Opening statement by the High Commissioner for the 11th session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme (7-18 October 2013)

7 October 2013

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you all to the eleventh session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (IGWG).

The effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference continues to be a cornerstone of the work of my Office.

The DDPA and the subsequent documents adopted by consensus, under its umbrella, constitute the most comprehensive United Nations framework for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It is essential that we keep reminding ourselves of these provisions, particularly when forming and reviewing national policies and practices. The data base launched by my Office on the 11th of September 2013 will help in sharing experiences on how States address the scourge of racial discrimination. The 1500 documents and contributions from more than 90 countries provide a unique collection of advice, legal precedent and know-how.

I am pleased that since its launch less than 1 month ago, we registered more than 1383 visits. I encourage you to make use of this tool and my colleagues will be pleased to present it to you during this session.

I have followed your work over the years as you considered among other topics, the role of politicians and political parties, sports, education, migrants, children, and specialized equality bodies. I look forward to your continued progress. Such debates should be mirrored at the country level so that we can advance in the elimination of racial discrimination.

Political will and adequate funding at the national, regional and international levels and international cooperation are urgently required. It is also of crucial importance that we all work together to increase public support for the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and to involve civil society and other relevant stakeholders in its implementation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite the adoption of the important United Nations documents to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, these old scourges reinvent themselves in new forms and manifestations, and we need to examine and find effective ways to uproot this heinous phenomenon. In various parts of the globe, we have noted with grave concern deteriorating social harmony and inflammatory political discourse - often echoed by media, as well as restrictive legislation and continued discriminatory practices on several prohibited grounds.

The dangers of racism are such that we must continually assess the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference, as well as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

While over the years Governments have invested in anti-discrimination legislation, we have arrived at the conclusion that legislation alone, is not sufficient to respond fully to the challenges of racial discrimination and xenophobia. While employing every effort to implement existing legislation, we should also focus systematically and methodically on the root causes of the scourge of racism, as identified in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and apply a combination of measures towards their elimination.

We always stress the need for combined efforts in addressing racism. That is why I would like to underline the importance of NGOs and civil society organizations and the role they play in promoting and protecting human rights. I seize the opportunity today to strongly encourage all stakeholders to support civil society activities aimed at combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The topics you have selected for this session are important as I said. Let me say a word about each one of them:

This afternoon, you will have a special event on racism in football. I am very pleased that FIFA has established a Task Force to address this issue and has invited my Office to participate in it. We are pleased with this collaboration that we hope will impact this important sport. FIFA has already taken several decisions that I welcome. These include in particular the adoption of its resolution on the fight against racism and discrimination, during its 63rd Congress held in Mauritius in May 2013.

This afternoon you will hear from no less than Michel Platini, a sportsman and a leader that has positively influenced the game for decades. It is important that you engage in these discussions also to see what action must be pursued at the national, regional, and international level to rid this sport from racism.

The discussion on women and racism promises to move the agenda forward as well. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has already issued several General Recommendations that deserve to be operationalized, important amongst them are the recommendations on gender related dimensions of racial discrimination and on the scope of special measures. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also issued relevant Recommendations such as on women migrant workers, women in political and public life, and on violence against women. I look forward to hearing how your discussions will advance knowledge about these documents and how states can benefit from these valuable guidance.

The discussion on national monitoring initiatives in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is very important. I already mentioned the data-base and I encourage you all to send us relevant documentation in this regard. I hope the discussion will emphasize the need to take particular care and adopt preventive and protective measures for the protection of all vulnerable groups and marginalized populations which are affected by discrimination and xenophobia.

We witness almost on a daily basis rising violence against migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers which poses a serious threat to social cohesion. Unfortunately, the situation of migrants can be associated with the consequences of stereotypical or provocative messages of a racial, religious, national or ethnic nature unwittingly or intentionally conveyed by political parties and political leaders. While these messages are not the only cause of their suffering, we need to strongly condemn political platforms and organizations based on racism, xenophobia or doctrines of racial superiority and discrimination, as completely incompatible with democracy, transparent and accountable governance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Another topic that you will address is on equal participation in the decision making process in the fight against racism. Participation is a key principle that underlines most of human rights work. Empowering victims to claim their rights through knowledge is essential as education should be one of the main vectors in combating racism. States and civil society groups must take their role seriously in promoting the principles of tolerance and respect of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and preventing the proliferation of extremist, racist and xenophobic movements and propaganda, especially among young people. It should also help to deconstruct prejudices, elicit positive changes of negative perceptions, enhance understanding and promote social cohesion.

To help you in achieving these goals, my Office continues to strengthen its advisory services and training activities at the national and regional levels with regard to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. As you know, our aim is to assist various stakeholders in providing human rights education or training with a strong anti-discrimination component to journalists, state officials, civil servants, judges, law enforcement officials and military personnel, humanitarian workers, as well as staff involved in peacekeeping and peace-building operations.

This month we will launch a Master’s Programme against Racism and Discrimination at the School of Public Management of La Paz, in Bolivia. The Project is being implemented in collaboration with the Government of Bolivia and is addressed to strengthen the capacity of government officials. This year we also organized the third year of the fellowship programme for people of African descent. During three weeks, seven Afro-descendent youth from all around the world were hosted by OHCHR. We also provided technical advice to Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Mauritania, Nigeria and Panama on developing national legislation and policies, including on national plans of action against racial discrimination. We also organized capacity building activities in Belarus, Ecuador, Guinea, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We work also within the UN system to advance these goals. Since last year, my office is coordinating the UN Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which was launched in 2012 following the decision of the Secretary General Over 20 UN entities participating in the Network developed a new Secretary General’s Guidance Note on Racial Discrimination and Minorities which contains 19 concrete recommendations to the UN system, and the Network is currently working on the Action Plan to make sure that the recommendations of the Guidance Note are followed up, including at the national level.

I look forward to learning about the results of your discussions and urge you all to move forward at this session with the same constructive spirit that marked your previous session. Your work here can make an invaluable contribution to the continued struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Thank you for your attention.