Racism and Racial Discrimination

UN Chronicle, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Racism and Racial Discrimination


RACISM AND RACIAL DISCRIMINATION are a clear affront to the fundamental truth that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Yet, six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and four decades after the entry into force of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969), the principles of equality and non-discrimination are still far from a universal reality. In 2001, the third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, providing a common agenda for eradicating racial discrimination. However, the comprehensive normative framework, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour notes in her essay for our magazine, has created "expectations that can only be met by determined and cooperative action", especially because of the "cultural depth of racism" and the "major historical causes of racial discrimination" (page 4). The United Nations has called for a Durban Review Conference, to be held in 2009, to appraise the progress made thus far.

Some of the most vicious forms of racial discrimination in history are slavery, as well as colonialism, which caused immeasurable suffering to the indigenous peoples worldwide, including those of African descent (page 10), who were forcibly subjected to servitude as a result of the trans-atlantic slave trade (page 60). These past practices are among the leading factors contributing to the lasting forms of social exclusion and structures of economic inequality in many parts of the world today. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for instance, whole communities, particularly indigenous (page 48) and Afro-descendant (page 44) populations, are stigmatized because they are perceived as different from the dominant national identity (page 46) and live in a state of marginalization and extreme poverty (page 41).

Unfortunately, the multiple dimensions of racial discrimination frequently extend to related forms of intolerance based on gender, language or religion, reinforcing patterns of exclusion, disadvantage and abuse, preventing victims from enjoying adequate access to social services, education, health care, housing and justice. …

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