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FOCUS March 2001 Volume 23

Regional Meeting on Anti-Racism

The Asian Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) was held in Tehran on 19-21 February 2001. This is the last UN-organized regional preparatory meeting for the WCAR. 1 A parallel NGO meeting (also supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) was held immediately before (17-18 February 2001).

Ms. Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, opened the intergovernmental meeting as WCAR Secretary-General. In her speech, she stressed that

No region, no country, no community can fairly claim to be free from racism. Racism, xenophobia and intolerance are found everywhere, both in familiar, deep-rooted forms and, regrettably, in newer, modern forms. "

She said that every country should acknowledge "particular shortcomings to be addressed" and avoid the "danger of denial" which results in failure to tackle the problems properly.

She also reminded the participants that the ". .. spirit of tolerance, of respect and of valuing diversity is more needed than ever" which should be reflected both in the language used in any declaration or program of action and in shaping specific proposals.

She then suggested several concrete actions by the States:

  1. While most States in Asia-Pacific have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, there are still a couple of things remaining to be done. One is the removal of reservations in ratifying the convention. Another is the declaration of recognition of the authority of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to "receive and consider communications from individuals or groups of individuals. .. claiming to be victims of a violation by . .. State Party of any rights set forth in the Convention. .. "2 (Article 14) Those States which have not ratified the convention are urged to do so.

    Ratification of other international instruments is also important, according to Ms. Robinson, because they contain the "core values of the international community in regard to racism. " These instruments are: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labour Organization on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families and on child labour.

  2. Incorporation of general constitutional guarantees into "specific and enforceable legislative instruments and administrative practice. " She also mentioned that the "process of ensuring systematic and comprehensive incorporation of non-discrimination guarantees can be effectively carried out through the elaboration of National Plans of Action, the implementation of which is a priority of my Office's Technical Assistance Programme. "

  3. Focus on prevention and education measures. "Governments must renew their efforts to establish sustainable strategies to prevent racism at the community level through comprehensive incorporation of the anti-racism message in schools and community centers. "

    In recognition of the diverse character of the region, she stressed that the "cultures and communities of the Asia-Pacific region, with their long traditions of philosophy, thought and interaction, are especially well placed to spread the message that diversity is one of the world's strongest assets. "

    The Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, in his opening statement emphasized the need for the "cultural mainstreaming of the current struggle against racism and related manifestations. .. " He also made a number of suggestions including

    • "Taking affirmative action and positive steps to compensate victims of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. "

    • "Provision and support [for] favorable atmosphere for the civil society organizations especially the NGOs to enable them to participate actively in different stages in the current process of combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

    In conclusion, he stressed that the "elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance lies at the deepening and strengthening [of] the culture of dialogue, understanding and partnership at the national, regional and international level[s] on one hand, and formulating and implementing appropriate and action-oriented policies based on global consensus on the other. "


The conference declarations

A number of common themes were mentioned in both intergovernmental and NGO declarations. The NGOs declared that the legacy of colonialism is the "roots of many contemporary manifestations of racism and racial discrimination . .. which created historical injustices based on ideologies of superiority, dominance and purity. " (NGO, para 5) The intergovernmental declaration echoed this idea by saying that

. .. colonialism and slavery have been the prime sources and manifestation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and [they] stress the need for all States which were engaged in such practices to acknowledge the grave human suffering caused by colonialism and slavery and the heinous racist acts committed in the context of colonialism and slave trade. .. (Intergovernment, para 2)

Racism is defined by the NGOs as an ". .. ideological construct that assigns a certain social group to a position of power over others on the basis of a notion of superiority, dominance and purity, and . .. it is 'scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous. '" (para 13) The last clause is taken from the draft intergovernmental declaration, which was retained in the final text. (Intergovernment, para 1)

Globalization is another common theme. The NGOs declared that the "processes of globalization that include economic policies which exploit and appropriate local economies and force the implementation of structural adjustment programs actually heightened racism, racial and ethnic discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. " (NGO, para 11) It is seen as an iniquitous structure because it is based on unequal power relations. It promotes institutional racism at national and international levels as a result.

The governments, on the other hand, recognized that ". .. although globalization, as an ongoing process, remains a powerful and dynamic force with the potential to assist in achieving the goal of development and prosperity of all humankind, there is a need to manage it properly to guard against adverse trends, including growing economic disparity and cultural homogenization, which, by marginalizing certain countries and groups, could, inter alia, contribute to sustaining and strengthening racist attitudes. .. " (Intergovernment, para 10)

The NGOs emphasized caste and descent-based discrimination which affect 240 million people in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Japan (and in some African countries). (NGO, para 27) This view reiterated the 1996 comments of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the report of India that the "term "descent" mentioned in article 1 of the Convention does not solely refer to race. The Committee affirms that the situation of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes falls within the scope of the Convention. "3 The governments emphasized that "racist and exclusivist ideologies based on race, colour, descent, culture, language or national or ethnic origin are responsible for fomenting, promoting and spreading racial discrimination, xenophobia and stereotyping. " (Intergovernment, para 17)

The NGOs declared that

Governments have a responsibility in the elimination of structural and institutional racism and discrimination on the basis of race, caste, colour, sex, descent, occupation, ethnic origin, national origin and other factors if we are to achieve respect and equality for all human rights for all. (NGO, para 12)

The governments reaffirmed the "right of all peoples to live in a society free of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance as well as the duty of Governments to take prompt, decisive and appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. " (Intergovernment, preamble)

Both declarations singled out women, Palestinian people, indigenous people, migrants and trafficked persons as requiring special attention. The NGOs also mention people of lower caste, people under foreign occupation (Palestines and Tibetans), refugees, and internally displaced people.

Both declarations also asked for immediate and comprehensive measures to counter the growing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to be undertaken at various levels primarily by governments.


Conclusion

The combined messages of the governments and NGOs in the region are important in understanding the extent and depth of the problem of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. There is unanimity in the view that these problems are, inter alia, both local and global, caused by current economic systems as well as by centuries-old traditions, and complicated by existing armed conflicts, colonial legacy, and patriarchal systems of society.

With the urgency of addressing these problems voiced clearly by governments and NGOs, the challenge lies in translating these declarations into action beginning at the local and national levels.

The intergovernmental and NGO declarations are available in this website:www. hurights. or. jp/wcarasia. htm


Endnotes

  1. Previous regional meetings were held in Europe (Strasbourg, October 2000), Americas (Santiago de Chile, December 2000, and Africa (Dakar, January 2001).

  2. Only one State in the region (Australia) has declared recognition of the Committee's authority in this regard. See Note 28, The Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, National Institutions and the World Conference against of Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Rotorua, New Zealand: August 2000.

  3. CERD/C/304/Add. 13 (17 September 1996).


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