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Have the pledges made at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001 been fulfilled? Delegates from 25 Latin American and Caribbean States met in Brazil 17 - 19 June to assess how far they had come since the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted eight years ago.

OHCHR’s Mbaidjol: The anti-racism struggle is not over. - © Elza Fiúza/ABr

"OHCHR’s Mbaidjol: The anti-racism struggle is not over. © Elza Fiúza/ABr"

The head of the United Nations delegation to the conference, Ngorlandje Mbaidjol, said the Latin America and Caribbean region had demonstrated strong leadership in implementing the recommendations of the Durban summit. “At the national level,” said Mbaidjol, who is director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “nearly all constitutions guarantee the principle of equality, and many countries have carried out reforms of their laws to eliminate those that are discriminatory.”

Still, Mbaidjol added, more needed to be done. Because of what he called the “the historical legacy of racism in the region,” which had resulted in the social exclusion of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, he urged States participating in the conference to adopt affirmative-action policies.

The issue of the rights of indigenous peoples was of concern to all the participants. The final document of the meeting calls for measures to guarantee that indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants have full access to their traditional lands.

The Brasilia meeting also came up with an innovative proposal for the creation of a racial-equity index—on the model of the global indexes used by United Nations agencies working in areas such as development and children’s issues.

Foreign Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil, who opened the meeting at Brasilia’s Itamaraty Palace, said: “The fight against prejudice, discrimination and racism in all their forms demands perseverance. We know that a real democracy is incompatible with discrimination. For a long time, we fooled ourselves into believing that Brazil was a racial democracy. Now we know that is not true. Policies are needed to address this reality.”

Brazil’s minister responsible for promoting racial equality, Edson Santos, said the conference was “a demonstration to the international community that it is indeed possible to have a fruitful dialogue among countries on the subject of racism and all forms of discrimination.”

Regional meetings are also planned for Africa, Asia and Europe in 2008. Inputs from all the meetings will be incorporated in the outcome document that will be presented at the close of the Geneva conference in April 2009. 

June 2008