now necessary to look at the roots of racism and to make institutional changes in order to prevent its eruption.

Issues of Concern
In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 52/111 of 12 December, decided to convene a World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance no later than 2001. This decision reflects growing international concern for the rise in the incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and recognition of the challenges and opportunities in combatting these phenomena in an increasingly globalized world. In his call for renewed commitment in the new millennium to the protection of human rights, the UN Secretary-General said, " For every right we proclaim, hundred of abuses are committed every day. For every voice whose freedom we secure, many more are still threatened. For every woman or girl whose right to equality we uphold, thousands more suffer from discrimination or violence. For every child whose right to education and a peaceful childhood we seek, far too many remain beyond our reach. Truly, our work is never done."

Objectives of the Conference
The objectives of the World Conference, as set forth by the General Assembly resolution 52/111 of 12 December 1997, are:
*  To review progress made in the fight against racism and racial discrimination, in particular since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to reappraise the obstacles to progress in the field and to identify ways to overcome them;
*  To consider ways and means to better ensure the application of existing standards and their implementation to combat racism and racial discrimination;
*  To increase the level of awareness about the scourge of racism and racial discrimination;
*  To formulate concrete recommendations on ways to increase the effectiveness of the activities and mechanisms of the United Nations through programmes aimed at combatting racism and racial discrimination;
*  To review the political, historical, economic, social, cultural and other factors leading to racism and racial discrimination;
*  To formulate concrete recommendations to further action-oriented national, regional and international measures aimed at combatting all forms of racism and racial discrimination; and
*  To draw up concrete recommendations to ensure that the United Nations has the necessary resources for its activities to combat racism and racial discrimination.

The Preparatory Process for the Conference
In 1998, the General Assembly designated the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, as Secretary-General of the Conference. The Assembly invited States and regional organizations to set up, at the national or regional level, coordination structures responsible for promoting preparations for the Conference and for sensitizing public opinion to its importance and its objectives. Governments, international and regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations are requested to participate in the preparations of the Conference by undertaking reviews and studies and submitting recommendations, among other activities, to the Preparatory Committee through the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Commission on Human Rights will act as the Preparatory Committee for the Conference.

Non-governmental organizations have been encouraged to hold a forum both before and during the Conference, and to actively participate in the preparations for the Conference. They have also been requested to support the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Department of Public Information in their efforts to undertake a world information campaign to mobilize and support the Conference and its objectives.

Given the importance of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other human rights instruments, the World Conference will give particular emphasis to the ratification and implementation of relevant international standards. Because of technological developments in communications, the World Conference will focus attention on the misuse of the new technologies, in particular the Internet.

UN System-Wide Involvement
All United Nations bodies and agencies have been requested to contribute actively to the World Conference. In addition, UN mechanisms dealing with racism and racial discrimination - such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and the Special Rapporteurs to the Commission on Human Rights - have been asked to participate actively with a view to ensuring the success of the World Conference.

UN Special Rapporteur on Racism
In 1993, the UN Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. As an independent expert, he is mandated to study both institutionalized and indirect forms of racism and racial discrimination against national, racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and migrant workers and their families throughout the world. His work will be valuable to Conference preparations.

Setting the Stage for the New Millennium
The World Conference will be a unique and important opportunity to create a new world vision for the fight against racism and racial discrimination in the new millennium. In order to have a real impact, the Conference should not only promote greater awareness concerning the scourge of racism but also lead to decisive action at the national, regional and international levels in order to help those who suffer on daily basis from racism and racial discrimination. Concerted efforts and contributions by individuals, Governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and the various United Nations bodies and specialized agencies will be necessary to accomplish the objectives of the Conference, and to provide long-lasting solutions.

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