A Report from the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, Durban, South Africa, 2001

By Maran, Rita | Social Justice, Spring-Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

A Report from the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, Durban, South Africa, 2001


Maran, Rita, Social Justice


Summary

THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENED THE RACISM CONFERENCE AS THE GLOBAL FORUM in which member states would at last commit to remedying and ultimately eliminating racism and related violations. (1) This report starts and ends with a discussion of the Conference's final document, the purpose of which is to furnish governments and, equally importantly, civil Society with an actionable plan for ending racism in their home countries. The report summarizes major themes of the Racism Conference, discusses the U.S. government's activities in the context of just two of the highly publicized issues (slavery/reparations and "Zionism! racism"), mentions briefly the Conference final document's references to human rights education and to religion, and ends with an update concerning the final document. (2)

Introduction

Because racism and its related violations affect people everywhere in the world, the United Nations was mandated to plan and implement the third World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (the WCAR/the Conference). South Africa offered to host the U.N. Conference and, along with it, the customary unofficial but affiliated NGO (nongovernmental organizations) Forum in Durban, a bustling city on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The WCAR was scheduled to run from August 31 to September 7; the NGO Forum, from August 28 to September 1. A specially convened Youth Summit was held on August 27, for one day preceding the opening of the NGO Forum.

At the NGO Forum, the earlier of the two overlapping conferences, some 7,000 representatives of NGOs participated in hundreds of workshops. The WCAR, opening three days later and attended by more than 2,000 official representatives from 163 governments, was scheduled to close down on September 7, but in fact ended one day past its deadline, on September 8, while Conference delegates struggled to complete the official final document.

The Racism Conference's final document, the Durban Declaration and Program for Action, was to follow the pattern of U.N. conferences; that is, final documents are produced that reflect governments' agreements on implementing conference recommendations. Indeed, U.N. conferences' final documents are considered by some the raison d'etre of U.N. conferences. Optimally in this case, the WCAR final document would contain most if not all governments' formal stamp of approval on plans for ending racism and related problems. When the NGO Forum closed its doors, the WCAR was handed its recommendations coming from civil societies around the globe who had met in preparatory drafting conferences. Preparatory conferences had been held over the years prior to August of 2001 on the different continents, in Strasbourg, Santiago, Dakar, and in Tehran, Warsaw, Kathmandu, Cairo, and Quito. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the final Conference document has not been approved for publication. The events of September 11 contribute d to, but were not the main cause for the delay that had already been evident when the Conference closed its doors on September 8.

Summary of Issues on the Conference Agenda

Reparations: Reparations is an internationally accepted principle that provides for people to be compensated for violations of their human rights.

Examples: Groups that have successfully obtained reparations for egregious violations of human rights include victims of the Jewish Holocaust; political prisoners in Argentina; and Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.

Race and Gender: Women and girls are marginalized in many ways--by racism and discrimination, as well as through caste, age, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, religion, ability, and socioeconomic class.

Examples: African-American women are the fastest rising U.S. prison population; in the Czech Republic, girls are disproportionately denied access to education; in Palestine, 56 to 62% of those working in the informal sector of the economy--market and street vendors, and home cleaners-are women heads of households. …

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