Wednesday, June 3, 2009

UN Anti-Racism Review Conference

The UN Anti-Racism Review Conference held recently in the Swiss city of Geneva, provided an opportunity for all nations to come together and agree on a common document enshrining a common aspiration: to defy racism in all its manifestations and work to stamp it out.

Ten UN member States, comprising the US, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and five of the 27 EU countries, decided to stay away from the Geneva gathering which the UN General Assembly had called to review the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) — the final document of the 2001 conference.

Racial Discrimination and Intolerance
Undoubtedly, the world might be a better place now that the conference approved by consensus a document that builds on the commitments made in the South African city of Durban eight years back to combat racial discrimination and intolerance all over the world.

In spite of decades of advocacy, the efforts of many groups and many nations, and ample evidence of racism’s terrible toll, racism persists. No society is immune — large or small, rich or poor.

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech attacking Israel, the US, and other Western States, effectively using this UN forum for partisan political rhetoric.

Respect for Diversity
The conference showed their determination, spirit of compromise and respect for diversity to move as one on a common and very urgent cause. This agreement will hopefully have lasting beneficial effects for the countless victims of racism, discrimination and intolerance worldwide.

The member States undertook to prevent manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, especially in relation to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They decided to promote greater participation and opportunities for people of African and Asian decent, indigenous peoples and individuals belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. They agreed to ensure that discrimination would not overtly or covertly hamper access to employment, social services, health care and participation in other spheres of life.

The Geneva Conference reaffirmed the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and stresses its compatibility with existing international law that prohibits incitement to hatred. The member States realized that this should help bridge the artificial divide on sensitive issues related to religions which could fuel a self-fulfilling prophecy of clashes of civilisation.

New Beginning
The Anti-Racism Conference has provided a platform for a new beginning. The few States that chose to stay away should now evaluate the outcome document on its own merit and substance. Many of these States participated in its drafting and were part of the emerging consensus of the conference.

Nevertheless, the outcome document represents an important recognition of the injustice and atrocities of the past and proposes means to prevent their recurrence. These comprise a commitment to prohibit violent, racist and xenophobic activities by groups that embrace supremacist ideo

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