Statement by Ms. MARIAM AL-AWADHI

Deputy Executive Secretary Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)

To Participants of The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia

and related Intolerance

(Durban, 31 August-7 September 2001)


Your Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address this World Conference against racism and all forms and manifestations of discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The international community is convening this Conference in a spirit of political commitment to combat racism and all forms of discrimination. As such, it is the pinnacle of human rights, a realization of genuine equality of opportunities, respect for fundamental liberties, and non-discrimination regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, have highlighted the central importance of fighting all manifestations of discrimination among people by according them their economic, social and political rights. This is essential for gender equality and the preservation of human dignity worldwide.

The end of the Cold War and the simultaneous shift from a bipolar to a unipolar world system is being increasingly associated with the global village and manifestations of globalization: its challenges and opportunities. At the regional level, structural adjustment policies in some countries, and economic recession coupled with an environment of political instability have had adverse effects on the economic, social, cultural and political situation in the ESCWA region. Chief among these, I wish to flag poverty, unemployment and labour migration, the brain drain, the question of the refugees and displaced, vulnerable groups, urbanization, religious extremism, and the controversial social and economic impact of structural adjustment policies.

At the outset, I wish to emphasize that for ESCWA, racism is taken in its broader sense to cover all forms of discrimination based on age, race and ethnicity, gender, religion, language, disability and much more. It is a multidimensional phenomenon.

Since its inception in 1974, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has exerted every effort to serve as a catalyst and as an agent of change in the region. ESCWA assists member States in their efforts to create an enabling environment for social, political, cultural and economic development; an environment conducive to upholding universal human rights and promoting the enforcement of non-discriminatory policies, practices and measures at the national and regional levels. ESCWA continues to assist member States by encouraging them to pursue a rights-based approach to sustainable social and economic development and by proposing action-oriented and non-discriminatory policies and programmes to promote equal opportunities for women and men in all walks of life.

The close link between democracy, human rights and gender equality has been proclaimed by the international community as an essential engine for growth and development of nations.

ESCWA serves as an early warning system so that member States are equipped to meet the challenges and grab the opportunities of globalization. ESCWA also serves as a forum for all state and non-state actors in the development process, including civil society institutions and NGOs. In this context, ESCWA is encouraging synergy between NGOs and governments to accelerate the implementation of programmes and plans of action emanating from the United Nations Global Conferences of the 1990s and the enforcement of human rights declarations.

ESCWA aims to promote change for sustainable social development as a first step towards improvement of the quality of life in the region. This is accomplished by assisting member States to overcome the root causes of discrimination, redress the disproportionate and uneven income distribution and integrate marginalized and vulnerable groups in the society. This includes direct interventions to eradicate illiteracy, alleviate gender-based poverty, develop the community, bridge the gap between urban and rural areas, and achieve gender equality.

ESCWA lays great emphasis on social inclusion of the elderly, children and other vulnerable groups. The integration of both women and youth in the process of development is considered among the regional priorities and, hence, in the work and activities of ESCWA.

ESCWA has embarked on a comprehensive programme to address the advancement and empowerment of women and gender issues in the region. This programme is also designed to assist member states in mainstreaming a gender perspective into their policies and projects for gender equality. In addition, a media campaign was launched and is still ongoing to raise gender awareness and to identify the means and ways to overcome the main obstacles hampering the advancement of women in the region.

Aware that youth comprise one-fifth of the total population in the region, ESCWA organized the Arab Youth Forum that was held from 26-27 June 2001 in Beirut, Lebanon. This was the regional preparatory meeting for the World Youth Forum that took place in Dakar, Senegal, from 5-12 August 2001. Moreover, ESCWA co-organized with the League of Arab States and UNICEF, the Arab High Level Conference for Children that was convened in Cairo from 3-5 July 2001. This Conference was organized in preparation for the upcoming special session of the General Assembly on Children in New York, September 2001. Other Issues that ESCWA is addressing have to do with the Disabled. Such issues include teaching blind girls to use information communication technologies (ICTs), community-based rehabilitation as the Braille system and other skills, and ensuring accessibility and barrier-free environments for the disabled. ESCWA is also organizing a regional meeting in preparation for the Second World Assembly on Ageing to be held in Madrid between 8 and 12 April 2002.

In conclusion, I wish to stress that despite the efforts exerted by ESCWA to address issues of gender discrimination, social exclusion, especially of the refugees and the displaced, a lot more needs to be done to combat all forms of racism and discrimination.

In the ESCWA region, the Occupied Palestinian Territories are witnessing extreme deterioration in the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Human rights are being violated daily and discriminatory measures affect the lives of all concerned. Negotiations should be resumed promptly to end the violence and provide a peaceful existence free from all forms of discrimination.

In this context, I wish to express our great appreciation for the support provided by Ms. Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to deploy Human Rights Advisors in the Regional Commissions.

This support will enhance ESCWA's ability to address issues of gender-based violence and discrimination, HIV/AIDS, and to ensure that the international community keeps pushing for the right to self-determination and return of the Palestinian people to their homeland.

Thank you for your kind attention