World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban, South Africa, 26 August - 7 September 2001

Background paper on the draft declaration and programme of action, submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 15 August 2001.

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, has submitted earlier comments for consideration in the drafting of the Draft Declaration and Programme of Action.

This submission in its present form has been revised to integrate the comments and amendments presented by the participants of the Regional Preparatory Consultations organized by the World Council of Churches in Latin America, Asia/Pacific, Africa (two Consultations) and Gender, Religion and Racism for the Africa region.

These preliminary proposals reflect the experience of victims around the world who are members of or related to the 342 member churches of the WCC.

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

No country or 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 - including the churches and church-based organizations and religious institutions - 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 equal economic opportunity in rich ones. The negative impact of economic globalization, which includes racial/ethnic inequities and the exclusion of large sectors from the benefits of the global economy, discriminates especially against former colonies and continuing territorial colonies of European powers in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, against Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, and against native and Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples in predominately-white industrialized nations. Colonization and slavery demonstrated the heinous nature of economic globalization driven by self-interest and devoid of compassion

The dominant source of this social ill is white racism against people of colour 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. The relationship between internal conflict and colonial heritage cannot be overlooked

Caste is a prevalent form of discrimination affecting some 240 million people in South Asia and some parts of Africa, 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.

The role that Christianity has played in denigrating and devaluing Indigenous contributions to the understanding of Christianity in the context of non-Western traditions has to be acknowledged. 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. As a religious institution we recognize that certain religious teachings and practices contribute to and aggravate religious intolerance, as well as perpetuate cultural and racial discrimination. Historically certain religious enterprises have been used as catalysts for colonization, slavery and apartheid. 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, and to acknowledge the spiritualities of Indigenous Peoples as authentic religion, as per the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance. The perpetuation of state religion should be discouraged for it aggravates discrimination of those from other religious affiliation different from the state religion

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

Women and children of colour often suffer first and most severely the effects of racism, sexism, caste and class discrimination. Societies and social systems dominated by patriarchal attitudes and use of power often favour 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 of colour are trapped in their daily lives. Women of color throughout the world are victims of this triangle of discrimination.

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 and displaced peoples and those living in colonized territories, 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 environmentally hazardous 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 maternal, infant and adult mortality; poor health; poverty; diminished economic opportunities and substandard housing. Their quality of life overall is degraded.

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. These policies made by such governments are designed to keep people of color out of these countries and to control their population growth. 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. They have no recourse for redress of any form of violence to which they are subjected.

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 political and religious persecution, human rights violations, war, poverty, and environmental degradation. Governments should refrain from keeping asylum seekers in prison for long periods of time while their case is being processed.

Governments should develop awareness-raising programmes 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.

Governments should acknowledge that the institutions of their societies have been built on the values, beliefs and traditions of white society, and as such deny the values, beliefs, and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples.

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. Governments should also evaluate and dismantle any racist judicial structures/procedures that render people of colour vulnerable to judgement without proper legal representation or a fair trial.

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, caste or descent. 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. History text books and teaching materials need to be rewritten, to reflect the perspective of those who have suffered colonization, slavery, apartheid, genocide, religious conquest, etc.

Programmes promoting tolerance, language recovery, the recovery of truth in history and multi-culturalism should be encouraged in the schools and through public awareness-raising campaigns. Targets for equitable outcomes should be set, and monitoring mechanisms put in place.

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.

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, colonization, apartheid, genocide and indentured labour, 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. Removing impunity and allowing formal public accounting for past offenses and compensation are important for increasing public awareness and essential to the process of social healing and reconciliation in order to break spirals of retribution and violence which pass from generation to generation. The removal of impunity for past offenders must be accompanied by the redistribution of national wealth, e.g. land and financial and industrial institutions.

The international community should establish international structures to prosecute those who benefit from armed conflict through their sale and supply of arms to warring parties, and the extortion of natural resources such as oil, diamonds and gold.

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, or for the trafficking of women, 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. Their contribution to society must be recognized and adequately compensated.

The UN WCAR presents governments with the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and design new ways of combating racism today. While the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination condemns racial discrimination, it does not provide strategies for remedies. These remedies may come in the form of reparations to victims and communities who have suffered racism, including the cancellation of debt for former colonized poor countries, which are highly indebted to financial and governmental institutions of former colonizers.

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 international community must refrain from declaring reconciliation without justice or without the establishment of mechanisms that would prevent further racial discrimination and violence.

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 thepPromotion 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 organizations 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 representing victims 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.

The international community should institute a political and legal mechanism that will prevent the flow of resources from poor countries to rich countries through corruption and unequal trade policies, and begin the repatriation of such extorted resources back to poor countries.

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

  • To establish effective mechanisms for the eradication of poverty and equality on the distribution of wealth within States and basic conditions to improve the living conditions of women and children;
  • 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 and children in general, and women and children whose lives have been affected by racism and 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 ensure accessibility of health facilities and medication to women of color.
  • To institute compensatory measures to all victims of racial violence and discrimination, and establish programs to uplift the well-being of the victims;
  • 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 establish effective policies for land redistribution in colonized countries where Indigenous Peoples have been displaced from their land;
  • 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. To encourage greater diffusion of information about the rights and values of Indigenous Peoples and their traditional cultures at national and international levels;
  • To establish international policies to monitor and prosecute multinational corporations that are involved in the exploitation of communities of color, engaged in child labour and those that practice environmental racism;
  • 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;
  • To establish mechanisms in which to monitor the role of media in perpetuating racial stereotypes and exacerbating racial violence.
  • To establish legal systems free of racial prejudices and end the criminalization of people of color;
  • To conduct in-depth analysis of the negative impact of racial and gender discrimination on women of color, and implement legislation, policies and educational strategies to protect their rights;
  • To render visible the multiple forms of discrimination to which women of color are subjected, in order to establish effective measures to end these forms of multiple discrimination.