The World Conference against racism,
racial discrimination, xenophobia
and related intolerance
Durban,South Africa, 31 August to 7 September 2001
In 1998, the General Assembly decided to proclaim 2001 as the International Year of Mobilization against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This observance will help to draw world attention to the objectives of the Conference and to provide a momentum for further political commitment to the elimination of racism and racial discrimination.

Equality ,  justice ,  dignity

The World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
During the last fifty years since the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community has made some important advances in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. National and international laws have been enacted and numerous international human rights instruments, particularly a treaty to ban racial discrimination, have been adopted. Progress has been made -witness the defeat of apartheid in South Africa. Yet, the dream of a world free of racial hatred and bias remains only half fulfilled.

As technology brings the peoples of the world closer together and political barriers tumble, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance continue to ravage our societies. Horrors such as "ethnic cleansing" have emerged in recent years, while ideas of racial superiority have spread to new media like the Internet. Even globalization carries risks that can lead to exclusion and increased inequality, very often along racial and ethnic lines.

As racial discrimination and ethnic violence grow in complexity, they become more of a challenge for the international community. As a result, new tools to deal with racism are called for. "This World Conference has the potential to be among the most significant gatherings at the start of this century," the Secretary-General of the Conference and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, stated. "It can be more: it can shape and embody the spirit of the new century, based on the shared conviction that we are all members of one human family."

Meeting the challenge at the millennium

In 1997, the General Assembly decided, in resolution 52/111, to hold the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The World Conference which will be held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September 2001, will be a landmark in the struggle to eradicate all forms of racism "requiring a strong follow-up mechanism to examine whether Governments have delivered on their promises made," according to the High Commissioner. She promised "to make it a conference of actions not just words." The World Conference is a unique opportunity to create a new world vision for the fight against racism in the twenty-first century.

The Preparatory process

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is acting as the preparatory committee for the World Conference. Prior to the Conference, two preparatory intergovernmental meetings are planned. The first was held in Geneva from 1 to 5 May 2000, and the second will be held from 21 May to 1 June 2001, also in Geneva. At the first meeting, governments took a number of organizational decisions, including the adoption of the provisional agenda for the Conference and its draft rules of procedure. Member States also held informal consultations in January where they took stock of the recommendations of six experts seminars that took place in the last two years. They also discussed the draft declaration and programme of action, to be adopted by the Conference.

During 1999 and 2000 six regional experts seminars were held in: Geneva, Warsaw, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Santiago de Chile. The objectives of each seminar was to discuss the issues of priority concern for that region, to advance the regional dialogue on racism, raise awareness, share information on the issues of racism and intolerance and to share "best practices".

The experts seminars focused on issues such as refugees and multi-ethnic states, remedies available to victims, protection of minorities, migrants and trafficking of persons, ethnic conflicts and economic and social measures for vulnerable groups.

Regional intergovernmental meetings are also being held. During the year 2000, European countries met in Strasbourg in October; the meeting for the Americas was held in Santiago de Chile in December; the African regional preparatory meeting took place in Dakar in January 2001; and the meeting of the Asian group was held in Tehran in February 2001.

Non-governmental organizations have adopted a similar preparatory process worldwide.

The Provisional Agenda

The elements of the provisional agenda are to be grouped under the following themes:
Theme 1: Sources, cause, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance;

Theme 2: Victims of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance;

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

Theme 4: Provision for effective remedies, recourses, redress, [compensatory] and other measures at the national, regional and international levels;

Theme 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.

The bracket in theme 4 indicates that a consensus could not be reached on the word "compensatory".

Global Action against Racism

Since its creation, the United Nations has struggled to find measures to combat racial discrimination and ethnic violence. This commitment to human dignity and equality is reflected in its adoption of a number of resolutions, conventions and declarations, including:

The International Year

In 1998, the General Assembly decided to proclaim 2001 as the International Year of Mobilization against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This observance will help to draw world attention to the objectives of the Conference and to provide a momentum for further political commitment to the elimination of racism and racial discrimination.


The Race Dimensions of Trafficking in Persons – Especially Women and Children

In a slowing global economy, one sector is bucking the trend. Each year, millions of individuals, the majority women and children, are tricked, sold, coerced or otherwise forced into situations of exploitation from which they cannot escape.  They are the commodities in a multi-billion dollar global industry dominated by highly organized criminal groups operating with impunity.

The “new slave trade”, as Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called it at a conference in Lagos last February, has grown recently in severity and in magnitude. Reliable figures are hard to come by, but it is estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are trafficked annually to the United States alone. Increasing economic hardship, particularly in developing and transitional countries, onerous obstacles to legal migration and serious armed conflict have coincided with a rise in the number of trafficking cases as well as a spreading of the problem to areas which were previously less affected.

Trafficking is a phenomenon that affects and implicates all regions and most countries of the world. While trafficking routes are constantly changing, one constant factor is the economic distinction between countries of origin and countries of destination. As with all other forms of irregular migration, trafficking invariably involves movement from a poorer country to a wealthier one. Southeast Asian women women are trafficked to North America and other Southeast Asian countries. African women are trafficked to Western Europe. The breakup of the former Soviet Union and the resulting economic and political dislocation has led to a dramatic increase in the number of women trafficked from Central and Eastern Europe.

Trafficking will also flourish during and after protracted social conflict. The former Yugoslavia has become a primary trafficking destination as well as an important transit and processing centre for women from central and Eastern Europe.There is evidence to suggest that during the Kosovo crisis, women and girls were kidnapped by armed gangs or otherwise lured from the refugee camps of Northern Albania. Several international organisations have reported that trafficking to and from Kosovo and other parts of the Former Yugloslavia is now on the rise in response to a perceived demand for prostitution on the part of wealthy foreign workers, including United Nations peacekeepers.

How Trafficking Happens

Traffickers use a variety of recruitment methods including outright abduction and purchase from family members. However, in most cases, the potential trafficking victim is already seeking a chance to migrate when she is approached by an acquaintance or lured through an advertisement. Some are tricked into believing they are being recruited for legitimate employment or marriage abroad. Others know they are being recruited into the sex industry and even that they will be obliged to work in order to pay back large recruitment and transportation fees but are deceived about their conditions of work. The web of dependence is a complex one. Traffickers generally seek to exercise control over a victim’s legal identity by confiscating her passport or official papers. Her entry or stay in the destination country is usually illegal – serving to increase her reliance on the traffickers. Debt bondage is widely used to control trafficked persons and to ensure their continued profitability. Physical restraint, violence, and intimidation are frequently reported.

Traffickers are rarely apprehended and even more rarely prosecuted. Penalties for trafficking are relatively light when compared to the smuggling of drugs or weapons. Once reason for the poor law enforcement response to trafficking is the low incidence of reporting. This is not difficult to understand. Victims of trafficking are rarely treated as anything other than criminals by the authorities of the receiving state and are often detained, prosecuted, and deported. This reality, combined with a fear of reprisals from traffickers, means that trafficked persons have little incentive to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the destination countries. A lack of knowledge of legal rights and entitlements, cultural and linguistic obstacles and the absence of support mechanisms combine to further isolate trafficked women and to prevent them from seeking or receiving justice.

The Critical Link Between Trafficking and Racial Discrimination

Although the links between trafficking and racial bias are not immediately clear they are nonetheless undeniable. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson put it, “Trafficking is … inherently discriminatory. In the case of trafficking into the global sex industry, we are talking about men from relatively prosperous countries paying for the sexual services of women and girls – and sometimes man and boys – from less wealthy countries. This is more than a labour rights issue or an issue of unequal development. It is a basic human rights issue because it involves such a massive and harmful form of discrimination”.

Because the overwhelming majority of trafficked persons are women, trafficking is usually considered to be a gender issue and the result of discrimination on the basis of sex. It is rarely analyzed from the perspective of race discrimination. There has been little discussion of whether race, or other forms of discrimination, contribute to the likelihood of women and girls becoming victims of trafficking. However, when attention is paid to which women are most at risk of being trafficked, the link of this risk to their racial and social marginalization becomes clear. Moreover, race and racial discrimination may not only constitute a risk factor for trafficking, it may also determine the treatment that women experience in countries of destination. In addition, racist ideology and racial, ethnic and gender discrimination may create a demand in the region or country of destination which could contribute to trafficking in women and girls.

The connections between trafficking and racial discrimination has been the focus of much of the preparation for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to take place in Durban, South Africa, in the autumn. During last September’s Asia-Pacific Seminar of Experts in Preparation for the World Conference, Thailand emphasized the interaction of gender and racial discrimination. According to the country’s delegation, some women of certain racial or ethnic groups were subjected to abuses in larger measure than other women, while particular forms of violations, such as trafficking in women and girls frequently involved racist attitudes and perceptions, and were often directed at certain racial and ethnic groups, indigenous women and migrants.

Participants at the Bangkok meeting also agreed that racist ideology fuels trafficking and that the “commodification” of women’s sexuality results in abuse of women and girls. The experts called for widespread awareness raising regarding the reality and scope of trafficking, including the use of deceit and force to imprison and coerce victims. Governments were urged to combat racism and trafficking and political leaders called on to refrain from utterances that could encourage racism. An expert group meeting on gender and racial discrimination (Zagreb, Croatia, 21-24 November, 2000) recommended that the World Conference pay specific attention to the issue of gender in considering its themes and to take into account the intersection between gender discrimination and racial discrimination.


There are no easy solutions to the plague of trafficking, but its magnitude requires quick action. As High Commissioner Mary Robinson has stated, combating the phenomenon will require holistic, interdisciplinary and long-term approaches which address each aspect of the trafficking cycle and which recognize explicitly the connections between trafficking, migration, racism and racial discrimination. This job has only recently begun, and taking it forward will be one of the challenges before the delegates at the Durban conference. They will have little room for failure -- the fate of millions of women and children around the world is the balance.

Working Far From Home – Migration and Discrimination

Al Hussein is 19. He is struggling to stay seated on top of a huge truck crossing the desert. He has been riding like that for hours, breathing dust, in an unbearable heat. He has left his home, his twin brother, and the rest of his family down South. Beyond the desert lies the sea, and maybe, if he is lucky a boat to Europe where he hopes to get a job, to start a new life, and to send money to his village.

Al Hussein is hardly alone in his perilous trek. Some 150 million men, women and even children, about three percent of the world's population, are outside their country of origin coming as strangers to the country where they reside. There is no continent, no region of the world which has no migrants within its boundaries. Every country has become a country of origin, transit or destination of migrants. Many are all three. More than half of international migrants live in developing countries. According to the International Organization for Migration, the largest numbers of international migrants are located in Asia; Europe and North America have about equal numbers followed by Africa, Latin America, and Oceania with progressively fewer numbers.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that up to 80 million of these are migrant workers. In 1997, ILO estimated that the number of migrant workers was as follows: Africa, 20 Million; North America, 17 million; Central and South America 12 million; Asia 7 million; the Middle East (Arab countries), 9 million, and Europe 30 million.

Migration is hardly a recent or localised phenomenon. Women and men have been leaving their homelands in search of a better job and a life elsewhere since payment in return for labour was introduced. People also leave their own countries because of civil conflicts and insecurity or persecution. However, in this globalised world, we are witnessing an unprecedently high labour mobility and an increasing pressure of migration. Gareth Howell, International Labour Organization representative to the United Nations, points out that "the increasing restrictions on immigration leads to increased trafficking of migrants often with tragic personal consequences."

Women and children account for more than half of the refugees and internally displaced persons, and their proportion is increasing in the case of other categories of migrants. 96 per cent of children who work and sleep in the street are migrants about half of them girls aged between 8 and 14.

Migrants are a particularly vulnerable group and see their rights routinely violated, not only as workers, but as human beings. They commonly face discrimination and xenophobic hostility. According to the International Organization for migration (IOM) migrants "are more and more targeted as the scapegoats for all manner of domestic problems facing societies today, particularly unemployment, crime, drugs, even terrorism." As noted by Ms Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants "This is especially true in the case of the many migrants who are undocumented or in an irregular situation, including the victims of trafficking in persons, who are the most vulnerable to human rights violations." According to the UN, between 300,000 and 600,000 women are smuggled each year into the European Union and certain Central European countries. The problem is also widespread in Africa and Latin America.

Ms Rodriguez Pizarro says in her report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, "people whose colour, physical appearances, dress, accent or religion are different from those of the majority in the host country are often subjected to physical violence and other violations of their rights, independently of their legal status." She adds: " A sense of alienation is part of being a migrant."

Her report notes that in the last decade, there has been an alarming upsurge in intolerance, discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the form of outright violence against migrants in practically every region of the world. The report notes that racism may be aggravated by inequitable distribution of wealth, marginalisation and social exclusion. New communication technologies, including the Internet are being used to disseminate racist and xenophobic propaganda against migrants. The report also stresses the double marginalisation of migrant women who may easily find themselves in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence and abuse, both at home and at work. The exchange of sexual favours for permission to transit, which is common practice on some borders, is also a form of gender-based abuse to which migrant women are often subjected. Women migrant workers dominate the informal sector of most countries, working as domestic, industrial or agricultural labour or in the service sector.

At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January 2001, Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary-General of the World Conference against Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, warned business leaders that "workplace discrimination continues to be a serious concern worldwide." She said: "Studies show that racial discrimination in the workplace can have serious effects on minorities and migrant workers and on the future development and careers of their children. Employees who are victimized on the basis of their race, colour, nationality, descent or ethnicity suffer stress, anger and fatigue which eventually can detract from the quality of work." She had also recently expressed concern at "the harsh treatment meted towards the children and the families of migrants, the incidence of fear and dislike of foreigners reflected in both the private and public sectors, and the treatment of trafficked persons as criminals for their irregular residence over which they have no control."

In Palermo, Italy, in December 2000, over a hundred countries signed the Convention against transnational organized crime and its accompanying protocols on trafficking women and children and smuggling of migrants. However, although 16 countries have already ratified the 1990 International Convention on the protection of migrants rights, it still needs the commitment of four governments to enter into force. Mary Robinson has made a strong appeal to governments "to ratify the Convention as soon as possible so that its protective regime can be brought to bear upon the million of migrant workers in different parts of the world." She said: "High unemployment rates among immigrants are aggravated by prejudice on the part of employers against immigrants. This impedes upward mobility and diminishes the capacity of their children to advance economically in adult life."

At a seminar held in Bangkok in October 2000 in preparation of the upcoming World Conference against Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, experts noted that immigration by people who are seen as being strongly different creates a tension between demand for labour and perceived erosion of the integrity of local culture. One expert said "the elimination of prejudice towards the outsider in the society is going to be a much more difficult and long-term problem to resolve than legal and institutional forms of discrimination." They all agreed on the need for educational programmes at both ends of the immigration process to result in the appreciation of diversity and the development of tolerance. The Seminar also noted with concern the vulnerability of a new subgroup of migrant children whose numbers are increasing. These are the children of migrant women who have been raped, children of mixed parentage and children of migrants born in the destination/host country. These children are subjected to racial discrimination and are often stigmatized not only in host countries but also in their home communities and countries.

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly marked for the first time 18 December as "International Migrant Day" in the hope that this will help to recognize the contribution of migrants in the advancement of their host and home countries economies.

Recent estimates by the International Monetary Fund calculate that migrant workers' earning s sent back to home countries accounted for 77 billion dollars in 1997, second only to world petroleum exports in international trade monetary flows.

The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerance is scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September 2001.

At the Crossroads of Gender and Racial Discrimination

The injustices suffered by victims of racial discrimination and related intolerance are well-known: limited employment opportunities; segregation; and endemic poverty are only a few among these. The disadvantages faced by women in societies around the world are also familiar: lower pay for work of equal value; high illiteracy rates; and poor access to health care. While race is one reason for inequality and gender is another, they are not mutually exclusive forms of discrimination. Indeed, too often they intersect, giving rise to compounded or double discrimination.

For many women factors relating to their social identity such as race, colour, ethnicity and national origin become "differences that make a difference". These factors can create problems that are unique to particular groups of women or that disproportionately affect some women relative to others.

Consider the societal roadblocks experienced by a Roma woman living in Eastern Europe. As a member of the Romani population, she has few advocates and is the target of constant hostility. She is marginalized within her community because of her minority status and within her family because of her gender. The same can be said of an aboriginal woman living in Australia, a Dalit woman living in India, a female asylum seeker living in England and so on. These women live at the crossroads of gender and racial discrimination.

Without taking race into account, the statistics on the status of the world's women show that women have a long way to go before achieving equality with men. According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), women fall short in many of the main indicators that measure progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment.

The literacy rate for women worldwide is 71.4 percent, compared with 83.7 per cent for men. Of the 960 million illiterate adults, two-thirds are women. The gender gap in earning persists, with women employed in industry and services typically earning 78 per cent of what men earn in the same sector. Women's share of decision-making positions reached 30 per cent in only 28 countries in the 1990s. Additionally, of 1.3 billion people living in poverty, 70 per cent are women.

When a woman's race is factored in to her experience, the double burden of gender and racial discrimination and related intolerance becomes evident. Areas of particular concern include the disadvantages faced by minority women in the labour market, trafficking in women, and race-based violence against women.

Minority, immigrant and indigenous women in many societies have limited employment opportunities and are often at the bottom of the labour market. Many of these women hold jobs in free trade zones, the informal economy or unregulated sectors. Maurice Glegle-Ahanhanzo, the special investigator or rapporteur on the subject of contermporary forms of racism of the UN Commission on Human Rights, , studied the situation of minority women in the labour market when he visited Brazil in 1995. He concluded that "black women receive the lowest salaries (four times lower than those of a white man), are employed in the most unhealthy locations, work a triple working day and face threefold discrimination."

Another serious aspect of compounded discrimination, trafficking in women, was addressed in a report presented to the Commission on Human Rights by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the special rapporteur on violence against women. In her report she states that the exploitation of migrants by traffickers "place women in situations in which they are unprotected or only marginally protected by law. Overt forms of violence, including, but not limited to rape, torture, arbitrary execution, deprivation of liberty, forced labour and forced marriage, are perpetrated against women who seek to exercise their freedom of movement".

Ms. Coomaraswamy makes a direct link between anti-immigrant policies, the absence of equal opportunities for women and the phenomenon of trafficking in women. Her report states that, "restrictive and exclusionary immigrant policies serve as important causative factors in the persistence and prevalence of trafficking." When women do not have rights or when such rights are not respected by the State and in the absence of equal opportunities for education and employment, they are made more vulnerable than their male counterparts.

Ethnic or race-based violence against women is considered the most recognizable example of intersectional discrimination. Incidents of rape in Bosnia, Kosovo, Burundi and Rwanda represent race-based targeting of women for an explicitly gender-based violation. Additionally, ethnic conflict produces a large number of female refugees who then become vulnerable to sexual violence and gender-related issues. Rape against women picked because of their ethnic or religious origin has now been recognized as a weapon of war by both International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and prosecuted accordingly.

Until recently, the intersection of gender and racial discrimination and its consequences had not been subject to detailed consideration. The problems were categorized as manifestations of either one form of discrimination or the other, but not both. Ultimately, this allowed the full scope of the problem to escape analysis, which then lead to ineffective or inadequate remedies. This is now changing. Through its "gender mainstreaming" policy, the United Nations, for example, is acknowledging the different ways in which gender roles and gender relations shape women's and men's access to rights, resources and opportunities. The ultimate goal is to achieve equality.

The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to be held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September 2001 will be addressing many of these difficult issues directly. The Secretary-General fo the Conference, High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, told a European regional meeting held in Strasbourg last October in prepartion for the Durban conference that, "patterns of modern racism are worryingly different. We need to pay particular attention to gender and racism, and recognize the double discrimination which can occur".

At a recent Asia-Pacific expert seminar in preparation for the World Conference, participants paid particular attention to two consequences of compounded discrimination: irregular migration and trafficking in women. The Seminar noted that, "racial, ethnic and gender discrimination were root causes of migration and trafficking". It was recommended that, during the World Conference, "special focus be put on gender issues and gender discrimination, particularly the multiple jeopardy that occurs when gender, class, race and ethnicity intersect".

The High Commissioner for Human Rights said in New York in February that she believed the Durban Conference could be "a potential Magna Carta for victims". "The hope is for the victims of racism and compounded discrimination to have a positive sense of what the human rights agenda can do for them". Women who suffer from double discrimination will be looking to the Conference to come up with concrete and realistic proposals to address their problems and would accept no less, she added.

The Phantom of Racism
Racism and Indigenous Peoples
     "Racism has historically been a banner to justify the enterprises of expansion, conquest, colonization and domination and has walked hand in hand with intolerance, injustice and violence."
       - Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan Indigenous Leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
       "The Problem of Racism on the Threshold of the 21st Century"

"Doctrines of Dispossession" - Racism against Indigenous peoples

Historians and academics agree that the colonization of the New World saw extreme expressions of racism - massacres, forced-march relocations, the "Indian wars", death by starvation and disease. Today, such practices would be called ethnic cleansing and genocide. What seems even more appalling for contemporary minds is that the subjugation of the native peoples of the New World was legally sanctioned. "Laws" of "discovery", "conquest" and "terra nullius" made up the "doctrines of dispossession", according to Erica Irene Daes, chairperson/rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, in a study on indigenous peoples and their relationship to land.

Specifically, in the fifteenth century, two Papal Bulls set the stage for European domination of the New World and Africa. Romanus Pontifex, issued by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal in 1452, declared war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories. Inter Caetera, issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 to the King and Queen of Spain following the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the island he called Hispaniola, officially established Christian dominion over the New World. It called for the subjugation of the native inhabitants and their territories, and divided all newly discovered or yet-to-be discovered lands into two - giving Spain rights of conquest and dominion over one side of the globe and Portugal over the other. The subsequent Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) re-divided the globe with the result that most Brazilians today speak Portuguese rather than Spanish, as in the rest of Latin America. The Papal Bulls have never been revoked, although indigenous representatives have asked the Vatican to consider doing so.

These "doctrines of discovery" provided the basis for both the "law of nations" and subsequent international law. Thus, they allowed Christian nations to claim "unoccupied lands" (terra nullius), or lands belonging to "heathens" or "pagans". In many parts of the world, these concepts later gave rise to the situation of many Native peoples in the today - dependent nations or wards of the State, whose ownership of their land could be revoked - or "extinguished" -- at any time by the Government.

Indigenous leaders today contend that it is essentially discriminatory that native title does not confer the same privileges as ordinary title. According to Mick Dodson, an Australian Aboriginal lawyer, the concept of extinguishment "treats indigenous rights and interests in land as inferior to all other titles". According to indigenous law and custom, indigenous interests can only hold native title, and, according to the law put into place since then by the European immigrants, native title can be extinguished.

Indigenous Peoples in the 'New World'

The world's indigenous peoples - or "first peoples" - do not share the same story of colonization. In the New World, white European colonizers arrived and settled suddenly, with drastic results. The indigenous peoples were pushed aside and marginalized by the dominant descendents of Europeans. Some peoples have disappeared, or nearly so. Modern estimates place the 15th century, or pre-Columbus, population of North America at 10 to 12 million. By the 1890s, it had been reduced to approximately 300,000. In parts of Latin America, the results were similar; in others, there are still majority indigenous populations. But even in those areas, indigenous people are often at a disadvantage. Indigenous peoples in Latin America still face the same obstacles as indigenous peoples elsewhere - primarily, separation from their lands. And that separation is usually based on distinctions originally deriving from race.

Indigenous peoples in the 'Old World'

Among African peoples, there are clearly groups of peoples who have always lived where they are, who have struggled to maintain their culture, their language and their way of life, and who suffer problems similar to those of indigenous peoples everywhere, particularly when forcibly separated from their lands. These include poverty, marginalization, the loss of culture and language, and the subsequent problems of identity that often lead to social problems such as alcoholism and suicide. Because of these particular similarities, many people find it useful and suitable to consider such groups indigenous peoples.

The hunter-gatherer Forest Peoples (Pygmies) of the central African rainforests, comprising many groups, are threatened by conservation policies, logging, the spread of agriculture, and political upheavals and civil wars. They are usually at the bottom of the social structure. It is ironic that modern conservation policies intended to protect species of animals, not groups of humans, forbid many of these hunter-gatherers from hunting.

Nomadic pastoralist peoples like the Maasai and Samburu of east Africa are struggling with the encroachment of farming and conservation into their areas. As they are limited to smaller and smaller spaces, it becomes more and more difficult for them to maintain their livestock, especially in difficult periods, such as times of drought. Increasingly, they are being forced to move to urban areas.

The San, or Bushmen, of southern Africa have in some cases disappeared, or nearly so, as they have lost or been driven from their traditional homelands. Large numbers remain in Namibia, but they are usually impoverished and unable to live their traditional way of life. Many of them, with nowhere to go, have simply stayed, and now find themselves poorly paid laborers on farms - made up of their traditional territory -- now owned by whites or by other Africans.

The Imazighen (Berbers) are the indigenous peoples of northern Africa and the Sahel. The best known Imazighen may be the Tuareg. Most Imazighen who have not been assimilated live in the mountains or the desert. In Mediterranean areas, they have become sedentary; those living in the desert are usually nomadic. Today they exist as small linguistic pockets, with few, if any, cultural protections. Activists are working to maintain their language and culture.

"Well-intentioned" discrimination: the cost

In Australia, Canada and the United States, one practice which has only been recognized as discriminatory and damaging in the second half of the 20th century is the forced removal of Native/Aboriginal children from their homes. In Australia, the practice focused on mixed-race Aboriginal children, who were forcibly taken from their parents and given to adoptive white families. These children usually grew up without the knowledge that they were in fact partly Aboriginal. Today they have been named the "Stolen Generation".

In the US and Canada, Native children were sent to the notorious residential schools, which persisted well into the latter part of the 20th century. Language, religion and cultural beliefs were often the objects of ridicule. Speaking native words was forbidden, and often earned physical punishment - to force a stubborn Indian child to learn to speak good English. Contact with parents and family was often discouraged, or even disallowed. In the worst examples, to discourage run-aways, children were told their parents had died, that there was no home to return to; or, vice versa, to discourage parental visits, families were told that their children had died. In an ironic twist, these falsehoods sometimes proved prophetic: there were cases where children did run away in mid-winter, dressed only in nightclothes, hoping to find their way home. Today it is assumed that they froze to death, as their parents have never been able to find them.

In an earlier age, these actions were defended as being in the "best interests" of the Indian/Aboriginal child, to improve her chances in the modern world. Assimilation was the goal. The value inherent in indigenous cultures and knowledge was not then recognized.

In isolated areas, some residential schools attracted faculty and staff of the sort who prey on children. Extensive physical and sexual abuse has been documented. In North America, as the abuse has come to light, victims have been identified and there have been attempts to provide remedies and retribution.

The United Nations Tackles the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations

The United Nations first focused its attention formally on the problems of indigenous peoples in the context of its work against racism and discrimination.

In 1970, the Subcommission on Prevention and Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (a subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights) commissioned Special Rapporteur Martinez Cobo of Ecuador to undertake a study on "The Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations". That monumental study, completed only in 1984, carefully documented modern discrimination against indigenous peoples and their precarious situation. His report catalogued the wide variety of laws in place to protect native peoples: some of these were discriminatory in concept, and others were routinely disregarded by the dominant community. It concluded that the continuous discrimination against indigenous peoples threatened their existence.

The report found that some governments denied that indigenous peoples existed within their borders. Others denied the existence of any kind of discrimination - in contradiction to the reality encountered. It described cases where the governmental authorities, when reporting on the situation of indigenous peoples, unwittingly betrayed their baldly discriminatory thinking. For example, a governmental official in the Americas replied to Mr. Cobo's request for information on "protective measures" by stating: "In our civil legislation, the Indians are not even included among the incapable persons." Another responded: "They are not inscribed in the Birth Register, which means that they have no legal civil personality. They are beings without political, social or economic obligations. They do not vote. They pay no taxes." A judicial decision concluded that an Indian could not be found guilty of homicide because of "unsurmountable ignorance", stating "Although in our country they belong to the category of Citizens with rights and duties…. The Indian does not reach the text of Law. He does not understand it."

The establishment of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982 was a direct result of the Cobo study. Consisting of five independent experts, the Working Group meets annually in Geneva, and, until now, has been the only arena in the United Nations system in which indigenous peoples could state their views. The United Nations International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004) has helped to focus efforts in the UN system on two primary goals: the creation of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the drafting of a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The draft Declaration is still under consideration by the UN Commission on Human Rights. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN Charter body to which the Commission on Human Rights reports, recently took steps to establish the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which will consist of eight governmental experts and eight indigenous representatives. Indigenous representatives will for the first time be allowed to address directly an official United Nations Charter body, ECOSOC.

Due to growing concerns about the environment, the activity undertaken by the Working Group and other United Nations bodies and the advocacy work carried on by indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples worldwide are receiving increasing attention from their respective governments. Countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States have focused efforts on settling land claims with indigenous groups and on achieving reconciliation for past injuries, including those done in the name of assimilation. In Scandinavia, the native Saami have established a parliamentary forum across their national borders. In Africa, indigenous groups have just begun to mobilize. In other areas, indigenous groups have taken strong positions in defiance of their governments. And in a first, a UN-brokered peace agreement in the civil war in Guatemala gave a specific role to indigenous peoples. But a lot has not been settled.

Retribution: Land claims and more

Native groups have made a great deal of progress in pursuing land claims, particularly in the Americas and Australia. Of particular note is is Nunavut, Canada's newest and largest territory. Established on 1 April 1999 to be a homeland for the Inuit, who make up 85 per cent of its population, it was the result of the process that began in the early 1970s when Canada decided to negotiate settlements with aboriginal groups that filed land claims. The establishment of Nunavut represents a new level of indigenous self-determination in Canada.

In response to the reports of widespread abuse in the residential school system, the Law Commission of Canada in 1996 published a report, "Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions". In its research, the Commission found that, in addition to physical and sexual abuse, it was imperative to also consider the emotional, racial and cultural abuse. Following the report, the Government of Canada announced a new programme "Gathering Strength - an Aboriginal Action Plan". It called for a renewed partnership with Aboriginal people based on recognizing past mistakes and injustices, the advancement of reconciliation, healing and renewal, and the building of a joint plan for the future. The Government also offered a Statement of Reconciliation, in which it said "To those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools, we are deeply sorry."

Unfortunately, it has become apparent that resolving such emotionally charged issues will take a great deal of time and commitment. With over 6,000 lawsuits currently seeking reparations for physical and sexual abuse, the Churches who ran the schools for the Canadian Government and who are co-defendants in the suits report that they are facing almost certain bankruptcy. And a number of the victims of abuse have committed suicide.

Elsewhere in North America, the United States is also in the process of settling many land claims. Some Indian Nations have successfully established a level of sovereignty. A few have established casinos that have become multi-billion dollars industries and that provide needed jobs to depressed areas - and not just to residents of the reservation.

In one particularly difficult case, the Federal Government has filed suit against New York State for illegally acquiring and selling land belonging to the Oneida Nation - land that is now occupied by thousands of upset American homeowners. While the Oneida Nation has insisted throughout that they have no intention of seizing anyone's land or evicting anyone, feelings have run very high. Death threats have been made.

The Cayugas, the Senecas, the Mohawks and the Onondagas - all Haudenosaunee, or members of the Iroquois Confederacy, along with the Oneida Nation - also have claims on property in New York State. Because the population of New York State is much more dense than in most other areas of "Indian country", these may prove difficult to resolve to everyone's mutual satisfaction.

Pine Ridge Reservation, in South Dakota, is the poorest county in the United States of America. The midwestern states are also the site of more obvious racism against Native Americans. It has been commonly charged that there are two tiers of justce, one for Native Americans and another for "whites". Native Americans say that crimes committed against them - including those resulting in death - receive only a cursory investigation, while crimes committed against "whites", allegedly committed by Native Americans, are fiercely prosecuted. And daily expressions of racism of the type long thought to exist only in memory still occur -- but the apparent recipients are Native Americans. The segregated lunch counters of the South may no longer exist, but Native Americans say they are not surprised when they are refused service in a coffee shop. Such experiences of Native Americans living in Indian Country, however, are not known to vast majority of American citizens. Which gives rise to another question: is racism against Native Americans less likely to be covered by the mainstream media?

World Conference against Racism

The problems indigenous people face will be high on the agenda of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance set to take place from 31 August to 7 September in Durban, South Africa. At that meeting the international community is expected to broaden its focus on the wide variety of modern forms of racism and discrimination. The title of the Conference makes it clear that the fight against racism is more than just about colour.

Multi-ethnic States and the Protection of Minority Rights


In today's world, multi-ethnic states are the norm. The traditional nation-state, where a distinct national group corresponds to a territorial unit, has become an endangered species. Globalization and the increasing movement of people across borders threaten to kill off the nation state once and for all. However, some myths resist reality, and majority or dominant cultures in countries around the world still seek to impose their identity on other groups with whom they share a territory.

Attempts to impose uniculturalism in multi-ethnic environments often come at the expense of minority rights. To avoid marginalization, minorities often intensify their efforts to preserve and protect their identity. The hardening of opposing forces -assimilation on the one hand and preservation of minority identity on the other -- can cause increased intolerance and, in the worst case, armed ethnic conflict. In such cases and in order to prevent escalation, the protection and promotion of minority rights becomes essential.

What can be done

Even though the events of the twentieth century have taught us to think of the term ethnic conflict as one word, the two concepts do not have to go hand in hand. That is, ethnic conflict is not inevitable in multi-ethnic states.

Good governance plays a vital role in involving minorities in societies and protecting their rights and interests. Through recognition, dialogue, and participation, all the citizens of a diverse society can form a greater understanding of one another's concerns. The media and education have important roles to play in this regard, as do political representatives and community leaders.

Although no country has a perfect record on minority rights, a country like Finland for example has worked hard to implement legislation in order to promote good ethnic relations among its population. The Swedish-speaking Finns are the largest minority in Finland at 5.71 per cent of the population. The status of the Swedish-speaking Finns is exceptional compared to that of other national minorities, due to the fact that Swedish is, in addition to Finnish, an official language of Finland. In recent years, the Government has redoubled its efforts to settle the question of land ownership by the Sami, the indigenous people of Finland. Finnish, Swedish or the Sami language is taught as the mother tongue of the student, and under the new legislation, children who reside in Finland permanently, thus including immigrant children, have both the duty and the right to go to comprehensive school.

Other positives action taken by States include: legislative measures that introduce higher maximum penalties for racially motivated crimes; the use of ethnic monitoring to ascertain the number of persons of particular ethnic and national origin in various kinds of employment and the setting of targets to increase the employment of persons of minority origins in fields where they were under-represented; the establishment of new advisory bodies on matters relevant to combating racism and intolerance, including the launching and implementation public awareness campaigns intended to prevent racial discrimination and increase tolerance; and the establishment of human rights institutions and ombudspersons for ethnic and racial equality.

States authorities need to ensure that minorities enjoy the fundamental right to equality, both in written legislation and in society at large. The roles of local government, civic organizations and NGOs are important in this respect. Police, prosecutors and judges need to be more aware of what constitutes racial discrimination and racially motivated crimes and in some cases, changing the composition of police forces to better reflect the multi-ethnic communities they serve may be appropriate. It is also incumbent upon minorities to integrate themselves into their communities. Other recommendations include monitoring hate speech, promoting empowerment through education, and ensuring adequate housing and access to health care.

It is when States lack the foundation for protecting minority rights or governments actively encourage intolerance for minority groups that conflict-ridden environments ensue. As tensions involving national minority issues are enflamed, disenchantment with one's government can evolve into conflict situations. In the past ten years alone, ethnic conflicts have plagued a hand full of countries such as Rwanda and Burundi, the former Republic of Yugoslavia and more recently, Indonesia, East Timor and Fiji. It is tragedies like these that compel the international community to encourage a dialogue between minorities and governments within all societies.

Almost three years after former President Suharto's dictatorship collapsed, Indonesia's problems with its minority communities are growing despite the benefits brought by democracy. The new government faces separatist activities in the provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya, East Timor has yet to recover from its vote for independence, and ethnic violence has recently erupted in the Indonesian section of Borneo. Human rights groups estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 people died in separatists and ethnic violence last year in Indonesia and that more than one million people are now homeless because of those conflicts. Although there have been new efforts to devolve power to Indonesia's regions, the Government has yet to implement pro-minority policies, which means there may be more trouble ahead.

The case of the Roma

Although there are many minority populations worldwide that need support, the Roma population in particular has become a major focus of the human rights community, especially as it prepares for the World Conference against Racism. The majority of the estimated eight to ten million Roma, whether nomadic or sedentary, live in Europe and discrimination against them is often seen as a European problem, but Roma reside in other parts of the world as well, including North and South America, Australia and India.

For centuries, the Roma have been subjected to ill-treatment, rejection, exclusion and discrimination in various forms. Racial discrimination faced by Roma in many ways symbolizes some of the most common contemporary forms of racial discrimination experienced by other minority groups in the world. It is hoped that successful attempts to address the issue of discrimination against Roma will benefit other minority groups.

In a report submitted to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights at its fifty-second session (June 2000), an independent expert, Yeung Kam Yeung Sik Yuen, identified the four main areas of concern for the Roma population: housing; education; employment; and political participation.

Many Roma live in the most squalid and derelict housing estates and often live in Roma-only sections, which has encouraged segregation from the mainstream population. The proposed building of a four-metre high wall in one district of the Czech Republic in order to separate Roma from non-Roma is a clear example of the attempt to disengage Roma communities. Although the municipality's decision was eventually suspended for infringement of article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, de facto settlement patterns with regard to the Roma minorities and decrees banning Roma from certain territories continue to exist.

In the area of employment, Roma are absent from the service sector and are mainly employed as garbage collectors or factory workers. The unemployment rate ranges from 60 per cent to 90 per cent in less prosperous areas. In certain countries in Central and Eastern Europe, there has been a systematic routing of Roma children to "special schools" for the mentally disabled. What's more, Roma have little or no say at the political level as they are either unrepresented or under-represented at all levels of Government.

The Roma communities are subject to hostile perceptions across an extraordinary range of countries. As Mr. Yuen states in his report, Roma are often barred from restaurants, swimming pools and discotheques and they are often the victims of violent racist acts by skinheads. In 1994 the Roma were persecuted by the Serbs during the hostilities in Bosnia and even now they suffer hostilities from the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo because some of them had allegedly sided with the Serbs prior to the intervention by NATO. It is not surprising that the most immediate concern for many Roma is their lack of personal security.

Of course, the news on the Roma front is not all bad. There have been initiatives that have worked to considerably improve the condition of this minority population. In Hungary, the radio and television board recently awarded a license for an FM radio frequency to radio C in Budapest, Central Europe's first independent station run by Roma. Regarding housing for Roma, there have been initiatives in Romania and Slovakia that have brought together Roma and non-Roma to build houses, which has worked to stem negative stereotypes of Roma as passive recipients of social benefits. In addition, the Roma themselves have founded several political parties and movements in many societies and have grouped into several dozen civic associations. The fact that Governments have simply admitted that the Roma are the victims of intolerance and discrimination has been a major step forward in some countries.

The search for solutions to the problems faced by the Roma has come from many corners and the recommendations can be applied to all situations where minorities are struggling for equal rights. It has been agreed that a key element is to establish trust among all parties, including the minority community, the mainstream community and the Government. A move in that direction may be accomplished by establishing independent agencies that work to enhance dialogue between all parties. It may also be necessary to establish specialized State bodies, such as a Commission on Minority Rights, to combat discrimination.

Max van der Stoel, the High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded in his report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE area that countless programmes for Roma have been destined to fail because they were developed without Roma participation, and correspondingly, with scant awareness of the specific culture and needs of the intended beneficiaries. The active engagement of a minority group in developing and implementing projects helps to ensure that they do not inadvertently create or perpetuate dependency and passivity on the part of the intended beneficiaries.

Pre-supposing that an ethnic minority is geographically located in a certain area of a country, a well thought out plan for autonomy may be appropriate. However, as Mr. Yeun states in his working paper, "any proposal for autonomy must take account of the particular characteristics of the area concerned and of its populations, and its acceptance by minority and majority populations is crucial". In such arrangements, the central government retains control over the major affairs of the state, such as defense, foreign affairs, immigration and customs, and monetary policy, while the local or regional bureaucracy could manage local authority over education and culture. Such arrangements can also help maintain the territorial integrity of a State while placating minority concerns.

The United Nations

Born out of the horrors of the Holocaust, the United Nations is all too aware of the dangers of intolerance when it comes to minority populations. With a view to leaving ethnic warfare's heyday to the last century, the United Nations and its agencies have advocated protecting and promoting minority rights and identities within multi-ethnic states. The Secretary-General himself has taken up this cause, recently saying, "The United Nations work to promote intolerance is fundamental to both conflict prevention and peace building. Without tolerance, our work on development and good governance would achieve little".

In 1992, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. As the only United Nations instrument that specifically addressed the special rights of minorities, the Declaration can be viewed as a point of reference for the international community. It includes a list of rights that minorities are entitled to, including the right to enjoy their own culture without interference, and the right to participate effectively in decisions at the national level, among others. States are requested to take measures in the field of education in order to encourage knowledge of the history, traditions, language and culture of minorities existing within their territories. Also, States are asked to implement national policies and programmes with due regard for minority interests.

Multilateral monitoring of the compliance of states to their international commitments with regard to protecting minority rights has increased transparency. Within the United Nations system, this responsibility is shared by the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. A Working Group on Minorities has also been established in order to review the promotion and practical realization of the Declaration. It serves as the focal point of the United Nations in the field of minority protection and is the main forum for constructive dialogue on the treatment of minorities by Governments.

Although all of the above mentioned bodies are integral to the promotion of minority rights, it is the reports submitted on behalf of the State parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination that provide an overview of the status of minorities within a specific country. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) meets twice a year to review State party reports as well as shadow reports submitted by NGOs. In extreme cases, the Committee implements early warning measures to assist Governments to prevent problems from escalating into conflicts and identify cases where there is a lack of an adequate legislative basis for defining and criminalizing all forms of racial discrimination.

In the two sessions held in 2000, the Committee examined the reports of countries that were extremely varied in their ethnic make-up but similar patterns of discrimination against minorities were found across the board. The reporting guidelines ask State parties to describe the ethnic characteristic of the country and the legislative, judicial, and administrative measures being taken up on behalf of minorities. It is the long held position of the Committee that racial discrimination exists in all States and territories, and admitting its existence is fundamental to improving conditions.

Among the concerns that have been noted by the Committee in its concluding observations of reports on various States are: that there have been reports of excessive violence being used against minorities; that there is inadequate protection of the political rights of minorities, including their participation in elections, national parliaments and the public service; that there is often a lack of adequate legislation and remedies to protect victims of racial discrimination; and that there is an absence of legal guarantees of bilingual and bicultural education for minorities.

The World Conference against Racism

At the Regional Seminar of Experts for Central and Eastern European States, which took place in Warsaw from 5-7 July 2000 in preparation for the World Conference against Racism, exports focused on the protection of minorities and strengthening human rights capacity at the national level. Opening the seminar, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said, "The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and regional instruments of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, have sought to undergird the legal protection of minorities and vulnerable groups. Their faithful implementation, in letter and in spirit, remains a key challenge before us".

During the Warsaw meeting, experts emphasized that regional cooperation remained key to combating racism. Special attention was paid to the rapid proliferation of hate speech, hate crime, and hate sites on the Internet. Experts agreed that many countries in the region often did not acknowledge that racial discrimination existed and seemed to consider it only a problem in the United States and South Africa. In that regard, discrimination against the Roma was often seen as natural or normal. The World Conference, experts said, should help ensure that international and regional minority rights instruments were publicized and understood by disseminating information in relevant languages and conducting public education campaigns.

The protection of minority rights and the prevention of ethnic conflict was also discussed at the October 2000 Regional Seminar of Experts for Africa, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Seminar agreed that greater attention must be paid to the economic problems that give rise to outbursts of ethnic conflicts in Africa. It further recognized that the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development is of crucial relevance to the prevention of ethnic or racial conflicts in Africa or any other region. It therefore encouraged "full participation in political life for all, non-discriminatory treatment of all regions and ethnic groups within a country, and respect for the rights of minorities".

Ultimately, implementing policies for minorities should be done to foster long-term stability and not just to appease the international community. Through dialogue all parties can share their concerns and work toward finding a common ground. As the High Commissioner on National Minorities for OSCE has said, "Accommodating minority interests should not be interpreted as political correctness or pandering to special interests groups. Nor should it be diminished through tokenism or short-term concessions. Instead there should be a genuine commitment to protect the identity of national minorities and create conditions for the promotion of that identity".

The World Conference will offer an opportunity for putting the issue of the protection and promotion of minority rights on the floor for debate and into the plans of action. A declaration and programme of action of the World Conference, if adopted, would condemn any doctrine of racial superiority as scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous. It would urge Governments to create favorable conditions and take measures that would enable persons belonging to national or ethnic minorities within their jurisdiction to express their characteristics freely and to participate on a non-discriminatory and equitable basis in the cultural, social, economic and political life of the country in which they live.

The main objective is to prevent conflicts in multi-ethnic states before they happen. As the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, "At both the human and the financial level, a culture of prevention is more beneficial than a culture of reaction". All States as well as the international community can work together to increase dialogue among parties and create an inclusive approach to national identity. It is important for States to make a commitment to equal treatment of all persons regardless of their racial or ethnic origin.