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Arbour urges states to sign on to anti-racial discrimination treaty

18 March 2008

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called on Tuesday for all states to sign up to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and said that "as a matter of urgency" they should also "strengthen law enforcement to ensure justice for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."

"Racism lies at the roots of many conflicts," she said; "it poses risks to international peace and security. Racism is the springboard for extremism and all types of intolerance."

Arbour, who was addressing a High Level Panel in Geneva prior to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March, noted that there had been substantial progress in combating racism since the UN General Assembly inaugurated the International Day six years after the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa on 21 March 1960. However, she added, "48 years after the Sharpeville shootings, no country can claim to be free of racism's destructive influence."

So far, 173 out of 192 UN member states have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which was the first human rights treaty to be adopted by the General Assembly and came into force in 1969. However, of those states that have ratified the Convention, many have done so with reservations.

"I reiterate my call on all states that have not yet done so to become party to this important human rights instrument," Arbour said, "to accept the complaints jurisdiction of its supervisory committee and to withdraw reservations to the treaty."
She also called on all stakeholders "to engage constructively" in the follow-up process of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban (also known as the Durban Review Process).

This year's theme for the International Day – the key roles 'Dignity and Justice' play in combating racial discrimination – "reminds us that equality under the law and equal protection of the law are central pillars of the fight against racial discrimination," Arbour said. She also reminded her audience that "Equality and non-discrimination are fundamental principles of international human rights law."

Arbour pointed out that some vulnerable or marginalized groups suffer double stigma "due not only to their race or ethnicity, but also to their belonging to an unpopular or neglected minority. Migrants, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, for example, will easily fall victim of such invidious forms of double discrimination," she said, adding that women also often suffer the "combined effects of racial and gender discrimination."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that, when dealing with these issues, the stakes are exceptionally high: "In combating racism and racial discrimination," Arbour said, "all of us are responsible for guarding against a repeat of the horrors rooted in racism – from slavery to the Holocaust, from apartheid to ethnic cleansing and genocide."


Louise Arbour was addressing a High-Level Panel Discussion at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, moderated by Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka. The other speakers were the Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze; Hugo Sada of l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie; Doudou Diène, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and Jasminka Dzumhu, representative of the International Commission on Missing Persons, Bosnia and Herzegovina.