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Submission to UNHCHR re WCAR draft declaration

15 August 2001

on the draft declaration and programme of action for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

(Sent 15 August to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (CCIA/WCC) NGO in General Consultative Status with ECOSOC

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, against the background of more than fifty years of work by the World Council of Churches against racism and its effects, notably through its Program to Combat Racism, submits the following comments for your consideration in the drafting of the Draft Declaration and Programme of Action. These preliminary proposals reflect the experience of victims around the world who are members of or related to the some 340 member churches of the WCC in all the regions.

1. Sources, causes, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

No society today is completely free of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Thus it is appropriate that the Declaration and Programme of Action address all governments, non-state and private-sector actors and civil society organizations that bear shared responsibility for the elimination of such violations of fundamental human rights in their own societies and for the application of universal standards in all countries.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are at the root of many contemporary internal and international armed conflicts, and efforts to eliminate these sources of injustice are integral to the global Agenda for Peace and to the building of a universal culture of peace and non-violent approaches to conflict transformation.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are barriers to development in poor countries and to equality of economic opportunity in rich ones. The negative impact of economic globalization, that tends to exclude large sectors from the benefits of the global economy, discriminates especially against former colonies of European powers in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, against Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, and against native and Aboriginal peoples in predominately White industrialized nations.

The dominant source of this social ill is White racism against people of color around the world. The rising tide of violence in internal conflicts in many regions, however, demonstrates that extreme manifestations of national identity and of ethnocentrism are forms of related intolerance that have similar impact upon peoples of the same or similar racial heritage in many societies.

Caste is a prevalent form of discrimination affecting some 240 million people in South Asia, in violation of Art. 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The sources of this discrimination lie deep in the cultures and religious formation of these societies, making it especially complex and resistant to purely legal remedies.

Religious intolerance and the political manipulation of religion and religious affiliation are on the rise in many parts of the world, and are increasingly a factor in national and international conflict. The efforts of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, who has drawn attention to these questions should be supported and strengthened.

Governments should be further encouraged to respect the right to religious freedom, particularly to consider spiritualities of Indigenous Peoples as authentic religion, as per the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance.

2. Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Women often suffer first and most severely the effects of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including caste discrimination. Societies and social systems dominated by patriarchal attitudes and use of power often favor racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, making the oppression of women still more acute and complex. Racism, sexism and class frequently form a triangle of discrimination in which many women are trapped in their daily lives.

The poor are the most vulnerable to the impact of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. With the feminization of poverty it is again women who are most severely affected and rendered vulnerable to other violations of human rights through sex tourism and trafficking of women, discriminatory population control policies and sterilization, inequitable access to education and discrimination in employment which relegates them to the most poorly paid and demeaning jobs.

Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, especially Indigenous Peoples, tend to be denied ownership of, control over, access to, and relationships with their ancestral lands. This has profound economic consequences for these peoples, and often constitutes a violation of religious liberty for those whose spirituality is profoundly linked to the land and the natural environment. Regardless of where they live, what their political or social culture, or their particular beliefs, Indigenous Peoples all view the land as sacred and the essential basis of their survival. Their identities, cultures, languages, philosophies of life and spiritualities are bound together in a balanced relationship with all creation.

Victims of caste discrimination suffer the imposition of separate habitation, exclusion due to prohibitions of inter-dining and inter-marriage, untouchability, discrimination and denial of equal opportunity in public life.

Examination of contemporary manifestations of racism should address issues of environmental racism. In many countries people of African-descent, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities are those who are more likely than Whites to live in environmental harzardous conditions and near uncontrolled toxic waste sites. Indigenous Peoples lands and sacred places are home to extensive mining operations and radioactive waste sites. A double standard exists as to what practices are acceptable in certain communities, villages or cities and not in others. As a consequence, the residents of these communities suffer shorter life spans, higher infant and adult mortality, poor health, poverty, diminished economic opportunities, substandard housing, and an overall degrading of quality of life.

Expressions of xenophobia - the rejection of outsiders - are increasingly evident in all regions of the world. Governments are devising more sophisticated ways of preventing would-be migrants and asylum-seekers from reaching their territories. Politicians often use foreigners as a scapegoat for domestic political and economic problems. There are increasing incidents of hostility and violence towards foreigners, whether legal migrants, undocumented workers, refugees, or asylum-seekers. Undocumented migrants, particularly migrant women, are especially vulnerable.

Governments should be encouraged to sign and to ratify the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Governments should commit themselves to addressing the causes which force people to leave their communities, such as persecution, human rights violations, war, poverty, and environmental degradation.

Governments should develop awareness-raising programs about the reasons for migration, the contributions which migrants make to their societies, and the need to appreciate the rich variety of cultures in the world.

The relationship between xenophobia and racism needs further study.

Governments should ensure that their asylum procedures provide maximum protection to those seeking protection from persecution and that they are in full accord with international refugee law.

Governments should consider adopting measures to legalize the undocumented status of migrants in their countries, to facilitate the integration of migrants into national life and to allow long-term migrants to become citizens.

The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty and related decisions adopted by the United Nations have encouraged states to abolish or strictly limit the death penalty. Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) expressly prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age. In some countries which continue to apply the death penalty --including to juvenile offenders -- statistics show a consistent pattern of racial discrimination and racial bias towards juvenile and adult offenders in law enforcement and the administration of criminal justice.

Governments that have made reservations to Article 6(5) which are incompatible with the object and purpose of the ICCPR should withdraw these reservations. Special measures should be adopted at the national level to address discriminatory attitudes and conduct within the juvenile and adult justice systems, including the police.

3. Measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the national, regional and international levels.

Government ministries of education, those responsible for education at all levels of society, including through private and/or religious schools should review curriculum content at all levels of schooling and education, and revise all those which either explicitly, or implicitly discriminate against social groups on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or caste. New, innovative educational materials should be researched and developed to promote race, ethnic and national tolerance and a culture of inclusiveness and non-discrimination. Such an approach to education should include civic education with respect to anti-racist laws and forms of legal redress available to the victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Programs promoting tolerance and multi-culturalism should be encouraged in the schools and through public awareness-raising campaigns.

Governments of countries where caste discrimination is widespread should put in place all necessary constitutional, legislative and administrative measures, including appropriate forms of affirmative action, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste-bound occupation and descent, and put in place effective legal standards at state and local levels.

4. Provision of effective remedies, recourse, redress, (compensatory) and other measures at the national. Regional and international levels.

Impunity for past offenders responsible for massive crimes, including slavery and indentured labor, committed against populations based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance should be abolished in international and national law. Victims are entitled to the truth, to have it recognized publicly, and to compensation for offenses committed. Living offenders should be charged and tried, preferably in national courts of justice, or in appropriate international courts or tribunals. The removal of impunity, formal public accounting for past offenses and compensation are essential to creating public awareness and to the process of social healing and reconciliation in order to break spirals of retribution and violence which pass from generation to generation.

Governments of countries where caste discrimination continues should implement legislation, monitor compliance and provide accessible avenues of redress through instruments accessible to victims; ensure that persons or institutions responsible for discrimination based on caste, occupation or descent do not remain immune from prosecution under the law; and assure that victims are fairly compensated. Degrading practices such as manual scavenging should be brought to an end and persons engaged in them rehabilitated and trained for occupations which respect human dignity.

5. Strategies to achieve full and effective equality, including international cooperation and enhancement of the United Nations and other international mechanisms in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and follow-up.

The consistency and political will exercised by the United Nations in support of those in South Africa who struggled for decades to abolish the apartheid system stands as a pertinent example of the capacity of the international community to address effectively the root causes of racism and racial discrimination. This international, multi-sectoral approach should be reflected in the Programme of Action of the World Conference, taking into account measures ranging from economic cooperation and practice in both public and private sectors, education and awareness-building campaigns, cooperation in the military and security spheres, and others tending to sanction and/or isolate governments of countries where there is a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The call of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights for more effective coordination among United Nations bodies in the field of human rights should be reiterated and strengthened with respect to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

At the national level, participatory mechanisms for assessment of the implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action should be established, possibly within the National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. As provided in the Paris Principles of 1991, the composition of National Institutions should ensure the pluralist representation of civil society, including representatives of organisations involved in efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as discrimination based on descent.

National mechanisms for redress, including the judiciary at all levels, should also comprise persons belonging to groups victim of racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including discrimination based on descent.

At the international level, a thematic mechanism should be established within the United Nations human rights machinery to examine, monitor and publicly report on discriminatory practices related to occupation and descent, including caste.

A permanent follow-up mechanism should be established within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and evaluate programmes to combat racism and to coordinate the exchange of information. This mechanism would monitor and report on the implementation of the final outcome of the World Conference.

A time-defined review of the implementation of the Programme of Action under the auspices of the United Nations should be included in the Programme.

In addition to the recommendations for action included under previous headings, the following should be considered for inclusion the Draft Programme of Action:

  • To establish effective mechanisms for the eradication of poverty and equality on the distribution of wealth within States and basic conditions for the betterment of living conditions of women;
  • To establish effective mechanisms within States to redress the inequalities of opportunities for formal education and employment;
  • To put into place effective measures to prevent and to redress practices of sex tourism and trafficking of women in general, and women whose lives have been affected by racism, caste
  • To ensure that the health systems provide equal treatment to women of racial/ethnic communities and women of descent related to caste, and that their reproductive rights are respected;
  • To affirm the economic, political, social, cultural and spiritual rights of Indigenous Peoples as coequals in the shaping of the world's historical, cultural and spiritual heritage;
  • To foster the building of bridges between Indigenous Peoples and the wider community, and to help unite and strengthen Indigenous Peoples experiences and their existing institutions so that they may play a full and active part in the elimination of racism. The greater diffusion of information about the rights and values of Indigenous Peoples to national and international
  • To reiterate the need for affirmative action to redress the injustices done to all victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia or related intolerance.
  • To conduct studies on toxic and hazardous waste facilities, threatening presence of poisons and pollutants and their impact on the health and livelihood of communities of African-descent, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities; propose measures to control such abuse and punish offenders; and propose domestic and international remedies and compensation for victims of environmental racism.