Tuesday, April 21, 2009

COMMENT: The UN and Racism ...

Today the UN Durban Review Conference began in Geneva. There's been plenty of news and comment about a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Various Western countries have boycotted the event, among them Australia. The original conference was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. That conference saw the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

Ironically 2001 was the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilizations after the adoption of a proposal by another Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami. The purpose of that year was to underline
... tolerance and respect for diversity and the need to seek common ground among and within civilizations in order to address common challenges to humanity that threaten shared values, universal human rights and the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, through cooperation, partnership and inclusion.
So we have one Iranian president who encouraged dialogue and another Iranian president who (we are told) doesn't want dialogue.

The Durban Conference recognised that racism had to be made a priority as the world entered the third millenium.
We recognize and affirm that, at the outset of the third millennium, a global fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and all their abhorrent and evolving forms and manifestations is a matter of priority for the international community ...

The conference recognised that people in Africa were especially made victims of racism and xenophobia. Any notion of racial superiority was specifically rejected, as was anything resembling apartheid.
Any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and must be rejected along with theories which attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.

Durban specifically recognised slavery as a crime against humanity affecting specifically people of African, Asian and indigenous descent. Colonialism was also seen as a direct cause (if not manifestation) of racism and xenophobia. Readers of certain tabloid newspapers holding inflammatory views on asylum seekers might feel disturbed by this paragraph from the Durban declaration:
We recognize that xenophobia against non-nationals, particularly migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism and that human rights violations against members of such groups occur widely in the context of discriminatory, xenophobic and racist practices

It's only when you read and ponder over the 62-page document that you realise just how dangerous racism, racial intolerance and xenophobia are. Racism is seen as a major root cause of wars. The socio-economic development of numerous nations is hampered by racism. Further, racism is gaining a respectable face, even becoming part of the platform of major political parties and becoming part of mainstream political discourse.
... contemporary forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia are striving to regain political, moral and even legal recognition in many ways, including through the platforms of some political parties and organizations and the dissemination through modern communication technologies of ideas based on the notion of racial superiority.

It is interesting in the context of the current asylum seeker debate that the Durban declaration specifically referred to ...
... the urgent need to prevent, combat and eliminate all forms of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children, and recognize that victims of trafficking are particularly exposed to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Andrew Bolt and his fan club, who rarely miss any opportunity to demonise African migrants to Australia, should overlook the following paragraph:
We recognize that people of African descent have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement and of the denial by history of many of their rights, and assert that they should be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and should not suffer discrimination of any kind ... We recognize that in many parts of the world, Africans and people of African descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions

And the following paragraph from the Durban declaration has some relevance to legislation underpinning the Northern Territory Intervention which seeks to exempt itself from the provisions of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.
We emphasize that, in order for indigenous peoples freely to express their own identity and exercise their rights, they should be free from all forms of discrimination, which necessarily entails respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In other words, you cannot remove indigenous disadvantage by institutionalising racism.

It seems the products of such anti-racism conferences necessarily make certain persons feel uncomfortable. Usually these individuals (and in many cases, nation states) are so quick to find any excuse to condemn these events. More to come.