World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Durban, South Africa
31 August 7 September 2001
RD/D/37
5 September 2001

Plenary
AM Meeting

NATIONAL EFFORTS TO COMBAT RACISM, DISCRIMINATION HEARD

IN GENERAL DEBATE AT RACISM CONFERENCE

As the plenary of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance this morning heard from United Nations Member States and national institutions, several speakers urged that the spirit of the debate be captured in the final Declaration and Programme of Action.

Hernan Couturier, Under-Secretary of Multilateral and Special Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru, was concerned by the unfavourable evolution of the Conference. It seemed as if the process to address discrimination could once again be threatened because attitudes contrary to the spirit of cooperation and tolerance had surfaced. "We cannot take new steps if the international community is not mature enough to take concrete steps to address the problem and all the issues that surround it in an open and cooperative manner", he said.

Representatives of national institutions, which constitutes human rights institutions and other relevant specialized institutions created for the promotion and protection of human rights, addressed the situation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in their own countries. They noted difficulties in their countries despite efforts of their governments to address them.

Shirley Mabusela, Deputy Chairperson, South African Human Rights Commission, said that structures such as the judiciary still did not adequately reflect the diversity of her country's people. With the advent of the new democracy, South Africa had to assume its responsibilities among the community of nations. Among those was the duty to provide sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers. Their presence in South Africa had led to unacceptable levels of xenophobia and intolerance, directed particularly at people of African descent.

Justice K. Ramaswamy, Member of the National Human Rights Commission of India, said the Indian Commission is deeply involved with the protection of the human rights of those who, under the Constitution, comprised the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes -- the Dalits and Adivasis. India had embarked on a programme of affirmative action and the Commission had accorded the highest priority to ending discrimination against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and is seeking to eradicate two pernicious practices: manual scavenging and bonded labour. Economic upliftment and empowerment of Dalits was the most effective tool to combat casteism.

Michael Farrell, Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights Commission, said as the modern waves of asylum seekers had reached the shores of Ireland, his country had not shown them the understanding and compassion that should have been learned from its own history. Official attitudes towards asylum seekers were grudging and unwelcoming, and official pronouncements had sent very negative signals to the population as a whole. Despite recent improvements, some asylum seekers were still refused the right to work or had been treated insensitively.

Summarizing one of the Conference's main themes, Willem Udenhout, Special Adviser to the President of Surinam, said basic truths and basic convictions could always be expressed in simple words: the transatlantic slave trade was the most horrible and most depraved action and was, quite clearly, a crime against humanity. Views that slavery and the slave trade were legal at the time and therefore could not be condemned were of great concern to him. Compensatory measures were indispensable for acknowledging past wrongs, he said.

African national institutions, putting the situation in the context of the consequences of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism, urged the Conference to identify them as crimes against humanity and called for debt cancellation. Mariama Cisse, Vice-President, Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom Commission of Niger, said that after three centuries of slavery and the slave trade and 70 years of colonialism with all its consequences, Africa had no longer a debt to pay.

The Conference also decided to close the list of speakers at 1 p.m.

The Conference, which opened last week and continues through Friday, 7 September, has set as a goal adopting a Declaration and Programme of Action that can be used as a framework by individual countries, governments and their civil society partners to promote policies of tolerance and further protect citizens from all forms of discrimination.

Also speaking at this morning's session were: Mory Kaba, Minister of Cooperation of Guinea; Gloria Dominga Tecun Canil, Deputy-Secretary of the Presidency for Women Affairs of Guatemala; and Evangelina Filomena Oyo Ebule, Deputy Minister of Justice and Worship of Equatorial Guinea.

The representative of Liberia also addressed the meeting.

The meeting was also addressed by Claudia Kaufmann, Secretary of State of Switzerland.

A member of Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination addressed the meeting.

Also addressing the meeting were the representatives of the Swiss Federal Commission against Racism; Human Rights National Commission of Mexico; Office of the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination of Sweden; Uganda Human Rights Commission; National Human Rights Commission of Greece; and Permanent Human Rights Commission of Zambia.

The Conference will continue its general debate this afternoon at 3 p.m.

Statements

MORY KABA, Minister of Cooperation of Guinea: I would like to use this occasion to pay tribute to the memory of the victims of colonialism and of the racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that is associated with it. The Conference takes place at a particularly difficult moment, with a proliferation of conflicts and a worsening atmosphere of tension, that is a serious threat to peace and security. That puts the political determination to create an atmosphere of tolerance to a severe test.

Despite the concerted efforts of the international community, it is sad to see that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance associated with acts of violence and exclusion have not disappeared. Within our States we must establish political conditions to foster national cohesion and a dynamic network for sensitizing all segments of society. The African continent is particularly aware of the aspects of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance because it has been a victim of it through colonialism and slavery. We support the Programme of Action and the Declaration of Dakar, and hope that the Conference will recognize the injustices committed in the past as crimes against humanity, deserving of reparations.

My Government reaffirms its commitments to the United Nations Charter and the African Charter for Human Rights of the People. In that spirit, it has been welcoming, for more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone. My country is firmly convinced that the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance cannot be seen in isolation from development, the rule of law, respect for human rights and good governance.

GLORIA DOMINGA TECUN CANIL, Deputy Secretary of the Presidency for Women's Affairs of Guatemala: The Mayan indigenous people asked me to speak at the Conference because I have experienced racism, as both a woman and as an indigenous person. Indeed, due to persistent discrimination, there was once a time when I might never have been able to come here to speak at such an event. Moreover, only recently has Guatemala been recognized as a multi-ethnic country. The situation of indigenous people is precarious, as witnessed by the high levels of poverty, lack of education and exclusion within their communities.

Indigenous, ethnic and other populations still face the continuing after-effects of slavery and colonialism, as well as newer forms of intolerance and discrimination. The scope and still-existing consequences of colonialism and slavery require immediate attention, as they are a direct cause of poverty, exclusion and discrimination today. We are disheartened that the former colonial Powers have refused to discuss their responsibilities in that regard. We are hopeful that that attitude will not affect our efforts to cooperate and find language with which we can recognize such historical responsibilities in our work. That will be particularly necessary to ensure broad human rights development. Those who speak of reparations should not be denied the right to be heard. We would like to stress the need to alter the situation of indigenous peoples on the American continent and all over the world.

Actions and initiatives aimed at addressing exclusion, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance facing indigenous people cannot be affected by superficial reforms or with the ratification of international conventions. Without detracting from the importance of those instruments, we must urge the review of political and legal orders in many States, as they are often divorced from the social and cultural natures of the people. We believe that the Conference should identify relevant political and legal structures to be implemented by States, with the participation of indigenous people. Identification of the main victims is necessary. Those most regularly include blacks and other ethnic minorities, migrant workers and their families and indigenous people, among others.

CLAUDIA KAUFMANN, Secretary of State of Switzerland: A particular concern of ours is to work in partnership with non-governmental organizations. They keep an eye on us, the government representatives. That is good, because it is their role to do so. They have excellent knowledge in their field of activity, which supplements ours, and which often produces imaginative solutions. But however desirable it may be to cooperate closely with non-governmental organizations, we must not make them our instrument, and we should lessen their burden by solving the problems that are for governments to tackle.

What does that mean in practice? Switzerland is aiming to ensure that victims are protected from racism, and is trying to prevent offence by judicial authorities and enforcement agencies against people of different ethnicity, origin, religion or colour. It wants to stop racist attitudes, and has committed itself to protect women more effectively from multiple discrimination. In addition, all age groups should have equal access to education and training, and there needs to be a recognition that only those who repeatedly examine their past and do not simply push aside the critical aspects of that can face the future anew. Many tasks lies ahead of us. This Conference is of key importance. The struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance concerns out most precious values and assets -- humanity and human dignity. What we make of this Conference is therefore of huge significance.

EVANGELINA FILOMENA OYO EBULE, Deputy Minister of Justice and Worship of Equatorial Guinea: My Government supports the position of the African Group that the evils of the past should be recalled, and that the racist tragedy should be condemned in order to build a global community based on justice, equality and solidarity. We urge the communities who have benefited from that tragedy to adopt measures in favour of the victim countries.

States, organizations and governments that have benefited from slavery, slave trade and colonialism should immediately restore the honour of our people and undertake the immediate cancellation of debt, increase food security, support school enrolment, prohibit trafficking in women and children, and repatriate funds which have been confiscated, as well as cultural property and documents to the country of origin. Action should go beyond legal frameworks. Moreover, the international community must continue the fight against poverty, fight for a real democratization of States, and for consolidation of the rule of law.

This Conference is an opportunity to look to the past, but with pride and dignity, and to analyse the atrocities of the past. Slavery, apartheid and colonialism should be mentioned, soberly and without remorse, so that no one will be a victim in the future. We acknowledge that discriminatory policy based on race or religion is unacceptable. All countries and peoples should join together so that all may live in peace.

HERNAN COUTURIER, Under-Secretary of Multilateral and Special Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru: The international struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is not new to Latin America. We harbour the hope that the Conference will be an important landmark in international efforts to combat prejudice of all kinds. A large number of Peruvian men and women in our largely multi-ethnic society still face various forms of intolerance. It is important for us to note, however, that discrimination is not always based on race or colour. Indeed, poverty and its attendant stigma and exclusion also result in exacerbating discriminatory and intolerant attitudes.

The outcome of this Conference must contain measures which acknowledge poverty as a cause of racism. We feel that is particularly important because globalization and increased migration are making it more necessary than ever to ensure the protection of all peoples. Economic, social and structural changes within countries are forcing more and more indigenous populations to leave their homes. The Conference must adopt a Programme of Action that strengthens protection for migrants from prejudice and discrimination.

The international community must take a critical view of past wrongs. It must identify concrete proposals. To that end, we are concerned by the unfavourable evolution of this event. It seems as if the process to address discrimination could be once again threatened because attitudes contrary to the sprit of cooperation and tolerance have surfaced. It is not permissible for us to let such attitudes sway us from our course. We cannot take new steps if the international community is not mature enough to take concrete steps to address the problem and all the issues that surround it in an open and cooperative manner. We are convinced that explicit recognition of all forms, as well as the root causes and past practices of racism, will be essential components of building a more just and democratic society. Let the international community come together and discuss all those issues in order to save the Conference and provide concrete measures with which we can comprehensively combat still-existing forms of slavery, servitude as well as racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

WILLEM UDENHOUT, Special Adviser to the President of Surinam: Basic truths and basic convictions can always be expressed in simple words. The transatlantic slave trade was the most horrible and most depraved action. It was unique in the damage to the psyche of its victims. It continued for three centuries. It is, quite clearly, a crime against humanity. It is a matter of serious concern to Surinam that views are held that the remoteness of the crime, and the fact that it was legal at the time, make it impossible for the world to condemn it today. Its legalization makes it even more atrocious today. Many of the types of discrimination that are prevalent today stem from slavery. Failure of the world community to unite at this Conference in condemnation will seriously disturb the basis of international solidarity that is so desperately needed for peace. Compensatory measures are indispensable for acknowledging past wrongs. The healing they provide will accelerate progress for the most marginalized groups. Their development capabilities will be strengthened. Funds should be made available in every country for education and tolerance programmes.

Surinam is one of the most culturally diverse countries of the Western hemisphere. Having said that, no country is exempt from the evils that this Conference seeks to address. But Suranim's level of racial harmony is likely not matched by any other country in the world. Ethnic differences are celebrated and Surinam is ready to share its experience with the international community.

FRANCIS GARLAWOLU (Liberia): Has slavery totally vanished from the face of the earth? Are we sure that the surviving heirs of the slave masters have not adroitly designed another chicanery to reintroduce and maintain their slave estate? Can we boast of the complete decolonization of Africa when the colonialists have transformed themselves into business entrepreneurs?

No. A slave master will always be a slave master, no matter the intricacy of time. It is now clear that xenophobia, racial discrimination, sanctions and the concept of globalization are elements of slavery. Taking globalization from the African perspective, a village is run by a general chief, a quarter chief and a council of elders. The overall chief commands the quarter chief and influences decisions of the council of elders.

With the creation of the envisaged global village, we all know that the United States will be the general chief, the United Kingdom will be quarter chief and the Security Council the council of elders. Today, we see the United Nations endorsing the decisions of the United States and the United Kingdom to impose unjust sanctions on weaker nations without the process of law. We condemn, denounce, decry and deprecate every form of slavery, past or present.

MARIO YUTZIS, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: The manifestations of racism vary, depending on, among other things, historical culture and economic background. No society is free from that stigma, and despite the progress made in the last 50 years, its extensiveness is still alarming. The legacy of colonialism and slavery are a cumbersome heritage of the past whose wounds are still open. Many of the consequences of that terrible practice are still to be found today. Slavery has not been eliminated -- either in its traditional or contemporary form. The trafficking of women, men and children are telling examples of that.

One of the major victories of the last century was the end of apartheid. Modern States have developed a legal arsenal to combat racial discrimination, and the international community has established numerous treaty bodies. There are also many non-governmental organizations that aim to combat racism and racial discrimination. Despite all that, racism continues to kill, wound and psychologically damage millions of people. The problem of racism is clearly a matter of human rights in general. The Conference should be a driving force so that all people of goodwill can make a combined effort that will hopefully prevent racism, xenophobia and any other forms of injustice and inequity.

CECILE BUEHLMANN, Vice-President, Swiss Federal Commission against Racism: Our Commission is one of the few institutions which concentrate its activities specifically on racism. That does not mean, however, that we are not closely linked to bodies monitoring other human rights, such as the protection of the child and discrimination against women. The institution's independence is its most important characteristic. The national specialized institution must be allowed to tackle any field or topic or case it wishes.

The Federal Commission is not allowed to act in court, nor does it issue any binding decisions in the case of litigation. It mainly offers its professional experience and good services when people seek the Commission's advice or mediation. Our aim is, with the assistance of government and non-governmental organizations, to create a network for victims of racism and discrimination in order to offer counselling and mediation to everybody in need of it. The Commission has found that its reports on topics such as migration policy, the dangers of a segregated society and anti-Semitism are well heard and widely commented on by the media. But often, they are reluctantly received by the Government and frequently contested by right wing parties.

SHIRLEY MABUSELA, Deputy Chairperson, South African Human Rights Commission: Structures such as the judiciary still do not adequately reflect the diversity of our people. They continue to undermine the realization of a truly non-racial and non-sexist society. With the advent of the new democracy, South Africa had to assume its responsibilities among the community of nations. Among those, is the duty to provide sanctuary for and express solidarity with the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. Their presence in our country has led to unacceptable levels of xenophobia and intolerance, directed particularly at people of African descent. Denial, evasion and an unwillingness to accept both the legacy of racism and its current manifestations obstruct efforts to redress racism.

Victims of racism continue to be poor black people, mainly in rural areas. Many of those are African women and children. Similarly, people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS suffer multiple forms of racial and gender discrimination. National institutions have employed various measures to combat racism and gender discrimination, including national inquiries into racism in the education system and the media, as well as investigation into racism in the police and the judiciary. In addition, legislative, administrative and other measures have been implemented to deal with the demons or racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

MARIAMA CISSE, Vice-President, Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom Commission of Niger: At decisive points during history, people have taken two attitudes: they were either passive observers; or took a stance. However, there are times when neutrality is no longer an option. This Conference is a case in point. This meeting provides an opportunity to recall the facts that underline the situation today on all continents as a result of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The tragic situation of Africa and the African diaspora is inseparable from three centuries of slavery and the slave trade, and from 70 years of colonialism and its aftermath. Those scourges have led to a slowing of development and impaired the human dignity of the victims.

The Commission notes with satisfaction that in May a revised penal code was submitted to ensure that never again that people, because they were born in certain families, would be despised by others, based on the custom of having property rights over them. The act of reducing a person into slavery is punishable with 10 to 30 years in prison and a fine. Despite those efforts, the Commission believes that it is a drop in the ocean. The fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance cannot be won by one country in isolation. After three centuries of slavery and the slave trade, and 70 years of colonialism, Africa has no longer a debt to pay. Slavery and colonialism should be called crimes against humanity.

RODOLFO LARA PONTE, Fourth Commissioner of Human Rights National Commission of Mexico: This Conference is very important in the evolution of national institutions. The evolution began with the adoption of the Paris Principles in 1993 that outlined the need for national institutions. The Commission of Mexico wants to stress the importance of addressing the aggravated forms of intolerance, and which should be addressed in the final document. There needs to be a determination of the level of vulnerability -- that is, identifying the people who may face several factors of vulnerability, such as minority women and migrants. The aggravated forms of racism require a new interpretation of customary international law. For example, cooperation between States on undocumented migrant workers. That migration is the direct result of globalization, and thus, there needs to be new understanding and cooperation between the host country and the country of origin.

The plight of indigenous peoples is also a subject that needs attention and action at both the national and international levels. We must make progress in establishing procedural mechanisms that recognize the national and international rights of indigenous peoples. Those problems will hopefully be addressed in the final documents of the Conference.

KATRI LINNA, Deputy Ombudsman of the Office of the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination of Sweden: Two years ago, we adopted comprehensive laws in Sweden aimed at combating discrimination based on race and religion, as well as gender, sexual orientation and disability. The laws protect job seekers and employees, and so far, they have been effective. We have also found that it is absolutely necessary to protect not only against direct discrimination, but also against indirect discrimination. However, legislation is not enough. It is also necessary for those affected to have an independent specialized body to go to -- a body that can ensure that legislation is properly implemented and can help individuals obtain access to justice. For example, in Sweden, the Ombudsman can take action in court on behalf of the complainant and at no cost to that person.

The Ombudsman will meet the independent specialized bodies of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland next month. There, we will discuss the creation of a regional forum for further cooperation to, among other things, share best practices and discuss the follow-up to the outcome of this Conference. The Ombudsman, as well as her Nordic counterparts, hopes that the Programme of Action that will be adopted is practical and down to earth. That is necessary if it is to be a tool to prevent racial discrimination from occurring, to protect individuals in all member States of the United Nations against racial discrimination and to offer adequate remedies if discrimination should occur.

JUSTICE K. RAMASWAMY, Member of the National Human Rights Commission of India: The Indian Commission has listened attentively to victims of historical injustices, who are hurting because of discrimination and inequality. I refer in particular to those who, under the Constitution, comprise the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes -- the Dalits and Adivasis -- with the protection of whose human rights our Commission is deeply involved.

India has embarked on a programme of affirmative action which is, perhaps, unparalleled in scale in human history. The Commission has accorded the highest priority to ending discrimination against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and is seeking to eradicate two pernicious practices: manual scavenging and bonded labour. The Commission has also taken up the issue of the rights of persons displaced by large-scale projects and large dams, many of whom are tribals. Economic upliftment and empowerment of Dalits is the most effective tool to combat casteism. More avenues must be opened for the economic betterment of the disadvantaged.

JOEL ALIRO-OMARA, Commissioner of the Uganda Human Rights Commission: The Uganda Human Rights Commission was born out of past atrocities that had afflicted Uganda since independence, and part of those atrocities had racist undertones, like the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972. Today, there is evidence that the presence of the Commission has greatly influenced respect for human rights in the country. The theme of this Conference was widely publicized in Uganda. With support from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, our Commission carried out various programmes aimed at promoting debate over the themes of this Conference and sensitizing Ugandans about the evils of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerance. The programme helped us not only gauge the mood in the country, but also enabled us to assess the level of consciousness about the dangers of discrimination.

In Uganda, the problem of racism is not very pronounced. Other than discrimination based on ethnicity, tribalism and regionalism, and to some extent religion, we are not experiencing conflicts between races that live in Uganda. In 1995, after almost 10 years of intensive consultations, the Government came up with a national Constitution that prohibits discrimination in all forms, whether it is based on race, ethnicity, tribe, disability, sex, gender, birth, creed, religion, social and economic standing, political opinion or colour. As a national institution charged with the responsibility of promotion and protection of human rights, we have relentlessly sensitized the population about that very important provision. The Declaration and Programme of Action that will be adopted at the end of this Conference will help fortify that constitutional provision, which we pledge to make widely known and respected in Uganda.

L.A. SICILIANOS, Vice-President of the National Human Rights Commission of Greece: Our country has seen both sides of the coin of racism and xenophobia. In the past, we immigrated from our own country, and now we face a new wave of immigrants to our own shores. We have been hard at work on that issue and have created proposals aimed at fighting discriminatory language and attitudes in the media as well as legislative reform related to refugees and asylum seekers regardless of ethnic or racial origin. One of the most important proposals is on the draft legislation on foreigners from outside communities. Those initiatives will help the several thousand immigrants whose living situation is precarious, to put it mildly. Given the recent increase in xenophobic attitudes, it is high time to address that population.

Coordination between United Nations bodies on the one hand, and other national human rights and development institutions on the other is also very important in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. National institutions have the skills to be used as prime contact points for the United Nations treaty bodies and relevant commissions. We will organize the next European meeting of national institutions next year. Our focus will be on migration and asylum issues -- a natural follow-up to many of the issues we are discussing here. It goes without saying that we will do our utmost to support, promote and implement the decisions that are agreed by the Conference.

LEWIS CHANGUFU, Commissioner, Permanent Human Rights Commission of Zambia: I consider standards put in place to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance by the international community as being prone to subtle violations. Let us be mindful of that fact. Durban must be a revival to recapture the lost African spirit of tolerance and mutual respect that for centuries has held the African society together. Africa has witnessed what intolerance, with its attendant problems, can do to a people fighting to unchain itself from poverty.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are real problems. Let us, as members of one community of nations, exhibit selfless spirit that transcends selfish national interests in order for us to create a genuine global village. As a national institution, we are resolved to ensure that forms of discrimination, in particular those related to race, are completely eradicated from Zambian soil and, ultimately, from the entire world.

MICHAEL FARRELL, Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights Commission: Ireland is a small country which itself suffered colonialism in the past. Large numbers of its people migrated all over the world, fleeing poverty, hunger and oppression, just as millions of refugees and migrants are doing today. Sadly, as the modern waves of asylum seekers fleeing poverty and persecution have reached the shores of our country, we have not shown them the understanding and compassion that we should have learned from our own history. Official attitudes towards asylum seekers are grudging and unwelcoming. Official pronouncements have sent very negative signals to the population as a whole. Despite recent improvements, some asylum seekers are still refused the right to work or have been treated insensitively. Parallel to that, Ireland has recently seen a rise in racist attacks upon people of colour or different ethnic origin.

In addition, Ireland has a long-established minority of Travellers, who for many generations have been subjected to gross discrimination by public authorities and the settled community as a whole. They have been excluded and marginalized and have a shorter life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality, illiteracy and unemployment than the settled population. Traveller women, in particular, suffer from multiple discrimination and disadvantage. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are present, real evils in Ireland. A key part of our work is opposing racism and related intolerance and working with related agencies, the Government and non-governmental organizations to create a culture of rights, and a society that values diversity. We strongly support the proposal that all States should adopt national action plans to implement the decisions of the Conference.


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