By MURPHY BROWNE
Member states of the United Nations will participate in the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland April 20 to 24, to evaluate progress towards goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) which took place in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
By the end of the WCAR, there was a plan of action to guide member states in their bid to eliminate racism. The Durban Declaration and Plan of Action (DDPA) was seen as the document that would give guidance to “illuminating the way toward equality for every individual and group in all regions and countries of the world”.
The DDPA was adopted by consensus at the end of the 2001 WCAR and consisted of 341 paragraphs. The Review Conference in Geneva will serve as a catalyst to spark interest in fulfilling the goals of the DDPA, through reinvigorated actions, initiatives and practical solutions.
The DDPA outlines measures to address discrimination in the fields of employment, health, policing and education. It calls on states to adopt policies and programs to counter racial hatred in the media, including on the Internet and for the collection of disaggregated data – as well as additional research – as the basis for targeted actions.
It 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 and urges governments to provide effective remedies, recourse, redress and compensatory measures to victims and to ensure they 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 and it acknowledges that slavery and the slave trade were crimes against humanity:
“We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity, not only because of their abhorrent barbarism, but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and, especially, their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
There were some, however, who disagreed with the language used to describe the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its lasting effects and felt that enough was not said of the Arab enslavement of Black people which took millions of Africans to the Middle East.
There were other controversial subjects at the WCAR which led to the American and Israeli delegations leaving the conference claiming to be offended by what they viewed as an anti-Semitic attack against Israel. However, the final document from the WCAR of 2001 can hardly be considered anti-Semitic when the following statements were part of it:
“We are conscious of the fact that the history of humanity is replete with major atrocities as a result of the gross violation of human rights and believe that lessons can be learned through remembering history to avert future tragedies. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten. We also recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.
“We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights and security. We recognize the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urge all States to facilitate such return.”
Unfortunately, nothing has changed regarding the American and Israeli governments’ stance regarding the outcome of the WCAR of 2001. As of March 17, 2009, the governments of Australia, Canada and Italy have joined the Americans and Israelis in boycotting the Durban Review Conference still insisting that WCAR was an anti-Semitic rant and that they are concerned the 2009 conference will be used to promote anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
The objectives of the Review Conference are:
- To review progress and implementation by all stakeholders of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA). Through an inclusive, transparent and collaborative process, the Review Conference will assess contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, while identifying concrete counter measures to eliminate these manifestations of intolerance.
- To assess the existing Durban follow-up mechanisms and their effectiveness, as well as other relevant United Nations mechanisms dealing with the issue of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
- To promote the universal ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and proper consideration of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
- To identify and share good practices in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Of the 163 countries that endorsed the 2001 DDPA, only 54 have developed national action plans to combat the legacy of racism. Ireland is regarded by the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination as a ‘pioneer and example of good practice’.
Canada does not have a national action plan to combat the legacy of racism, nor does the USA. Three days after the end of the WCAR in Durban the Americans were dealing with the September 11 disaster and the subsequent weapons of mass destruction fiasco. Any thought of dealing with the legacy of racism was gone with the wind.
It is not surprising that Hollywood icon, Clint Eastwood, in an interview published in February, 2009 with German magazine Der Spiegel reportedly said: “People have lost their sense of humour, in former times we constantly made jokes about different races. You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth, otherwise you will be insulted as a racist. I find that ridiculous. It was normal that we made jokes based on our nationality or ethnicity. That was never a problem.”
In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty was recently chastised by Avvy Go, Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, for failing to show political leadership when he failed to condemn a spate of racially motivated attacks on Asian fishermen by White youth.