Commission on Human Rights
57th session
22 March 2001

The Commission on Human Rights began this evening its annual debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination, hearing from a series of speakers expressing hopes for the upcoming World Conference against Racism.

The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on racism and racial discrimination, Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, unable to be present, nonetheless provided a statement in which he called on all attending the World Conference to reflect on why the differences of others were so unbearable. He added that calls to forget the past were unjust to the victims and their descendants, who had suffered colonization and slavery, genocide and ethnic cleansing

Others said variously that the Conference should focus on practical steps to be taken to combat current forms of racism and discrimination; that the question of compensation of victims of the African slave trade deserved to be considered; and that attention had to be paid to the effects of globalization and to new forms of media, including the Internet.

The World Conference will be held from 31 August to 7 September in Durban, South Africa.

Earlier in the evening session, which ended at 9 p.m., the Commission concluded its debate under its agenda item on the right to self-determination. A series of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) spoke, charging variously that legitimate aspirations to self-determination were being denied in occupied Palestine, Kashmir, the Western Sahara, Kosovo, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

Speaking over the course of the meeting were Representatives of Sweden, Madagascar, Mexico, Norway, China, Senegal, Uruguay, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and the International Committee of the Red Cross..

The following NGOs also delivered statements: World Federation of Democratic Youth; Cairo Institute for Human Rights; Pax Romana; World Muslim Congress; Muslim World League; Indigenous World Association; International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples; International Educational Development; International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations; and International Indian Treaty Council.

Representatives of India, Pakistan, and Morocco spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 March to continue its debate on racism and racial discrimination.

Racism and Racial Discrimination

Under this agenda item the Commission has before it a report of the Secretary-General submitted pursuant to Commission resolution 2000/14 on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and all Forms of Discrimination (E/CN.4/2001/20) which reviews the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination and coordination of activities; the work of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination; and the preparatory activities undertaken for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.

There is a report submitted by Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (E/CN.4/2001/21) which reviews, among other things, the activities of the Special Rapporteur; replies of the Governments of Belarus, Cuba, Spain, the Netherlands and Qatar to the Special Rapporteur's requests for information; contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance including anti-Semitism, the activities of far-right neo-Nazi and skinhead organizations, discriminatory application of the death penalty, environmental racism, discrimination in combatting drug use and trafficking and the situation of the Dalits; replies to allegations transmitted by the Special Rapporteur from the Governments of Austria, Canada, Colombia and Israel; follow-up to field visits to South Africa, Germany, Colombia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, the United Kingdom and Switzerland; and actions taken by civil society in France and Germany.

One highlight of this report is the Cuban Government's analysis of the origin and persistence of racism and racial discrimination. The Special Rapporteur concludes that significant progress has been made in raising awareness of the negative effects of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia throughout the world, but notes the failure of several Governments to reply to his communications. The report recommends that the Commission look into the possibility of establishing a major programme or service within the Office of the High Commissioner which would be entirely devoted to combatting racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance.

There is also a report (E/CN.4/2001/22) submitted by the International Labour Office (ILO) which contains a general update on ILO activities to eliminate discrimination in employment and occupation on a number of grounds, including those of race, colour, national extraction and social origin.


ENRIQUE BERNALES BALLESTEROS, Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries, in his concluding remarks, said that mercenary activities constituted a violation of human rights, in particular the right of people to self-determination. To his knowledge there were no cases where mercenaries had been punished for their activities -- this despite the adoption of the Convention against mercenary activities in 1991. The Convention had still to come into force, and it was hoped that by the end of the session its ratification would be completed, as this instrument was absolutely indispensable.

An introduction to the report of MAURICE GLELE-AHANHANZO, Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, was read out, as he was not in attendance in order to be present for elections in his home State of Benin. The Special Rapporteur said in his statement that this was the last meeting of the Commission on Human Rights before the World Conference against Racism, a meeting which would give an opportunity to mankind to confront itself and the demons of its past which also overshadowed its future. The World Conference in Durban, South Africa, would provide a unique opportunity for the human conscience to free itself. Peoples, nations, and States were all called upon to end racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which over the centuries had stained red the world with their prejudices. The World Conference was not a futile exercise, but he called on each to reflect why the differences of others were so unbearable -- that reflection was needed to bring forth suggestions for solutions to the problems.

Calls to forget the past were unjust to the victims, and their descendants, who had suffered colonization and slavery, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Was economic and military power alone capable of deciding whether victims received compensation? It was regrettable that the century which saw such technological progress had not seen similar progress in ethics.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur said, he emphasized the racial discrimination present in the application of the death penalty in the United States and in the prosecution of the war on drugs, as well as situation of Dalits or untouchables in India, and anti-Semitism in several States. Austria wanted a correction in paragraph 4 of the report which should read that "eminent Europeans noted that the FPO was, in effect, the creation of former members of the Austrian National-Socialist party". However, the leader of that party, Jorg Haider, continued to make remarks in bad taste. The report also reviewed measures planned in South Africa to eliminate the consequences of apartheid, the situation of the Roma in Hungary and the Czech Republic, and other issues.

ABBA SALEK, of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, said the question of the Western Sahara was still pending and the country was facing grave human rights violations and its resources were being exploited. The Moroccan Government had agreed to respect Security Council resolutions. In addition, both parties were to respect the Houston Agreements.

It seemed that the conditions for the referendum had been delayed with money spent on the process. The Federation was of the view that all the money spent on the process seemed to legalize occupation. The right of the Saharawi people to self-determination should be realized without any further delay.

DIANNE LUPING, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, said that no just or lasting peace could be achieved when the fundamental rights of the Palestinians under human rights and humanitarian law continued to be undermined by the Israeli occupying power. The violence against the Palestinians since 29 September 2000 could not be seen in isolation: the rights of the Palestinian people had been grossly violated since 1967. Since that date, the Israeli occupying power had through its discriminatory policies and practices and its belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories denied the Palestinian people their permanent and unqualified right to self-determination including the option of a State, as reaffirmed by the Commission many resolutions.

Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories for 34 years was one of the longest occupations and exercises of colonial domination in recent history. Contrary to its claims, Israel continued to occupy and exercise ultimate control over the these territories in defiance of all relevant UN resolutions.

R. J. RAJKUMAR, of Pax Romana, said the denial of the right to self-determination constituted a violation of internationally accepted and ratified human rights standards and posed a great threat to international peace and security. Universal realization of this right required the abolition of discriminatory appellations such as "state population" or "indigenous peoples" which sanctioned a discriminatory entitlement of rights and violated the UN purpose of developing friendly relations among nations. The artificial distinction between "classical colonization" and "internal colonization" needed to be abolished.

Internal colonization was institutionalized, state-sanctioned discrimination and included structurally unequal access to and enjoyment of basic services, human rights, resources and power and prevented communities from controlling their own destinies. Modern exercise of self-determination allowed peoples to share power via many forms of self-government and did not inevitably result in independence. The UN needed to help make this process available to conflicting parties. The Commission was requested to ask its Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to elaborate a working paper on the implementation of the right to self-determination in this context.

M. AHMAD, of the World Muslim Congress, said there existed long-standing situations, such as Kashmir, Palestine, Kosovo and Chechnya, where the international prohibition against placing people under political domination was being ignored and the demand for fulfilment of the right to self-determination was being met with extreme repression, leading to violence.

The situation of Palestine was an illustration in point. The people of Palestine had a right to a free and sovereign state of their own, and the occupying army, under the principle of self-determination, should vacate the occupied land unconditionally and without delay.

ALTAF HUSSAIN QADRI, of the Muslim World League, said that because of the denial of the right of self-determination, the human rights situation in Kashmir had reached an alarming state . The gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Indian occupation forces reinforced the need for urgent action by the Commission. The Indian forces had devastated the spirit of civil society in Kashmir as a consequence of the deployment that had killed over 80,000 innocent Kashmiris.

India refused to participate in a fair political process for the resolution of the Kashmiri dispute and continued with its repressive policies behind the so-called facade of a cease-fire. The international community and the Commission must assist the people of Kashmir in their struggle to realize their right to self-determination.

RONALD BARNES, of the Indigenous World Association, said that the right to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation needed to attract the special consideration of the Commission, including, among others, the situation of the colonized indigenous peoples of Alaska. Russia had had no right to sell Alaska to the United States since the absolute title had been recognized to be in the dominion of the indigenous peoples of Alaska. In 1946, Alaska was placed on the list of Non-Self-Governing-Territories, but subsequently removed without taking into account administrative, juridical and political considerations. The lives of the indigenous peoples of Alaska were under contract based on an erroneous presumption that Russia had maintained absolute control over them. The colonialism that persisted in Alaska demanded attention in the form of recognition as a special colonial situation.

The United States had no right to place the indigenous peoples of Alaska under domestic law without the fully informed consent of the traditional indigenous governments and all indigenous peoples. The annexation of Alaska was a violation of the US Constitution and nothing but a smokescreen to create the impression that the indigenous peoples of Alaska were satisfied with their current status.

BANDETTINI DI POGGIO, of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said that on 24 December, the so-called terrorist rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had announced a month-long unilateral cease-fire as a good gesture to facilitate and promote initiatives towards a peace process. While declaring the cease-fire, the LTTE had expressed the hope that its gesture would be reciprocated by the Sri Lankan Government and that the economic blockade would be lifted. The offer was categorically rejected by the Government.

The struggle of the Tamils provided a strong argument for determining when a people should have the right to declare an independent and sovereign state. Both sides had waged war for more than 20 years, and now a common ground should be found at the negotiation table.

KAREN PARKER, of International Educational Development , said the organization was immensely concerned at the tendency of certain powers to improperly label groups involved in self-determination struggles as "terrorist" for political reasons. The reasons for this mislabelling were to redirect scrutiny away from self-determination claims that conflicted with a particular country's international interests and foreign policy objectives; to avoid scrutiny under applicable humanitarian law of a particular conflict; to attempt to intimidate members of the groups through threats of "anti-terrorist" measures which at their best were Draconian; and to silence or severely curtail the work of human rights and humanitarian law activists.

Such mislabelling was most egregious relating to conflicts in the Middle East, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Kashmir.

GHULAM MOHAMMAD SAFI, of the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, said that colonial and alien domination and foreign occupation were not a closed chapter. The right of 13 million Kashmiris to self-determination had been agreed upon by both India and Pakistan and the longest serving peacekeeping force had been awaiting a resolution to the dispute for 54 years.

The right to self-determination had not lapsed with the passage of time, nor could it be extinguished by brute force. The Kashmiri movement was not secessionist because Kashmir had never acceded to India. India's efforts to forcibly silence the voice against foreign occupation pushed Kashmiri youth to use other than peaceful means. The impediments to the realization of Kashmiris' rights to self-determination needed to be identified and removed.

MAKIO IBARRA, of the International Indian Treaty Council, said the right to self-determination was the only way to accord independence to peoples under colonialism and foreign domination. The right which was provided under the United Nations on the issue could only lead to statehood whatever the kind of self-determination accorded to peoples. At present, about 50 conflicts were taking place in many regions of the world which directly or indirectly related to the right to self-determination.

The free choice of the right to self-determination should be a matter of basic respect for all peoples, including indigenous peoples.

JOHAN MOLANDER (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU) and the countries associated with it, said that recent years had seen an increase in incidents of racism and racial discrimination. No country could claim to be immune from these evils. It was unacceptable that persons were subjected to violence and discrimination because of their race, colour, sex, language, region, descent or national or ethnic origin. The EU condemned all forms of racism and racist discrimination and pledged itself to combat these scourges. It was acutely aware that such intolerance existed in its member States and was determined to eradicate it. The commitment of the EU was shown both through the adoption of national policies and legislation in each of the 15 member States as well as through different actions by the Community as a whole.

The reasons for the occurrence of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance were manifold. In recent years, the world had witnessed terrible human tragedies on the grounds of ethnicity. Racism and racial discrimination did not only occur in times of war -- they also existed in peaceful societies since they were often based on fear, frustration or prejudice. The international community must join hands to promote tolerance and respect for diversity. The World Conference against Racism in South Africa provided an important opportunity for reiterating the commitment of the international community to eradicating all forms of racism and racial discrimination.

MAXIME ZAFERA (Madagascar) said the success of the forthcoming World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination would depend not only on the will of the international community but also on the serious contributions made in preparation for the Conference.

The delegation had examine with interest the declaration and programme of action prepared by the Secretariat of the World Conference and regretted that the document did not reflect fully the key positions expressed during the regional conference held in Dakar. The positions of African participants expressed during the conference had not been taken into consideration in the draft declaration. Africa was the continent which suffered the most from racism, racial discrimination, and colonialism, and the delegation would not accept a draft declaration which would not refer to the historical injustice of slavery to which the African continent had been subjected. It was the legitime that the victims of such injustices claim reparations.

MARICLAIRE ACOSTA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, said racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance had been present in their societies; acknowledging the past constituted an important step in building a future based on justice, equality and solidarity. The Declaration of Santiago and the plan of action that followed it recognized that the slavery of persons of African descent and indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as the trafficking in slaves were morally reprehensible and would be considered crimes according to international law if they occurred today. These practices had caused substantial economic, political and cultural damage to the populations affected and the principle of justice required that major efforts be undertaken at the national and international levels to redress this harm, including reparations by those countries who had benefitted materially from these practices.

In Santiago, members of the Latin American and Caribbean Group expressed their determination to impede and mitigate the negative effects of globalization, in particular cultural homogenization and the economic inequality among and within states that could result from racial discrimination as well as social and political exclusion. They also expressed their determination to increase the benefits of globalization through strengthening cooperation in order to foster commerce, economic growth and sustainable development, and to promote cultural exchanges and diversity that could contribute to the elimination of racism, racial discrimination and related forms of intolerance.

SVERRE BERGH JOHANSEN (Norway) said the battle against racism had not been won; new forms of racism and racial hatred had shown their ugly faces and used had the new media to propagate despicable views and attitudes. Recent events in Norway demonstrated that racism and discriminatory attitudes were indeed challenges facing all nations, large and small. Each State needed to look afresh at itself. Efforts had been made. Authorities had addressed these problems at the international, national and local levels.

Racism caused conflict and tension in societies and was a cause for displacement. The suffering, inequality and violence that resulted needed to be addressed as a priority. While apartheid was consigned to history, pogroms and genocide had re-emerged. It was disturbing that the capability to access different cultures in a minute on the Internet, to eat ethnic food and listen to world music had not built tolerance and respect. Societies appreciative of diversity needed to be built. The wider issues of the use of new technology for dissemination of racist messages and insidious forms of covert discrimination needed to be understood by Governments and other actors. Racism threatened important values at the individual, national and international levels. Perhaps it would be possible to use the preparatory process and the World Conference to mobilize effectively for the battle against racism and racial discrimination.

LA YIFAN (China) said apartheid had been eliminated and the international community had achieved a huge victory in the fight against racism. However, the evil remnants of racism and racial discrimination were far from being removed and in some cases were widely found. The new forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination against immigrant workers, and neo-Fascism which were appearing in some Western developed countries were posing a grave challenge to the international cause of human rights protection and the effort to combat racism. The World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination should be an opportunity to pool the wisdom of the international community, take stock of historic experiences and, in light of the characteristics of the current situation, take action-oriented measures for combatting and eliminating completely racism in the new Millennium.

Top priority should be given to addressing the urgent issues facing the international community, especially in the developing countries. Colonialism, the slave trade, racism and racial discrimination, which existed in human history, had created major adverse effects on the development of those countries. Parties concerned should demonstrate their political will and flexibility to ensure a smooth preparation for the Conference.

ABSA CLAUDE DIALLO (Senegal) said that at this time, when globalization and transnational forces were breaking down barriers, a new form of racism and tribalism was being seen. This seemed to be evidence that efforts against racism had not had the desired effect. The next World Conference would provide an incentive to think and provide solutions for racism. Early warning systems with strong preventive dimensions were needed as well as increased resources. The deeper roots of racism and racial discrimination needed to be addressed at the national level. Senegal prohibited any party or association from identifying with one race, ethnicity, language or religion.

Discrimination lay at the bottom of all human rights violations. Senegal had hosted the African regional preparatory meeting for the World Conference, and the regional meeting at least allowed the heavy debt paid by the African continent to be acknowledged. The trafficking of blacks was the most inhuman form of mercantilism. Slavery should be recognized as a crime against mankind by the international community. Africa planned to attend the meeting in Durban in the spirit of tolerance and sharing. The success of the meeting depended on the efforts of all the actors, individually and collectively. The World Conference needed to translate political will into concrete action.

FERNANDO LUGRIS (Uruguay) said Uruguay had taken major steps towards internal constructive dialogue between civil society and state actors ahead of the World Conference against Racism. The national Parliament had also set up an interdisciplinary parliamentary working group -- with the participation of all political sectors and organized civil society -- in order to address racism and racial discrimination and other related forms of intolerance.

At the regional level, Uruguay had actively participated in the Conference of the Americas held in Santiago. The Uruguay delegation to the Conference was headed by the Minister of Education and Culture, which demonstrated the high priority Uruguay attached to the role of education in combatting the scourges of racism and racial discrimination. It was hoped that the World Conference would be an action-oriented instrument that would contribute to the creation of more inclusive and tolerant societies in the 21st century.

JANIS KARKLINS (Latvia) said the Latvian Government had taken a number of steps in the direction of integrating the values of human rights into national legislation. It had reformed its educational system and teaching and textbooks were undergoing profound revisions; and civil society was consolidating its efforts to increase its role in education. Latvia believed that no society could guarantee equality of opportunity if the educational system exacerbated discrimination, or was instrumental in fostering it. Concerning migration, Latvia had noticed recently a shift in the migration patterns; and it was facing new challenges because of an influx of asylum-seekers. Another transnational challenge that had only recently appeared on the agenda was that of racism on the Internet.

Latvia was convinced that the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination, Latvia would increase awareness of the issues of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. It would also encourage the international community to find means for eliminating racial discrimination.

IVANA SCHELLONGOVA (the Czech Republic) said that in spite of the existence of instruments for combatting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, the fight against racism was paralysed with ignorance which caused the ineffectiveness of adopted counter-measures. Full use of already existing instruments was needed. National Governments were primarily responsible for protection against racism and needed to use, among other policies, national preventive and deterrent provisions and awareness-raising campaigns. The basic responsibility of national Governments to combat racism was not fulfilled by mere ratification of or accession to international instruments.

Governments needed to support initiatives at the local and regional levels. At the international level, Governments needed to focus on ratification or accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to fulfill their obligations under Article 9 of the Convention. Furthermore, States parties that had not yet done so needed to recognize the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive and consider communications from individuals or groups claiming to be victim of violations of the Convention.

UMESH PALWANKAR, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance were not just problems that individual nations and the international community needed to address in peacetime, but also during situations of armed conflict. As a number of recent and ongoing conflicts around the world clearly showed, the inequality or exclusion of peoples, groups and individuals was one of the root causes of conflict and, very often, one of its consequences.

The ICRC believed that the issue of non-discrimination should be given adequate consideration at the World Conference. The principle of non-discrimination underlay all of international humanitarian law, the primary aims of which were to protect the victims of armed conflict and to limit the means and methods of warfare. The ICRC believed that appropriate attention at the Conference should be paid to the issue of combating impunity for grave breaches and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The ICRC therefore recommended that the World Conference call on States to enact national legislation prohibiting and punishing war crimes and enabling the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction in their prosecution.

Rights of reply

A Representative of India, speaking in right of reply, said Pakistan's statement under item 5 this morning indicated its hostility toward India. Self-determination was not designed to tear countries apart. It was incumbent upon the international community to remind Pakistan of this. There was cross-border terrorism currently occurring. India was appalled at the Pakistani delegate this morning who had tried to elevate terrorists to the status of freedom fighters and world leaders. Self-determination had here been advocated by a State that had only for brief periods upheld democracy. Democratically elected governments had frequently been overthrown in Pakistan. Pakistan's attention needed to be turned to its own problems. The OIC had far better qualified States to speak on its behalf than Pakistan.

A Representative of Pakistan, speaking in right of reply, said the statement of the Indian delegation was a negation of international law and the basic laws governance. Since India had occupied Kashmir, it had been carrying out repressive acts against the people and it had been ruling the region in such a manner that people were not able to exercise their right to self-determination. Pakistan had already approached India to resolve the problem of Kashmir in a negotiated manner, and India had refused.

A Representative of Morocco, speaking in right of reply, referred to a statement made by International Educational Development and said the representative of that NGO did not know what the situation was in the Sahara and was not mandated to speak on behalf of the people of the Sahara.

A Representative of India, in a second right of reply, said he was happy to hear that Pakistan wanted dialogue. But the Prime Minister of India had gone to Pakistan in January 1999 and his visit was followed by aggression in Kargil. In the recent past, the Indian Government had announced a unilateral cease-fire which had been met with attacks by terrorist groups. A proper ambiance for dialogue needed to be created before meaningful progress could be made.

In a second right of reply, a Representative of Pakistan said that it was true that the Prime Minister of India had travelled to Pakistan in 1999 for discussion. However, India had not wanted to address the issue of Kashmir seriously. The unilateral cease-fire by India was a cover to continue its repression of the Kashmiri people.

* *** *