Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination
7 March 2006
Committee Considers Draft Harmonized Guidelines
on Reporting to Human Rights Treaty Bodies
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today exchanged views with Doudou Diène, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It also heard a report on the meetings of the working group on draft harmonized guidelines for reporting to the human rights treaty bodies.
Mr. Diène said the current global situation confirmed the worst expectations and that man's worst tendencies were created in the womb. Racism and racial discrimination were on the upswing and were becoming widespread throughout the world. There were several types of discrimination -- discrimination based on race, culture and religion -- which were becoming blurred. It was difficult at times to distinguish where one form of discrimination ended and another began, especially with regard to religion. Also, racism was becoming commonplace.
Committee Expert Patrick Thornberry presented a report on the meetings of the working group on draft harmonized guidelines for reporting to the human rights treaty bodies. The working group, composed of representatives from each of the treaty bodies, met to discuss harmonized guidelines, including guidelines on a common core document and on treaty-specific documents, in December 2005 and February 2006. Presenting the draft guidelines, he said the working group had aimed to produce, where possible, a shorter, clearer text and one that was less prescriptive as to what States might do.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to begin adoption of its concluding observations and recommendations on country reports, which it has considered this session, in private. Its next public meeting will be on Friday, 10 March when it will release its concluding observations and recommendations and conclude its session.
Exchange of Views with Special Rapporteur on Racism
DOUDOU DIÈNE, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said that he welcomed once again the chance to have a helpful exchange with the Committee, an exercise that he had participated in three times now.
The current global situation confirmed the worst expectations and that man's worst tendencies are created in the womb. Racism and racial discrimination were on the upswing and were becoming widespread throughout the world, he said. There were two issues he wished to address. First, there were several types of discrimination -- discrimination based on race, culture and religion -- which were becoming blurred. It was difficult at times to distinguish where one form of discrimination ended and another began, especially with regard to religion. It was necessary, however, to separate those three factors, both legally and intellectually, in order to address them.
Secondly, racism was becoming commonplace. Racial intolerance and discrimination used to be the province of extremist far right political parties, but they were now becoming a regular part of democratic systems. They were being blended in, for example, with the fight against terrorism. Racism and xenophobia were coming out of the closet, in a sense, he said, and gradually creeping into the policies of mainstream political actors. That fact was manifest not only in the backing away from cultural diversity manifested by many States, but also in restrictive policies regarding immigrants and asylum-seekers.
Speeches against immigrants, foreigners and asylum-seekers were becoming popular and intellectual legitimization was being granted to those currents. In literature, books were advocating and promoting racism, and in academic and scientific circles theses that promoted racism and xenophobia were on the rise. For example, Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations, in his latest work, Who Are We?, suggested that the physical presence of Latinos in the United States was threatening the identity of that society. Huntington was not an isolated extremist, Mr. Diène noted, rather he taught at an important university, Harvard, was well-respected and had a wide audience. He was part of the phenomenon of the banalizaton of racism.
Since 11 September 2001, Mr. Diène said, he had been asked to prepare an annual report on the situation of the Arab and Muslim populations in the world and he had prepared four such reports. He had felt the need, however, to enlarge the scope of that report. In his last two reports he had examined all forms of religious discrimination, and in his most recent report he had examined the Danish cartoon case. In his report he wanted to raise the issue of how, in the fight against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, could the fundamental specificity of each type of such discrimination be recognized, while analysing their common roots and common past, so that a balanced approach could be taken to address them. If that was not done, there was a danger of falling into the trap of believing that some priority existed in the different forms of discrimination and that one form was more important to address than another. They were all equally necessary to address.
In his latest report, he said that different messages had been sent regarding the cartoon case. First, he said, we were told that we were witnessing a clash of cultures. Then, the European press presented the issue as one of the freedom of expression and opinion, as being a tenet of the West, in contrast with the East, which rejected such freedoms. That was a false dichotomy, however. One proof was that the Western world had a wide range of responses to the cartoons, with the press in some countries not publishing them, while others deciding to do so. What had happened was that a wide range of opinions among countries, religious groups, and races had been expressed.
The issue of the Danish cartoons, he said, illustrated the increasing emergence of the racist and xenophobic currents in everyday life. The political context in Denmark, however, was what had given birth to the cartoons. It was one in which an extremist political party enjoyed 13 per cent of the vote and had formed part of the governing coalition that ruled the country. The development of Islamophobia, or any racism and racial discrimination, Mr. Diène said, always took place in the context of the emergence of strong racist, extremist political parties and a corresponding absence of reaction against that racism by the country's political leaders. There were other factors, including increased immigration flows, and the events of 11 September 2001, but the political factor was an essential condition.
The world was becoming more and more multicultural and multiethnic, Mr. Diène observed, but that was at odds with the old forms of society, which lagged behind, in Danish society, for example, as well as the rest of Europe. The way in which the cartoon crisis was addressed would impact the whole way in which the issue of multiculturalism would be addressed.
In conclusion, he urged that international mechanisms, including the General Assembly, treat cases such as the Danish cartoon situation, not as a clash of civilizations, but as a debate on the balancing of two rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The law, he stressed, could not provide a satisfactory answer. It would have to be accompanied by a lot of thinking on the need for inter-religious, inter-ethnic and intercultural dialogue.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts presented a range of opinions on the cartoon issue. One Expert felt that it did represent a clash between a humanist tradition and a mix of other views, including those that promoted nationalist and ethnic views. Another Expert said that the fault lay at the door of the fundamentalists on either side who exploited innocent images to provoke a clash of civilizations. Yet another Expert stated that self-censorship was a critical and necessary element in social, political and international relations. Self-censorship, he said, was necessary to respect the rights of others, and respect was the key to successful coexistence.
Discussion of Draft Harmonized Guidelines on Reporting to Human Rights Treaty Bodies
PATRICK THORNBERRY, Committee Expert, presented a report on the meetings of the working group on harmonized guidelines for reporting to the human rights treaty bodies. The working group, composed of representatives from each of the treaty bodies, was set up following the fourth inter-committee meeting and the seventeenth meeting of chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies. The working group met to discuss draft harmonized guidelines, including guidelines on a common core document and on treaty-specific documents, in December 2005 and February 2006.
Mr. Thornberry, presenting the draft guidelines (HRI/MC/2005/3), said he had represented the Committee at the technical working group set up to draft the harmonized guidelines. The principles used by that group in drafting the present document were to produce, where possible, a shorter, clearer text and one that was less prescriptive as to what States might do. The first part elaborated the bulk of the information to be provided, to be included in the core document to be submitted to all the treaty bodies. The section covering congruent provisions in the various treaties, in paragraphs 51 to 59 of the draft, was to include some information on non-discrimination and equality, in particular general information and structures in place in each State party, as well as remedies. The consensus in the technical working group had been to fine down the congruent provisions as much as possible, Mr. Thornberry noted. There was very little information in the draft on treaty-specific documents to be submitted by States parties.
The Chairman thanked Mr. Thornberry for his work. It was agreed that
Mr. Thornberry would consult with other Committee members and formulate a short consensus document containing a synthesis of comments and observations of Committee Experts on the draft for presentation to the next inter-committee meeting.
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