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UN Expert Calls for 'Red Alert' on Resurgent Global Racism

New York
March 22, 2004

A United Nations expert today called for a red alert to warn the world about racism and xenophobia as the alarming resurgence and vitality of the traditional forms of discrimination are joined by new forms of discrimination affecting the non-national, the refugee and the immigrant.

"The new ideological landscape is structured both by the excessive emphasis placed on combating terrorism and the inclusion of cultural and religious elements, which create cultural conflicts and new discriminatory practices aimed at many different groups," said Doudou Diene, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

A new, open and public form of thought was trying to justify racism and racial discrimination for security and defence reasons, and rejecting ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism, he told the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Statements on the Right of Peoples to Self-Determination

SARA MENDOZA, of International Indian Treaty Council, said no substantial progress had been achieved in the Working Group on the draft Declaration on Indigenous Peoples since there were Governments in the Working Group that were opposed to the adoption of the Declaration. These Governments, mainly from the North, wished to establish rules to declare first and second class peoples, and Indigenous Peoples rejected that, as there was no international legislation establishing this, and the right to self-determination was the backbone of all the other articles for indigenous peoples, who were denied this right. This denied their existence as peoples. There were many Governments who favoured the adoption of the Declaration, but also had laws in their own countries to that effect. The Commission should urge Governments to adopt this right, and extend the mandate of the Working Group to enable it to finish its work.

--- Excerpt from United Nations Press Release: Commission on Human Rights Begins Discussion on Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia

Meanwhile, the UN observed its oldest and most widely ratified human rights convention, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, yesterday, a day which also commemorated South Africa's Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960.

"Although the principle of non-discrimination has been established as one of the foundations of international law, the persistence of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, demonstrates the need to look for new ways to address this age-old problem," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message to mark the day.

The General Assembly declared 21 March the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966, one year after the treaty was adopted and six years after apartheid South Africa's police fired on some 20,000 unarmed black people protesting at restrictive "pass laws." Sixty-nine blacks were killed and hundreds wounded in the incident.

The subsequent achievements of South Africa, "reborn as a free nation exactly 10 years ago," were only too rare, said Bertrand Ramcharan, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, "for if progress has been made around the world, we are still witnesses to widespread racism and xenophobia."

"There is no starker reminder of this reality than that other, grim anniversary we are marking this year: the 1994 genocide that decimated Rwanda even as South Africans were realizing their dream of liberation," he said. "Today, people are still dying in too many places around the world because of their race or ethnic origin."

With racially-motivated violence leading to extrajudicial killings, rape, displacement and other violations, he said, "It is the duty of all States to protect their citizens against such evils."

The international community must ensure that humanitarian and human rights law covered all people without discrimination, even in situations of armed conflict, he added.

The Convention, which has been signed and ratified by 128 of the UN's 191 Member States, has been in force since 1969. Earlier this month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed the hope that all countries would soon accede to that treaty.