Top UN rights official urges all States to work for successful anti-racism summit

6 April 2009 – The United Nations human rights chief today called on all States to work to ensure a successful anti-racism conference later this month, stressing that the outcome of the meeting will greatly influence efforts to combat this global scourge.

“We can reasonably expect that success in two weeks will shore up not only the fight against discrimination and intolerance, but also the human rights programme and mechanisms that we all have endeavoured to create and pursue,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

“With unity in purpose we can hope to alleviate the plight of countless victims of racism at home and abroad,” she told the working group tasked with drafting the outcome document for the Durban Review Conference, slated to be held in Geneva from 20 to 24 April.

The upcoming summit will review progress since the landmark 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in South Africa.

Ms. Pillay noted it is time now to assess to what extent the pledges States made in 2001 have been given effect on the ground, “where of course it matters the most,” and urged States to pursue the objectives of the review conference with “unflinching” purpose.

“Procrastination and expediency are not acceptable approaches. The fight against racism and intolerance demands prompt and sustained action,” she stressed.

The High Commissioner has welcomed the positive feedback received on a shorter version of the draft outcome document released two weeks ago, and said she is convinced that the current text contains all the elements that would foster and underpin a consensual outcome.

In particular, she said she is pleased that her proposal for an observatory on racism within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is reflected in the draft outcome document.

“I am convinced that such observatory will induce a paradigm shift in the way the relevant UN mechanisms, as well as my Office, pursue the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance,” she told the working group.

To assist States in fulfilling their Durban commitments, Ms. Pillay has also proposed enhancing the Office’s capacity in the area of technical cooperation.

“Acting in synchrony with the work of the observatory, such bolstered technical expertise would help States in their fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” she said.

Briefing reporters on the latest developments in the preparatory process, Jessica Neuwirth, Director of OHCHR’s New York Office, said that the revised text “does not mention any particular countries, and it adopts the framework of existing international law to address the issue of religious hate speech.”

She noted that as the international community tomorrow marks the genocide which took place in Rwanda 15 years ago, the importance of the Durban Review Conference could not be more clear.

“In 1994 in Rwanda, the ethnic conflict exploded into violence taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” she told a news conference at UN Headquarters. “The draft outcome document recognizes that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are still among the root causes of armed conflict and very often one of its consequences.”

The upcoming review conference, she said, offers States an opportunity to share and benefit from good practices, to welcome progress that has been made and to redouble efforts to address the ongoing challenges.

It will not, as some have tried to distort it, be a “hate fest,” she pointed out. “Rather, it will be a celebration of tolerance and a re-dedication to ending racism around the world.”

Deputy Director Craig Mokhiber added that the reports of the UN human rights mechanisms, as well as those of non-governmental human rights organizations, show that “we are living in a moment when racism globally is resurgent; that this is a human rights crisis of the first order in all parts of the world.

“That’s why the civil society organizations and the UN human rights mechanisms and all of us have invested so much in making sure that this is a successful review process.”


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