24 April 2009
Ms. Asma Jahangir, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures
We, the Special Procedures mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council, take this opportunity to speak as one in our condemnation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance everywhere. We greatly welcome the attention and focus that has been given to these issues globally and the progress that has been achieved to-date as a result of the Durban process. This Review Conference offers an important moment for evaluation and reflection as we move forward in our joint efforts to deliver positive change to the lives of individuals, families and societies across the world. We emphasize the historic importance of this global endeavour and the great opportunity that is afforded to us today. We stand ready to continue our cooperation with all parties towards the goals that we have collectively pledged to achieve.
As human rights mandate holders we are deeply invested in the enormous challenge of eliminating racism worldwide. We believe that this common goal has significant implications for the protection and promotion of all human rights for all people, everywhere. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance impact on all of the mandates entrusted to us by the Human Rights Council. Many of our substantive contributions have been incorporated into the preparations for this Review Conference in a joint report A/CONF.211/PC/WG.1/5 and are based on our experiences garnered through the implementation of the core functions related to our mandates. These include the conduct of country visits and thematic studies. We urge this Conference to give due consideration in its work to the many concerns that we raise.
As clearly established in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, racism has many faces and takes many forms: from the everyday racist and discriminatory acts and omissions quietly suffered by many millions in countless ways, to the extremes of violence and genocide that continue to plague us. The poverty that crushes the hope of so many is equally often created, perpetuated and enhanced by discrimination and exclusion. In every society people are made vulnerable by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. Across the spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights we witness daily the extraordinarily damaging effects that the scourge of racism brings to the lives of men, women and children who call upon us to act on their behalf. It is our expectation that this process will contribute to answering that call for change.
In 2001, States agreed that racial discrimination exists in every region of the world and that no country can claim to be free of racism. They also committed to report on their progress towards eradicating it. That acknowledgement was a vital initial step. We welcome the initiatives and follow-up mechanisms as a result of that statement and as required in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action – actions to bring that ground-breaking document to life where it matters most. However, we remain only at the beginning of this most important journey. The progress achieved to date must be enhanced in all regions. We must make good on the promises that have been publicly made in Durban in 2001 and elsewhere at the international level.
National action plans must now come to the fore to combat racism and must place the emphasis clearly on real and concrete “action” at the national and especially at the grass roots level. If such plans are to move beyond words they must be driven forward relentlessly and resourced adequately. This is a task not only of Governments, but one which should be carried out with the full consultation and cooperation of all relevant stakeholders including non-governmental partners and, importantly, those representatives of communities affected by racism. Where the challenge is one of resources for the poorest countries, we must see new cooperation between States.
Laws must be put in place at the national level that do justice to our commitments to equality. However, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance will not be overcome by words and laws alone but by actions to enforce these words and laws. Too often we encounter in the course of our work reasonably adequate legislation which is not always matched by the mechanisms and machinery necessary to implement and monitor the law and make it work effectively for all people. The implementation gap continues to allow our words to fall short and our laws to fail. The rule of law and the judicial mechanisms that make it a reality must be ensured as a priority. In doing so, States can send the clear message that racism and discrimination against any person is unacceptable in any form. Where impunity exists it sanctions further acts of racism and perpetuates a cycle of discrimination and abuse that should have no place in our 21st Century nations.
Indeed a real danger exists that new challenges including the impact of the global financial crisis, climate change and ensuring global access to food, begin to turn the tide against our efforts. As resources become scarce, as jobs are lost, and as livelihoods are threatened, history demonstrates that societies look inwards, blame is apportioned and racism and exclusion increase. Concerns have already been raised about growing incidents of violence and increasing activities of extremist groups. We must guard against that possibility now by strengthening our efforts and by remaining vigilant as our people, our economies and societies struggle under uncertain conditions. We also wish to emphasize the responsibility of transnational corporations. Distinguished delegates, this is the time to look not just at old and persistent problems, but also at new crises that challenge us afresh.
In our project to eliminate the roots and branches of racism and discrimination, education is all important. We must address the causes of racism as much as we must treat its consequences if we are to avoid new generations growing up tainted by prejudice. In every way possible, education must reflect the values of equality, non-discrimination and human rights. Education should not become a vehicle to perpetuate prejudice, but a powerful weapon to fight it. And yet we continue to see practices of segregation and exclusion in all regions that deny some children their right to full and equal access to quality education – practices that deprive them of the equality and opportunity that they deserve. Let us be clear that we are not talking solely about access to education, but also about the content and quality of education that enable all to achieve equality of outcome and to fulfil their potential in and for society. Education must be at the heart of our endeavours and every nation must look to its education system to be a bright beacon and a consistent symbol of its commitment to equality.
Consistently in our work as Special Procedures mandate holders we witness the immense effects of multiple and intersectional forms of racism and discrimination on women and girls. Within all our efforts we must recall that the voices of women do not reach us as often as they should and their concerns do not gain the attention that they deserve. As those who shoulder most intensely the burden of care for families in all societies globally and those who experience the effects of racism and discrimination profoundly, women have a unique role to play and a most valuable insight and contribution to offer. Consequently we must reach out to women and forge with, and for them, the mechanisms through which their voices are raised and their views are acted upon. We must ensure that women from all communities have their rightful place among the leaders and decision makers who turn our commitments here into achievements.
We, independent experts from every region of the world, are entrusted with helping to promote the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a statement to mark the 60th anniversary of this remarkable document in December 2008, we stated that on the solid foundations of the Declaration and the great body of human rights law that it inspired, our activities go far beyond highlighting violations of human rights. We stated our commitment to work in partnership with States, civil society and others to identify the many positive practices and experiences from all regions that help to protect and promote rights and that can provide a model for others. We noted that we constantly seek opportunities to propose assistance and develop solutions alongside States that work within and across borders. All regions provide challenges, and all provide us with the lessons and guidance and the rich cultural resources needed to find solutions and to make rights reality. In the context of this Review Process, and the struggle against racism, we re-state that commitment to you now.
The message of this conference must be one of justice, dignity and humanity. An opportunity exists as never before in history for the global community to work together to identify and eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance wherever it occurs. The roadmap that Durban provides to guide us was drafted and infused with the sacrifice and suffering of slavery, genocide and apartheid. On the journey that we make to confront the present and the future of racism, we must bring with us also the lessons and the wisdom of the past. In doing so we ensure that all those who suffered did not do so in vain. Let the hard work continue in the cities, towns and villages of every nation and be driven forward by those fully committed to equality. Today let us rise to the challenge and be joined together in cooperation not weakened and defeated by our differences.
Distinguished delegates, only through the demonstration of our good faith, our will and through our decisive actions to bring about change can we demonstrate conclusively to all those who may believe that change will not come to their lives, that this process is indeed worthy of their hope. We deeply regret the contentious remarks made on the first day but remain hopeful as mostly participants were not distracted from pursuing the goals of this Conference – with the adoption of the outcome document it is all the more important that we remain engaged. Let ours be the time when we truly make a difference.