24 April 2009
As the Durban Review Conference today draws to a close, Al-Haq welcomes the collective endeavours undertaken in Geneva this week towards eliminating the scourge of racism that continues to plague our world. However, Al-Haq is compelled to raise
concerns about the value of the conference to the victims of racial discrimination that it purported to protect, and to condemn the concerted attempts to limit meaningful civil society participation in the conference. It is lamentable that NGOs representing specific victims of severe racial discrimination, including the Roma, the Dalits, the Palestinians and others were purposefully denied the opportunity to hold side-events at the conference, thus preventing the voices of such victims from being heard.
The message relayed as justification was that ‘we are dealing with principles, not with specific peoples or places.’ Racism is, however, not something that occurs in the abstract, but that afflicts real people in real places.
The Palestinian people were among those explicitly listed as victims of racism and racial discrimination by the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). The outcome document adopted by the Durban Review Conference this week re-affirms the DDPA and offers a renewed framework to continue efforts towards the protection of all victims of racial discrimination, including the Palestinians. Paragraph 5 of the outcome document emphasises the importance of combating racial discrimination against those under foreign occupation, and the many important principles elucidated throughout the document provide normative tools with which to address Israel’s policies of institutionalised discrimination against the Palestinians.
However, it is regrettable that references to certain victims of severe racial discrimination have been omitted from the outcome document, and that in many respects, the outcome document is but a weaker reformulation of the 2001 DDPA. Al-Haq echoes the disappointment expressed by the President of the UN General Assembly that “the focus on the victims that was overwhelming at the Durban Conference of 2001 has been diminished in the current text”. A cause of particular concern is the reference in paragraphs 62 and 63 of the outcome document to the past tragedies of slavery, apartheid, colonialism and genocide. These paragraphs provide—at once—a fitting tribute to the memory of the victims of past tragedies, but an insult to the ongoing victims of such odious practices, which unfortunately have not yet been confined to the annals of history. Racial discrimination is at the root of these abhorrent practices, and must be addressed as such.
Al-Haq further joins the voice of widespread dissatisfaction among NGOs that had travelled to Geneva from all regions of the world to find the outcome document adopted by states on the second day of a five-day conference in a quiet and hasty manner that lacked transparency, before the proposals and input of civil society and victims had been heard.
Al-Haq raised all of the above points and concerns, as well as the proliferation of Israel’s unlawful institutionalised, systematic and oppressive system of racial domination over Palestinians in the OPT since 2001, in its oral statement to the plenary session of the conference this morning.
Al-Haq also participated in the Civil Society Forum for the Durban Review Conference, culminating in the adoption of the Geneva 2009 Declaration Against Racism, which goes some way to remedying the failure of the Durban Review Conference by addressing victims, including the Palestinian people and the people of Darfur.
It is the victims of such severe racial discrimination that the Durban Review Conference purported to protect, and it is in their name that Al-Haq urges that the shortcomings of the conference and the distractions of counterproductive political boycotting and grandstanding witnessed this week will not be allowed to undermine the collective and ongoing struggle against racism worldwide. As such, Al-Haq calls on all UN member states—including those who boycotted the conference in order to dodge thorny issues such as reparations for the transatlantic slave trade, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and discrimination against indigenous peoples and migrants in their own jurisdictions—to fully engage with the follow-up process to the Durban Review Conference and to take meaningful steps to address racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations.
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