4 November 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism,

racial discrimination, xenophobia, related intolerance


Githu Muigai of Kenya, appointed Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance by the Human Rights Council in August, today included preparations for the Durban Review Conference among his key priorities.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, he also highlighted the situation of migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons; ethnic conflict; and the relationship between racism and poverty as the key issues he intended to address in presenting concrete recommendations to Governments.  Those priorities were outlined in a report he had introduced to the General Assembly Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) yesterday.

Regarding the Durban review, scheduled for April, he said he had taken part in the preparatory negotiations for the conference.  The reading of the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action showed the two outcome documents were measured, balanced and ambitious and there was no need to write a new one next year.  However, many of the Declaration’s provisions remained to be implemented, particularly at the national level, and it was important “to re-engage at the international level, not only to monitor and assess the strengths, but also to express a new political will to tackle the negative trends of racism and xenophobia worldwide”.

Noting that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were among the groups most vulnerable to racial discrimination, he said that, unfortunately, that trend had been aggravated in recent years with legitimate national security considerations having generated practices amounting to racial profiling.  Competition for scarce resources, in light of the current financial crisis, could also foster more racial and ethnic tensions, with “foreigners and outsiders” perceived as competitors for jobs and welfare.

He went on to say that ethnic conflicts continued to claim the lives of thousands of people around the world, pointing out that the recent escalation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was but the latest evidence of that trend.  Once conflicts became racially or ethnically defined, as had been seen in the Balkans, they assumed a completely new dimension.  At a human rights level, an “anti-racism” approach would allow adequate prevention.

The relationship between poverty and racism lay at the centre of his mandate, he said, noting that the victims of racism, particularly minorities, tended to form the most economically marginalized groups in any society.  It was essential to identify appropriate legal tools and policies to put forward concrete recommendations that could be implemented at the national, regional and international levels.

He said he intended to monitor closely how Member States dealt with that twin issue, and to foster the creation of a solid body of knowledge on how to eradicate the “double trap”.

Asked what could be done to prevent the Durban Review Conference from becoming “yet another Israel-bashing festival”, he said that from what he had learned, much of the controversy had not occurred between States parties, but among participants belonging to non-governmental organizations.  The meeting next year would be devoted specifically to follow-up and implementation; it would not be the right forum to reopen doctrinal or conceptual questions.

He went on to say he had been pleasantly surprised that, up to now, the preparatory process had been largely “predicated on consensus”, which had given him faith that there was room for debating and analysing the issues, and finding the “thick middle” to move the process forward.  Some aspects probably tended to deflect from the substance of what the Conference was about and what the process ought to be about, but come next April, the process was expected to continue, with most of the major groups having re-engaged in it.  “We owe it to ourselves to ensure that the dialogue on this process is all-inclusive, and if there are issues that divide people, that they should be the subject of dialogue.”

Asked if he was looking at specific areas and countries as far as migrants, refugees, ethnic conflict and poverty were concerned, he said he was indeed, but it was inappropriate to name specific countries before agreement on visitations was reached.  As for the list of countries he intended to visit, it was no secret and they could be found on the Web.  The intention was to achieve a broad-based geographical reach, so that a wide range of countries, regions and cultures was represented.

To questions about specific countries, he said South Africa had been the first country he had sought to visit, and he had received an open invitation to do so.  Pakistan had raised as many concerns as it had for the previous Special Rapporteur, but he had decided not to renew a request for a visit, because, having requested visits to India and Bangladesh, he did not wish to create an impression that “this is the only part of the world in which there is anything to be investigated”.

To another question, he responded that a report on his predecessor’s visit to the United States was being finalized and would be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2009.

Regarding the recommendation on moving from the concept of “defamation of religions” to “incitement to racial and religious hatred”, he said there was a long-standing controversy surrounding that issue.  While some believed freedom of speech was fundamental to civilized society, others believed Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity ought to be recognized as a specific form of xenophobia.  Rather than spend a lot of time debating the need for protection against the defamation of religion, the previous Special Rapporteur had proposed in his last report that it was “probably more useful” to use the term “incitement to religious hatred”.  That recommendation was well based, as the Special Rapporteur ought to be in the business of protecting victims, and it was important to stay with “the language that helps us to do that”.

Asked about neo-Nazism in the Russian Federation, he said his predecessor had proposed ways to address such issues following his visit to that country.  The problem was far from resolved, but there was good will on the part of the Russian authorities.  It was a question of continued engagement by the international community, particularly the High Commissioner on Human Rights.  Hopefully a visit to the Russian Federation would help assess the situation.

He responded to another question by emphasizing the critical role of the media in providing information on events around the world, adding that during his mandate he intended not only to report on the “tragic things happening”, but also to highlight positive developments.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record