Press Releases

    GA/SHC/3682
    4 February 2002

    ISSUES UNRESOLVED AT DURBAN ANTI-RACISM CONFERENCE REMAIN CONTENTIOUS AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONCLUDES SESSION ON RACIAL INTOLERANCE

    Speakers Welcome Anti-Racism Unit
    Proposed for United Nations Human Rights Commission

    NEW YORK, 1 February (UN Headquarters) -- This morning, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) concluded its three-day resumed session on matters related to racism and racial discrimination. The debate has been devoted primarily to discussion of the report of the World Conference against Racism, held from 31 August to 8 September 2001 in Durban, South Africa.

    The report was still being drafted in Geneva at the conclusion of the Committee's 2001 substantive session. It 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.

    This morning, the representative of India said racial distinctions continued to be driven by the false assumption that human beings could be divided into sub-species according to their genetic characteristics. Distinguishing others based on colour or facial structure led some to assume divergent stages of human development and provide grounds for differential treatment. Such notions, he said, had been justified as an attempt to extrapolate Darwin’s theory.

    Unfortunately, Social Darwinism was back with the advent of the mapping of the human genome, he said. Attempts to draw distinctions in the stages of human development should be thwarted immediately. All should remember that racism was seldom based on genes but rather mental attitudes of individuals and societies. Therefore, the elimination of racism required a change of attitudes. Affirmative social action which taught the value of diversity was a must, and to that end, relevant education programmes were vital.

    Speakers from Malaysia, Syria, Egypt and Iran, among others, expressed the view that Israel's actions regarding the Palestinian occupied territories were an example of racism. Malaysia's representative said the Conference's outcome documents did not sufficiently reflect the worsening plight of the Palestinian people. No mention was made of the fact that the sufferings of the Palestinians were the result of policies based on discrimination and exclusion perpetrated by the occupying Power. Those policies had led to some of the most inhumane practices of oppression by the occupying authorities in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.

    The representative of Israel said that during the Durban Conference, certain delegations and non-governmental organizations had chosen to continue to express their hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people. He regretted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been repeatedly invoked in Durban. He reiterated that the conflict was not a racial conflict, rather it was a political and territorial conflict that had no place in discussions of racial discrimination. Israel fully supported international efforts to combat racism but could not fully support the outcome of the Conference, which had shamelessly trampled upon values the country held dear.

    The representatives of Liechtenstein, Republic of Korea, Hungary, Japan, Suriname, Ecuador and Pakistan also spoke, as did the Permanent Observers of Switzerland and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

    The Third Committee decided that, as there was no agreement on the date on which the Committee would take action on draft proposals under the current agenda items, it would entrust the Bureau to establish a date, either on 19 or 26 February.

    The Committee will meet again on Friday, 15 February for the introduction of draft proposals regarding the elimination of racism and racial discrimination.

    Background

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

    Statements

    CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said his country and region had begun to attach increasing importance to combating racism, racial discrimination and more recent manifestations of xenophobia. Liechtenstein had become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination last March. The release of the report of the World Conference Against Racism had provided an opportunity to examine other areas in which action was needed to combat racism.

    He said preparations were under way to enable the country to accept communications under article 14 of the Convention. At other levels, competent authorities were in the process of analyzing the Durban outcome documents in order to implement relevant initiatives. He said that there was great merit in many portions of the documents, particularly the emphasis placed on education, multiple discrimination and the need for prevention. Still, there were parts of the documents which caused some concern. But lessons had been learned in Durban, and it was time now to look forward and apply the results based on the common political will to put an end to racism, racial discrimination and intolerance.

    He concurred with the assertion in the outcome documents that States bore the primary responsibility for combating racism. Nevertheless, it was important to recognize that racism in all its forms was a global phenomenon requiring international action, and particularly, action by the United Nations. The terrorist attacks of 11 September had made it clear that racism could be both a result and a root cause of violent acts. The topic required action with more urgency than ever before.

    KANG KYUNG-WHA (Republic of Korea) said that in the final years of the twentieth century, the world community was shocked to witness the revival of ethnic cleansing in regions such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Rwanda. The twenty-first century must not be stained by such a disgrace. While the large-scale movement of people across national borders had become a daily fact of life, the international community had yet to establish sufficient safeguards for the protection of migrant workers.

    The rights of minorities continued to be violated as well, particularly those of women and girls belonging to those minorities. Particular attention must be paid to protect such vulnerable groups from racism and racial discrimination. The best way to do that was to promote their rights and enhance their status in society. She underscored the importance of mainstreaming a gender perspective in the process of establishing and implementing all policies aimed at eliminating racial discrimination.

    The Durban Conference was a landmark in humankind’s crusade against racially motivated crimes, she said. After much painstaking work, it had adopted the final Declaration and Programme of Action. She hoped the substance of those documents would shed light on the course to be followed in the new century. The documents would be meaningful only when translated into action through effective national programmes. She reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to doing its part in the building of a global village free from racism and racial discrimination.

    ANDRE ERDÖS (Hungary) said the manifestations of racism, discrimination and political extremism were unfortunately still part of our everyday lives. The international community, and the United Nations family in particular, had a very important duty to ensure that international human rights instruments were implemented at all levels.

    Of the situation of the Roma people in his country, he said the Hungarian Government attached significance to the outcome of the Durban conference. He welcomed the Declaration’s call for respect for ethnic minorities. The key to the future of the Roma was their integration into the education system. The evolution of the social and economic status of the Roma was crucial to the overall development of Hungary. Accordingly, the Government had introduced a set of initiatives to protect the cultural identity of the Roma and ensure their participation in the society at all levels.

    He went on to say that non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those that dealt with Roma children, had recognized the unprecedented work being done by Hungary to ensure their social integration. Efforts had also been made to ensure that the two main Roma languages were preserved. True integration could only be achieved if policies were put in place, in conjunction with the European Union, to improve the material conditions of the Roma and preserve their identity. Last year, Hungary had established Europe’s first Roma radio broadcast outlet. He said such an initiative would go a long way to combat discrimination against the Roma.

    MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria), aligning himself with Venezuela’s statement on behalf of the "Group of 77" and China, said racism was one of the most dangerous social scourges in existence, representing a philosophy of intolerance and blindness. What was happening nowadays was a source of serious concern. Mass media and modern technology were being used for false statements and propaganda praising one civilization to the detriment of another, nurturing sentiments of hegemony of one religious group over another. It had an impact on international peace and stability, leading to conflict between civilizations instead of harmony and peace.

    In his region, racist practices were clearly reflected in the daily actions undertaken by the occupying Israeli authorities against the Palestinian people. That occupation was the most glaring example of racism and Israel’s racist action -- the continued occupation and daily massacre of Palestinians, the destruction of houses, the assassination of members of the leadership -- had filled voluminous United Nations files. Israel was not only guilty of racial practices, but also of having laws protecting those practices, such as its law on returning Jews and the law on ownership of property of absent owners, among other things. Those laws protected racism. The ongoing rejection of United Nations resolution 194, inviting Palestinian refugees to return, and Israel’s expulsion of Arabs to make room for Jewish settlers, constituted a change in the population and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

    The Conference in Durban had rejected progress in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. He hoped, however, that the international community would work even harder to create more mechanisms to address issues the Declaration and Programme of Action had not been able to settle. He hoped that the United Nations would be able to play a role in the real fight against racism and racial discrimination.

    A. GOPINATHAN (India) said that despite the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserted that all human beings were born free and created equal, racism persisted and continued to manifest itself in new forms. Xenophobia, theories of racial superiority, misuse of new information technologies, ethnocentrism and exclusion were present in nearly all levels of human interaction. They had permeated the workplace, political organizations, neighbourhoods, public administration and, in many cases, systems of justice.

    In such an environment, he continued, the World Conference Against Racism had been held none too soon. The fundamental issue in any action to eliminate racism and related intolerance was to eliminate many of the misconceptions surrounding racial discrimination itself. Racial distinctions continued to be driven by the false assumption that human beings could be divided into sub-species according to their genetic characteristics. Distinguishing others based on colour or facial structure led some to assume divergent stages of human development and provide grounds for differential treatment –- namely granting rights and privileges to members of one race and withholding them from members of another.

    Such notions, he said, had been justified as an attempt to extrapolate Darwin’s theory. Unfortunately, Social Darwinism was back with the advent of the mapping of the human genome. Attempts to draw distinctions in the stages of human development should be thwarted immediately. All should remember that racism was seldom based on genes but rather mental attitudes of individuals and societies. Therefore, the elimination of racism required a change of attitudes. Affirmative social action which taught the value of diversity was a must, and to that end, relevant education programmes were vital.

    MOHAMMAD HASSAN FADAIFARD (Iran) said the outcome document of the Durban anti-racism Conference contained promising commitments in different areas including legislative, judicial and administrative measures at the national level, education and awareness-raising measures, and international legal framework and regional and international cooperation. The documents asserted that globalization constituted a powerful and dynamic force which should be harnessed for the benefit, development and prosperity of all countries without exclusion. The Conference had emphasized that only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based on common humanity in all its diversity, could globalization be made fully inclusive and equitable.

    He said the Durban recommendations needed to be followed up and carried out efficiently and promptly as a responsibility of all States, with the full involvement of civil society. A worldwide strategy against racism and intolerance could only succeed with the cooperation of States, international organizations, international financial institutions, regional organization, NGOs, individuals and communities.

    He deeply regretted the failure of the Declaration and Programme of Action to address one of its important tasks -- taking a proper position on the institutionalized racism which over half a century had uprooted an entire people and visited unabated killings upon them. However, all nations and groups, particularly those that were victim of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, expected the United Nations to honour the joint commitment of Durban. The Durban outcome must be put on an equal footing with the outcomes of the major world human rights processes.

    AARON JACOB (Israel) said the vision that men and women were created in the divine image and must therefore be treated with equality, dignity and respect, had been promoted by the prophets of Israel since antiquity. Jewish tradition reinforced that fundamental notion, the source from which many noble ideas had been derived –- human rights, equality and most importantly, the right to be free.

    He said that while the right to freedom was one of the core values of the Jewish people, time and again that notion had been tested and threatened. Hatred and persecution of the Jewish people was as old as history itself, and they were the only people in the world for whom a specific word existed which gave expression to that hatred: anti-Semitism. Barely half a century ago, the world had witnessed the horrendous ends to which anti-Semitism could go.

    That legacy, he continued, had nonetheless informed the character of the modern State of Israel, which endeavoured not only to stamp out racism at home but to work towards the realization of equality and freedom for men and women everywhere. Israel’s society was a diverse one comprised of all religions and immigrants from over 100 countries.

    Turning to the World Conference against Racism, he said that Israel had been saddened to discover that what transpired in Durban had not advanced the noble objectives of combating racial discrimination and intolerance at the global levels, but rather had undermined and defiled them. The proceedings at Durban represented a decisive step backwards in efforts to erase racism. Indeed, despite the commendable contributions of the European Union and other States, certain delegations and NGOs had acted to increase hatred at Durban, by singling out one country and its people -- Israel -- for slander and defamation. It was for that reason that Israel and the United States felt compelled to withdraw from the Conference.

    Unfortunately, certain delegations had elected not to leave that hateful rhetoric behind and had chosen to continue to express their hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people in the current forum. He regretted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been repeatedly invoked in Durban. He reiterated that the conflict was not a racial conflict, rather it was a political and territorial conflict that had no place in discussions of racial discrimination. The exploitation of the Durban Conference to advance the Palestinian cause served neither that cause nor the common objective of ending racism. Israel could not fully support the outcome of a Conference which had shamelessly trampled upon values the country held dear.

    MAI KHALIL (Egypt) said racism was one of the worst scourges plaguing the world, constituting a blatant violation of human rights. The Durban Conference was an important and historic event, and would be a cornerstone in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. She welcomed the outcome documents and stressed the need to mobilize the necessary resources to give effect to the recommendations of the Conference.

    She urged Member States to work together in fighting racism and racial discrimination. They should also emphasize the values of international law and principles, as reflected in the outcome documents. Despite the fact that the principle of non-discrimination was entrenched in international law, there were many forms of racism and racial discrimination. She saw those phenomena with concern, in particular the mistreatment of immigrants in many countries. The right to education, the elimination of social injustice, and dialogue among civilizations were vital in combating racial discrimination.

    The Declaration had emphasized the need to condemn all racial discrimination, she said. In that context, the Palestinians called on Israel to return Palestinian lands to their owners in the framework of Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.

    YOSHIYUKI MOTOMURA (Japan) said it was more important than ever for the entire world to unite against racism and racial discrimination. Any attempt to incite hatred and provoke racial, cultural and religious confrontation should be condemned. In connection with the discussions at the Durban Conference, Japan considered it important to integrate developing countries into the global economy. There would be neither stability nor prosperity in the twenty-first century unless problems stemming from poverty and marginalization -– particularly in Africa –- were effectively addressed.

    Of Japan’s own experience, he said his country was determined to eliminate self-righteous nationalism, promote international cooperation and thereby advance the principles of peace and democracy throughout the world. He stressed the particular significance of preventing racism through education. Most people agreed that racists were not born but created, so the mission of the international community was to confront ignorance and prejudice with an appreciation for the importance of history and respect for diversity.

    He said that further efforts should be made to deepen mutual understanding among different races and ethnic groups if progress were to be made. Here, he stressed the importance of youth groups and exchange programmes as a way to build a future international community based on respect for human rights. Japan’s Government had been making enormous efforts to promote such exchanges and to bring foreign students to Japan in cooperation with local governments.

    PIERRE HELG, observer of Switzerland, said that however difficult it was to forge a consensus in Durban, the world now had documents to set the stage for global action to address the scourge of racism. He was particularly pleased to see that the documents emphasized the importance of education in the fight against racism. Efforts to ensure active monitoring of racist incidents -- particularly on Internet sites -- were also important. He was also pleased that the documents had highlighted the important role national human rights institutions could play.

    He was pleased to announce that Switzerland had already begun transforming the Durban documents into a genuine national strategy. The country regarded the Conference and its outcome as a beginning rather than an end to the process. It encouraged regular and on-going follow-up measures. He applauded efforts under way in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure the establishment of an anti-discrimination unit.

    IRMA LOEMBAN TOBING-KLEIN (Suriname), aligning herself with Venezuela’s earlier statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said she was satisfied with the report of the Conference, and especially with the listing in the Programme of Action of the many past and present victims of racism and racial discrimination. Those peoples deserved special attention, protection, and empowerment from the international community, including international financial institutions, governments and NGOs.

    She said the Declaration and Programme of Action should be followed by firm actions and activities aimed at the improvement of the situation of billions of people all around the globe. The establishment of an Anti-Discrimination Unit, proposed in the Programme of Action, was a promising sign.

    She said Suriname had been seriously affected by the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. During the Conference, her country had therefore stressed the necessity of reparation, compensatory measures, and the availability of funds in every country for education and awareness programmes.

    SILVA ESPINDOLA (Ecuador) said the defence of human rights was not an option; it was an obligation. It was therefore necessary for the international community to commit itself to the principle that respect for human rights was an asset that would benefit all, regardless of race, religion or colour. Though much progress had been made toward ensuring that noble idea, racism persisted and continued to divide societies all over the world.

    For its part, Ecuador had undertaken many efforts and initiatives to ensure that the rights of all its people were promoted and respected, she continued. The Government had established within the laws of the country many policies aimed at harmonizing the Constitution and relevant legislation to guarantee the rights of all citizens. It was also important to note that many existing laws had been reformed to that end. The President of the country had designated a national body to review allegations of racism or discrimination reported by individuals or groups. She added that Ecuador recognized all the rights of the indigenous Afro-Ecuadorean people.

    HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) said the Conference had witnessed significant breakthroughs and had found common ground on many contentious issues, the most significant of which was the recognition by the international community that slavery and the slave trade were crimes against humanity, unmatched in human history for their barbarity. Only by squarely confronting the past could the process of healing within and between peoples, societies and nations take place and relations be placed on a sounder footing.

    The results of the Conference were mixed, he said. The outcome documents did not sufficiently reflect the continuing, indeed, worsening plight of the Palestinian people in recent years. No mention was made of the fact that the sufferings of the Palestinians were the result of policies based on discrimination and exclusion perpetrated by the occupying Power. Those policies had led to some of the most inhumane practices of oppression by the occupying authorities in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. Those actions had been well documented in the report of the Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

    The Conference documents provided a clear framework for governments and the international community to take effective measures to achieve the objective of eliminating racism and racial discrimination, he said. However, they would remain empty words if the will of the international community to realize them at the national and international level was absent. Welcoming the proposed establishment of an anti-discrimination unit in the Office of the High Commissioner, he urged that unit to be mindful of the particularities and complexities of each society. The unit should operate on the basis of openness, non-duplication of effort and transparency.

    ISHTIAQ H. ANDRABI (Pakistan) said dignity and the equality of all human beings, irrespective of race, religion, sex or language, were cardinal principles of the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly, misconceived notions of racial superiority had always led to hatred, injustice, subjugation and tyranny which often erupted in bloodshed. Earlier centuries had witnessed that hatred as slavery and colonialism. More modern manifestations of intolerance had been South Africa’s apartheid regime, genocide in Africa’s Great Lakes region, and the ethnic cleansing pogroms in Bosnia. All those episodes had revealed the savagery that could by wrought by prejudice and discrimination.

    He went on to say that while many formal structures of endemic racism had been erased, the success story was not complete. The scars and deep wounds inflicted by centuries of subjugation and exploitation had not completely healed. In many cases, States refused to recognize that racism existed in their societies. In his neighbourhood, the world’s largest democracy was also home to the world’s largest stigmatized and segregated population –- 160 million Dalits, who were considered untouchable and subjected to subhuman treatment. Further, the glaring contravention of human rights and consequent struggle by the people of Kashmir and Palestine had been met with spiraling violence by opposition forces.

    It was against that backdrop that delegations had come to the World Conference against Racism, a watershed meeting aimed at making a substantive contribution to international efforts to combat discrimination and intolerance. The outcome documents, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, would provide a road map towards a restitution beyond words –- affirmative and concrete actions to redress the economic, social and psychological ravages faced by victims of discrimination and intolerance. The implementation of the Action Plan would be difficult, but it was up to the entire international community to ensure that it was done.

    JOSE ANTONIO LINATI-BOSCH, Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said racism and racial discrimination were closely tied to other human faults, such as ignorance, poverty and violence. It was not enough to merely identify historical facts and propose solutions. Solutions must also be brought to a conclusion.

    He said condemning racism was not enough. Other factors tied to discrimination must be fought in areas like education, health care and housing. The Order of Malta therefore highlighted the importance of creating conditions conducive to a greater harmony, tolerance and respect for minorities, and to the assumption by States of their responsibilities in those matters. To have laws and rules protecting migrants was of paramount importance, but the rules must be respected by all individuals. Characteristics of certain minorities must be protected, and their difference must be helped to survive.

    To contribute to a better world, historical injustices must be born in mind. They included poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion, economic disparity and widespread insecurity, in particular in developing countries. Those injustices must be replaced by a spirit of solidarity, expressed through poverty eradication, promotion of investment, market access, improvement of agriculture and food security, transfer of technology and transparent and accountable governance. There was also an urgent need for a policy, including financial assistance, towards refugees and displaced persons.

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