Press Releases

    GA/SHC/3681
    1 February 2002

    OPPOSING VIEWS EXPRESSED AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONSIDERS FINAL DOCUMENT OF DURBAN
    CONFERENCE ON RACISM

    NEW YORK, 31 January (UN Headquarters) -- As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on matters related to racism and racial discrimination this morning, several delegations expressed opposing views on just how the outcome documents of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance should be incorporated in their current deliberations.

    The Committee's three-day resumed session, which will conclude tomorrow, has been primarily devoted to discussion of the report of the World Conference against Racism -- held from 31 August to 8 September in Durban, South Africa. That report was still being drafted in Geneva at the conclusion of the Committee’s 2001 substantive session. The report had been withheld at the request of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights owing to a fundamental disagreement in the outcome of the Conference deliberations themselves. The protracted negotiations forced the Committee to postpone its debate on racial discrimination.

    Calling the negotiation process at the World Conference "disgraceful" and one which had yielded a "consensus of a sort", the representative of Australia reiterated his delegation's deep disappointment that efforts to achieve positive and practical outcomes had been overshadowed by divisive political discussions that had contributed nothing to the cause of combating racism.

    He said that in the end his delegation had joined the "consensus" despite its serious reservations, because the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action did contain some elements which were important and invaluable. Those included recommendations acknowledging the important role human rights institutions could play, the value of effective education, and the critical importance of good governance in underpinning the realization of the right to freedom from racial discrimination.

    The challenge now was to find ways to implement the recommendations on which there was clear international agreement, he said. Therefore, discussions at the Committee's current session should be focused on procedure, rather than on trying to reopen the divisive debates that had taken place in Durban. It was not the Committee's place to revisit areas of contention or renegotiate matters which had already been agreed upon.

    The representative of Canada, however, stood by the strong reservations his delegation expressed regarding the general processes and outcomes of the World Conference. He stressed that Canada would take the opportunity provided by the Committee's resumed session to offer alternative language to the draft resolutions it was considering. Canada remained committed to fighting discrimination in all its forms and would continue to do so in multilateral forums.

    The representative of Nigeria said that despite some initial hiccups, the Durban Conference would ultimately stand as an historic landmark and clear testimony of the international community’s determination to realize a common future. His Government remained committed to the full implementation of the final documents of Durban, and in that regard had approved establishment of a National Committee to study and identify implementation strategies.

    He was confident that with vision and political will, the implementation of the outcome documents would contribute to overcoming the challenges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It was therefore imperative that the outcome documents should be immediately implemented and that adequate resources and funding at the national, regional and international levels was provided.

    Also addressing the Committee this morning were the representatives of Venezuela (on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Lithuania, Indonesia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, and New Zealand, as well as the observer of Palestine.

    The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m., when it will conclude its discussion of matters related to racism and racial discrimination.

    Background

    The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of the elimination of racism and racial discrimination. (For more background information, see Press Release GA/SHC/3679 of 28 January.)

    Statements

    JOHN DAUTH (Australia) said his country regarded racism as a fundamental challenge for all members of the international community. The Australian Government had been unequivocal in its opposition to racism in all its forms and was committed to strong domestic and international action to address it. He firmly believed that the international community could only effectively combat racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance if it implemented forward-looking, positive and concrete measures at the national, regional and international levels.

    He said that had been Australia’s approach heading into the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa last year. But his delegation, along with many others, had been deeply disappointed when their desires to achieve positive and practical outcomes had been overshadowed by divisive political discussions that had contributed nothing to the cause of combating racism. In the end, after a long and frankly disgraceful process, it had been possible to find "consensus of a sort" on the issues the Committee was now reviewing.

    Australia had joined in that consensus despite serious concerns about many elements in the outcome document, he continued. At that time, Australia had stated its objection to some of those elements. The delegation's position on those remained unchanged today. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action did however, contain a number of conclusions which were important and valuable. The challenge now was to find ways to implement the recommendations on which there was clear international consensus, particularly those which recognized the important role human rights institutions could play, the value of effective education, and the critical importance of good governance in underpinning the realization of the right to freedom from racial discrimination.

    Those positive recommendations could only be implemented if discussions at the Committee's current session were focused on procedure, rather than on trying to reopen the divisive debates that had taken place in Durban. It was not the Committee's place to revisit areas of contention or reopen matters which had already been agreed upon. The positive aspects of the Durban documents spoke volumes in themselves. Australia was keen to work in a constructive manner to find universally acceptable ways to implement the positive outcomes of the Durban Conference.

    MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said the Durban Conference had to go through high-pitched political and diplomatic wrangling before it could finally come to agreement on its Declaration and Programme of Action. The Conference should have achieved more, but the outcome was good. It should be a matter of great satisfaction that the Declaration had acknowledged the appalling tragedies of slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity. The assertion that colonialism had let to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was valuable. Equally important was the emphasis on the need to pay special attention to new manifestations of racism and racial discrimination.

    The Conference had provided the international community on both sides of the development divide with a new, comprehensive blueprint for strategy, policy and action, he said. The Programme of Action contained a wide range of relevant strategies, policies, actions and measures. What was needed first was the requisite political will for its dynamic, meaningful, effective follow-up and implementation on a par with other major world conferences. The struggle against racism and racial discrimination was to be based on human solidarity and waged through cooperation and inclusion at all levels.

    At the national level, participation of all individuals and peoples in the formation of just, equitable democratic and inclusive societies was imperative. On the international level, the international community must accord high priority to the struggle as a common global enterprise. Forceful pursuit of universal acceptance of relevant international legal instruments constituted an important step in that regard. He added that it would also require the mobilization of needed resources.

    The international community, he said must commit itself to the promotion of a culture of harmony and peace, based on the equal dignity and worth of all human beings, justice and tolerance within and between communities and nations. That should be considered as a global campaign, cognizant of diversity and geared to the promotion and enhancement of mutual understanding and sharing. The unending journey of the human caravan could be ensured only through understanding, tolerance, and cooperation, he said.

    AUDRA PLEPYTE (Lithuania) said her country, currently holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, had undertaken many activities to combat racism and racial discrimination. That pan-European body had adopted a global approach to combating racism and had established the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to address a range of problems faced by society in that regard.

    She went on to say that the Commission’s role was to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance at the wider European level and from the perspective of human rights protection. Its work would focus on identifying ways to counter violence, discrimination and prejudice suffered by individuals or groups, based on race, colour, language, religion, nationality or ethnic origin. Composed of independent experts, the Commission implemented a programme of activities within the framework of a three-pronged approach -– country by country, work on general themes, and activities in relation to civil society.

    The dramatic events of 11 September had made the Commission all the more determined to continue and intensify its efforts to combat racism and intolerance. The group had called on the Governments of the Council of Europe to remain vigilant to incidents of violence or aggression towards certain groups. Any hostile or discriminatory actions should be monitored closely and steps should be taken to prevent or counter them. The Commission had adopted a general policy nearly two years ago on combating discrimination against Muslims, and today would stress its concern at signs that religious intolerance towards Islamic and Muslim communities was increasing.

    She said the Durban Conference had emphasized the need for determined action, at national, regional and international levels. For its part, the Council of Europe was prepared to take up that mandate with renewed vigour. To that end, a meeting would be held on 27 and 28 February 2002 -- in collaboration with the Council, the Commission, representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society actors -- to review implementation of the outcomes of the European Conference Against Racism, held in Strasbourg in October 2000. The main objectives of the February meeting would be to exchange views and analyze the outcome of the World Conference and identify future strategies to combat racism.

    MOCHAMAD SLAMET HIDAYAT (Indonesia) said the Durban Conference and its outcome offered a new road map into the twenty-first century. The approach to the issues mentioned in the outcome documents must continue to be multidimensional. The gender dimensions of racial discrimination needed to be addressed. Women must be afforded access to national as well as international mechanisms to ensure their protection and adequate remedies. He was concerned by the negative impact racism and racial discrimination had on children and girls. There was a need to consider their situation when implementing policies and programmes. He was encouraged by the increased attention being directed to the plight of migrant workers and women migrant workers.

    As a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Indonesia was working to enhance its national legislative, administrative and other measures to address incidents of racism and racial discrimination. His Government worked vigorously to restore the spirit of tolerance and national solidarity that had served its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation so well. Indonesia’s Constitution had recently been amended to include references to forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination.

    He said it was now incumbent on all to enhance international cooperation to implement and follow up the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Working with the international community towards a common goal, he was confident in the ultimate success of the undertaking. He hoped this time the necessary financial resources and technical assistance programmes would be available to support international and national initiatives.

    GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said his Government had been working hard to encourage the widest possible acceptance of diversity in the country, regardless of race, nationality, colour, religion, language, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability or age. The Government had taken action against hate in four ways: through public education; through the legal system; through supporting relevant community initiatives; and through supporting research. It also recognized that collective community initiatives and responses to hate-motivated activity and organized hate groups in Canada were crucial.

    At the international level, he continued, at the World Conference against Racism, Canada had expressed strong reservations regarding that meeting’s general processes and outcomes. Canada stood by those reservations and would take the opportunity of the Committee's current session to offer alternative language to the draft resolutions under consideration. Canada remained committed to fighting discrimination in all its forms and would continue to do so in multilateral forums. To that end, he emphasized the importance for States to develop public education and awareness programmes, campaigns and strategies.

    He also encouraged States to ensure that ethnic, racial, linguistic and religious minorities and indigenous peoples were not discriminated against. He further urged States to recognize the complexities of multiple discrimination and to integrate a gender perspective in policies and actions to combat racism, including the involvement of women in decision-making at all levels. He invited all to recognize the importance of youth groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the key role that media organs played in common efforts to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.

    MUN JONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said the Conference had taught the world that genuinely determined efforts by all Member States were crucial in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. Various forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance persisted in different parts of the world today and required an enhanced struggle against racism at national, regional and international levels. Denying acts of racism and racial discrimination committed against humanity in the past colonial era, and endeavouring to evade the responsibility for settling past crimes, represented a challenge to international efforts to eradicate racism and racial discrimination.

    Once again drawing attention to the "irresponsible attitude of Japan, which continues to evade settlement of a past stained by racism and aggression," he said that last year, Japanese authorities had defiantly approved history textbooks which distorted history by glossing over Japan’s aggression against several nations, its mass conscription and sexual slavery, and its crimes against humanity. That distortion of history gave rise to concern among Asian people and throughout the world, and destabilized regional security, causing psychological discomfort that the racism-based scourge of World War II might recur.

    He urged Japan to join the international community in efforts to build a world where racism and racial discrimination were eliminated and the equality of humankind was fully ensured, by stopping the vicious attempt to distort a history stained by crimes and by taking practical measures to address its past.

    SOMAIA BARGHOUTI, observer of Palestine, said racism and racial discrimination were among the major causes of ongoing human rights violations throughout the world. While real efforts had been made to combat that scourge, particularly the elimination of apartheid in South Africa, it was unfortunate that racism and racial discrimination still existed in many parts of the world, even as new ways to deny people their fundamental human rights were emerging.

    This year, she said, the international community had undertaken a major effort to combat racism by convening the World Conference in Durban. That great opportunity to address the challenges facing many people around the world had suffered a setback when the United States withdrew from the negotiations. She was also aware that the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at Durban had fallen short of the expectations of many in the international community, and did not fully reflect the discussions at the Conference. Still, those documents provided a good starting point, particularly in the areas of implementation and follow-up of agreed objectives.

    She said consideration had been given in Durban to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. The final documents expressed concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under occupation and recognized the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State. The right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes was also recognized. Regrettably, the language in the outcome documents did not fully reflect the harsh reality of the policies and practices of Israel, the occupying Power. That had clearly fallen short of Palestinian expectations.

    She said human rights violations remained a constant and daily feature of life for the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. The Palestinian people had been subjected for more than three decades to the most inhumane forms of oppression and discrimination at the hands of Israeli military authorities. At the same time, it was not only the Palestinian people living in the Territory whose rights were violated by Israel. The Israeli Arabs, citizens of the State of Israel, were treated as second-class citizens and not permitted to enjoy the same rights as Jews living in Israel. Still, despite the continuing difficulties of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, she retained the hope that the Palestinian people would soon be relieved of the hardship and anguish of racism by the end of Israeli occupation.

    PUREVJAV GANSUKH (Mongolia) said that despite continuous efforts of the international community in the struggle against racism and racial discrimination, countless human beings continued to be victims of those scourges. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance were closely linked with socio-economic factors. Inequitable economic and social conditions could breed and foster racism and racial discrimination, while reduction of poverty and unemployment would affect human rights protection positively. Expanding development assistance and enhancing the effectiveness of official development assistance were therefore not only crucial from the economic growth perspective, but also from that of strengthening and protection of human rights.

    Under the inspiration of democratic reform, which started in the 1990s, his country had launched an intensive process of incorporation of the norms of international human rights instruments into its national legislation, he said. The 1992 Constitution declared the principle of equal rights of all human beings. Last year, the National Human Rights Commission had been established. In 2001, a Human Rights Action Plan was launched. The Plan’s main purpose was not only to establish a comprehensive human rights protection mechanism and improve the required national capacity, but also to find solutions and develop cooperation at the regional level.

    ADAMU A. MUSA (Nigeria) said the Durban Conference, despite initial hiccups, ultimately stood out as an historic landmark and clear testimony of the international community’s determination to realize a common future based on the values of justice, equality, non-discrimination and solidarity. He was confident that, with vision and political will, the implementation of the outcome documents would contribute to overcoming the challenges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

    He said centuries of racial exploitation of Africans and people of African descent, through slavery, the slave trade and colonialism had wrought poverty, underdevelopment and marginalization on the continent. Those consequences continued to hinder the realization of Africa’s inherent potential. Persistent inequalities in the enjoyment of the most basic human rights were a major cause of social upheaval and conflicts. A just and more tolerant world could only emerge when it was devoid of exclusion and discrimination. It was therefore imperative that the outcome documents should be immediately implemented and that adequate resources and funding at the national, regional and international levels was provided. He said the Anti-Discrimination Unit in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) must be funded through the regular budget of the United Nations.

    Nigeria remained committed to the full implementation of the final documents of Durban. His Government had approved establishment of a National Committee drawn from all segments of Nigerian society to study and identify responsibilities in the implementation of the Durban outcome documents.

    DON MACKAY (New Zealand) said his country had approached the Conference as an important opportunity for the international community to work together to identify and share experience on practical strategies. It was regrettable that parts of the final documents lacked the balance required to command truly universal endorsement. New Zealand had been obliged to state its reservations on the texts. The Conference had, however, made useful progress in recording a consensus among participants in areas such as migrants, minorities and indigenous peoples’ rights. He hoped all States would now go forward on the basis of what had been agreed and take steps at the national level to tackle new and contemporary forms of racism and intolerance.

    At the national level, he said, his country had recently acted to strengthen the human rights protections that the Human Rights Commission would incorporate through the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator. The emphasis given to the theme of education in the outcome documents was particularly appropriate. The report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was another important document. The Convention was the most important tool available in collective efforts of the international community to combat racism and racial discrimination, and he urged governments that had not yet ratified it to consider doing so. He attached particular interest to the Committee’s report in the context of improving the effectiveness of the United Nations human rights treaty body system. He encouraged the High Commissioner to allocate additional regular budget funds to that important core area of her Office.

    He said the Convention could only live up to the high hopes it engendered as a weapon against racism if the machinery underpinning it worked well. He noted with concern the number of reports overdue from States parties, and urged the Committee to look at ways to improve its working methods and to work with other treaty bodies to harmonize procedures.

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