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Africa: Racism Conference Review

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 7, 2009 (090407)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The Durban decision is the administration's first test of President Obama's commitment to increasing racial awareness and racial healing. To date the President has largely heard from opponents of the Conference--both from voices inside his administration as well as those outside. President Obama needs to hear from you." - TransAfrica Forum

TransAfrica Forum is calling for phone calls to White House Comment Line at 202-456-1111 or for comments on the White House website - http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the action alert from TransAfrica Forum U.S. participation in the April 20-24, 2009 Durban Review Conference (the follow-up to the 2001 World Conference on Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance), along with selected background information from the UN Commission on Human Rights, which is responsible for organizing the conference. See http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009 for much additional material.

The current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, South African judge Ms Navanethem Pillay, took office in September 2008, after serving on the South African High Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court in the Hague. She has energetically pushed to advance a broad human rights agenda in her new position. For additional background on the Commission and its work, see http://www.ohchr.org For background on Ms. Pillay, see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

TransAfrica Forum Action Alert: National Call-In Day

"working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union." - Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, March 2008

TransAfrica Forum
http://www.transafricaforum.org

[For a fuller statement, see TransAfrica Forum March 12, 2009 statement at http://tinyurl.com/db29r8]

National Call-In Day

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Contact the White House;

Urge President Obama to Send an Official U.S. Delegation to the Durban Review Conference White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111

President Barack Obama returns to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, and he needs to hear from you! As a country we have traveled a great distance along the path of racial reconciliation toward the goal of social justice for all. However, our racially defined history of injustice still shapes today's realities, both national and international. The February controversy comparing President Obama to a chimpanzee is only one of the most recent public examples indicating how far we still must travel. Yet, like candidate Obama, at TransAfrica Forum we continue to feel that "working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds...."

U.S. participation in the April 20-24, 2009 Durban Review Conference (the follow-up to the 2001 World Conference on Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance), which is being held in Geneva, Switzerland is an important step on our country's "path of a more perfect union."

Yet, despite encouragement by many G-20 leaders, the European Union, and Black Diaspora groups around the globe, the administration has not reversed its earlier decision to boycott the conference. In light of specific U.S. reservations regarding the Conference's draft outcome document, the UN Human Rights Commission has made significant changes, removing language to which the U.S. objected (see http://www.transafricaforum.org for details). A continued U.S. boycott will have serious repercussions for the international event, specifically:

  • Other nations, who would rather not deal with the legacy of racism within their own countries, are likely to pull out, undermining the entire process.
  • Of the over 100 countries that endorsed the 2001 Programme of Action, only 54 have developed national action plans to combat the legacy of racism. The absence of U.S. participants will signal to other nations the lack of importance of confronting racism and developing concrete remedies.
  • The lack of participation will be a significant blow to African descendent groups around the world who have been able to make concrete advancement in the struggle against racism and discrimination.

The Durban decision is the administration's first test of President Obama's commitment to increasing racial awareness and racial healing. To date the President has largely heard from opponents of the Conference--both from voices inside his administration as well as those outside. President Obama needs to hear from you.

There is widespread belief in the administration that our communities simply do not care about the upcoming conference. We know differently. Please join us! Call the White House today.

There are several ways to contact the President:

White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111

TTY/TDD Comment Line: 202-456-6213

On-line Comment: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Please forward this message to your friends and colleagues. Only forward to those that you know; spam hurts our cause!


TransAfrica Forum Update

Durban Review Conference: "Door still Open"

According to White House staff the Obama administration has not "shut the door" on attending the April 20-24, 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Review Conference is the follow-up to the 2001 First World Conference on Racism. Originally, the administration objected to language in the Conference's draft outcome document; on March 17, 2009, the UN Working Group released a significantly new document, having removed language to which the administration objected. According to staff at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations the new draft is "under review." White House sources indicate that they are "pleased by the progress," but that there are "still a few things to be addressed."

The administration's original decision to boycott the process was extremely disappointing. Your calls and your letters to the Secretary of State, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and to the White House have been important in moving the process thus far. Your continued vigilance is critical!


High Commissioner Makes Concrete Proposals to Combat Racism

23 February 2009

http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009

Ahead of major anti-racism conference, High Commissioner urges unity and combined efforts, proposes technical solutions to combat discrimination.

Geneva Calling on governments to transcend political differences and work together to eliminate racism and xenophobia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has issued a series of proposals and recommendations in preparation for a major anti-racism conference, to be held in Geneva in April.

The High Commissioner's report, issued today, has been sent to UN Member States, currently planning the April 20-24 Durban Review Conference to assess implementation of the wide-ranging Programme of Action agreed at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa.

Although government representatives preparing for the Review Conference have so far made all their decisions by consensus, some of the language proposed for a draft conference outcome document has been controversial because of its criticism of Israel's policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The High Commissioner, who is Secretary-General of the Review Conference, appealed to governments not to allow any single issue to dominate discussions of such vital importance to human dignity to the exclusion and detriment of others. "I appeal to all to uphold the consensually agreed objectives of the Durban Review Conference, and to bear in mind their importance to the millions of victims around the world," she said, adding, "I urge Member States to transcend their differences and to join efforts to confront racism and xenophobia."

Addressing another controversial topic, Pillay proposed holding a series of expert workshops in order to help governments find common ground on the issue of defamation of religions. Several Islamic states have proposed language that would limit what they describe as defamation of religions, which Western states have expressed difficulty in accepting because of the potential negative impact on freedom of expression.

"In order to find common ground, we need to work together in good faith, with open minds and constructive thinking," noted Pillay in her report. "To this end, while I understand the concerns behind the concept of defamation of religions, I believe that from a human rights perspective and in light of the Durban Review Conference, it should be addressed as an issue of incitement to religious hatred within the existing framework of international human rights law." The workshops she proposed would be designed to foster better understanding of the legislative patterns and judicial practices in different regions of the world, reflecting different legal systems and traditions.

In her report, Pillay outlines some of the challenges affecting the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), agreed at the 2001 World Conference against Racism. Slow progress on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, along with the global financial crisis, the food crisis and climate change all have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups and hamper progress in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, she noted. Increasing globalization and migration have made societies more diverse and more multicultural, but migrants have become vulnerable to racism and are often perceived as competitors for scarce resources.

She said that terrorism and some counter-terrorism measures had also impeded progress in combating racism. Just days after the conclusion of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, followed by others around the world dramatically changed the climate surrounding the implementation of the DDPA.

Pillay also makes several detailed and practical proposals for combating racism that will move the process beyond political positions and into technical implementation. Pillay suggests, for example, that her office establish an international "observatory" on racism that would serve as a focal point for gathering information. This would help governments and other stakeholders to better understand problem areas and to share good practices in combating them.


At a Glance: the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA)

(This is a public information note, not an official summary of the DDPA)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a part of the United Nations Secretariat, has been given a unique mandate to promote and protect all human rights.

http://www.ohchr.org

Adopted by consensus at the 2001 World Conference against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, the DDPA is a comprehensive, action-oriented document that proposes concrete measures to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It is holistic in its vision, addresses a wide range of issues, and contains far-reaching recommendations and practical measures.

The DDPA embodies the firm commitment of the international community to tackle racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the national, regional and international level. Recognition that no country can claim to be free of racism, that racism is a global concern, and that tackling it should be a universal effort, is an important achievement. The DDPA has a strong moral value and serves as a basis for advocacy efforts worldwide.

The DDPA reasserts the principles of equality and non-discrimination as core human rights, thus transforming victims of discrimination into rights-holders and States into duty bearers.

Assigning the primary responsibility of combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to States, the DDPA also calls for the active involvement of international and non-governmental organizations, political parties, national human rights institutions, the private sector, the media and civil society at large.

The DDPA calls for the universal ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and its effective implementation by State Parties to the Convention.

The DDPA adopts a victim-oriented approach to problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Specific recommendations are formulated to combat discrimination against Africans and persons of African descent, Asians and persons of Asian descent, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, minorities, the Roma and other groups.

The DDPA recognizes that victims often suffer from multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination based on sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, property, birth or other status. It highlights the gender dimension of racial discrimination and attributes a key role to women in the development of programmes to combat racism and intolerance.

The DDPA emphasizes the importance of preventive and concerted action, especially in the field of education and awareness-raising, and calls for the strengthening of human rights education.

The DDPA calls for comprehensive national action plans to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It calls for the reinforcement of national institutions and it formulates concrete recommendations in the areas of national legislation and the administration of justice.

The DDPA outlines measures to address discrimination in the fields of employment, health, policing, and education. It calls on States to adopt policies and programmes to counter incitement to racial hatred in the media, including on the Internet. It calls for the collection of disaggregated data, as well as additional research, as the basis for targeted actions.

The DDPA urges States to adopt measures of affirmative or positive action to create equal opportunities for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in the political, economic, social and cultural decision-making spheres.

The DDPA urges governments to provide effective remedies, recourse, redress and compensatory measures to victims and to ensure that victims have access to legal assistance so they can pursue such measures. It also recommends the creation of competent national bodies to adequately investigate allegations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia or related intolerance.

The DDPA acknowledges that slavery and the slave trade are crimes against humanity, and should have always been so. It expresses regret over the fact that the slave trade and colonialism contributed to lasting social and economic inequalities. It welcomes the efforts of UNESCO's Slave Route Project.

Concerning the Middle East, the DDPA expresses concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation and recognizes the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right to an independent state. It also recognizes the right to security for all countries in the region, including Israel, and calls upon all governments to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.

The DDPA recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

Last but not least, the Programme of Action spells out a number of strategies to achieve full and effective equality through international cooperation. They involve an effective international legal framework, enhanced regional and international cooperation, an active role for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the participation of a wide variety of actors, including civil society, non-governmental organizations and youth in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.


Durban Review Conference

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations General Assembly Distr. General A/CONF.211/PC.4/5 24
February 2009

[Excerpts - for full report see http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009]

I. Introduction

...

2. The implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action has been affected by a number of important challenges. The slow progress in reaching Millennium Development Goal 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger despite actions at the national and international levels, the international food crisis and the devastating consequences of the current financial crisis make clear that poverty represents a major challenge. The convergence of the global food crisis, the economic and financial crisis and the effects of climate change has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups and hampered progress in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. ...

3. With increasing globalization, societies have become more diverse and multicultural. A growing number of States face the challenge of ensuring mutual respect for people of diverse backgrounds within their societies as well as social harmony, equal opportunities and non-discrimination. Racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities have been frequent targets of abusive, violent and repetitive criticism against their groups, often as a result of entrenched stereotypical attitudes, and this has deepened discrimination against them. By referring to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action recalls State obligations to be vigilant so that organizations do not disseminate ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, engage in acts of violence or incitement to such acts.

4. In the past few decades and increasingly in recent years, migrants have become vulnerable to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. They are often perceived as competitors for scarce resources and as threats to the livelihood of others. This has been aggravated by the global food crisis, the financial crisis and climate change. These perceptions breed racist and xenophobic attitudes, which can lead to attacks against migrants, and strong political will and effective strategies are required to counter them. As affirmed in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, States should promote and protect fully and effectively the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants regardless of immigration status, in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and their obligations under international human rights instruments. States should ensure that migration policies are free of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

5. The political exploitation of difference - ethnic, racial and religious - often fuels armed conflict and may result in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. We must break the cycle of violence and mobilization of fear. A greater effort must be made to find peaceful solutions to conflicts that fully incorporate human rights. Peace is fragile when human rights concerns remain sidelined.

6. Just days after the conclusion of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, followed by other terrorist attacks around the world dramatically changed the climate surrounding the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Increased security concerns led to the introduction in many countries of measures and practices which were excessive and undermined the protection and promotion of human rights. They had a negative impact on the existing victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and also increased the incidence of these violations. While it is clearly legitimate for States to counter terrorism effectively, they must ensure that the measures taken comply with their obligations under international human rights law, in particular the obligations to ensure the right to life, freedom from discrimination, the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary detention and the right to due process. Full respect for these rights is of vital importance in our increasingly interdependent, multi-ethnic and multicultural societies in order to guard against discrimination and stigmatization of different types of vulnerable groups and communities.

7. With these challenges in mind, I urge renewed commitment to ending racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The key message of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is as relevant today as when it was adopted. Racism affects us all and no country is free from its scourge. We need to ensure that "united against racism" does not remain an empty slogan. Human rights education, and anti-racism education in particular, is an essential tool to promote understanding and respect for diversity. In this regard, the Human Rights Council has mandated the Advisory Committee to prepare possible elements for a draft declaration on human rights education and training, and I hope that a strong anti-racism component will be included.

...

9. We must reaffirm the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action without reservation and redouble efforts made to implement it. We must preserve and build upon the commitments made therein, as it represents the most comprehensive and universally accepted platform to combat racism to date.

10. I recognize that there are some issues on which there is a legitimate divergence of views. In order to find common ground, we need to work together in good faith, with open minds and constructive thinking. To this end, while I understand the concerns behind the concept of defamation of religions, I believe that, from a human rights perspective and in the light of the Durban Review Conference, it should be addressed as an issue of incitement to religious hatred within the existing framework of international human rights law, with reference to articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I will expand on this issue below.

...

12. As Secretary-General of the Durban Review Conference, I am confident that the review process will provide renewed impetus to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action elaborates a comprehensive approach to the achievement of human dignity and the enjoyment by all of all human rights. No single issue in such a comprehensive platform of vital importance to human dignity should dominate discussions to the exclusion and detriment of others. I appeal to all to uphold the consensually agreed objectives of the Durban Review Conference, and to bear in mind their importance to the millions of victims around the world. I urge States to transcend their differences and to join efforts to confront racism and xenophobia.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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