Racism has a ghostly face, with eyes caged by thick intolerance and radiating a pulsing purple hatred. It is a multi-limbed beast, residing in the legislation of governments worldwide that affects the enjoyment of a happy and humane life. Its arms are made up of religious persecution and the misinterpretation of faith, the abuse of spirituality for the greed of the powerful. Exclusion, violence, lies, erasure, and genocide follow in its slimy wake like caustic lye burning holes through compassion, love and recognition of a common human family. This hulking beast has been the root cause of slavery, colonization, imperialism, and theories of racial supremacy throughout the planet. It feeds on lies and deceit, growing and filling a space until there is no room to breathe and all those present begin to choke on poisonous fumes. Soon, the vapors absorb into our skin, our minds and our hearts and it becomes impossible to see the truth through the violent grey haze.
Today, March 21, 2005, is the International Day against Racial Discrimination and the Agenda Item up for discussion at the Commission on Human Rights was Item 6, on Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination, including the Comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The day opened with the presentation of the report of Mr. Doudou Diene, the Special Rapporteur on Racism. In his intervention he noted that racism in the world today is ‘a monster, a huge multifaceted beast’ and went on to detail its various aspects. He pointed out that racism has its roots in the so-called ‘clash of cultures’ and within the construction of modern national identities. He discussed the dissemination of racist propaganda via the internet, the rise of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, as well as racism and immigration, and the problematic nationalist dimension of sports competitions which also feed this hulking beast. He noted legislation in France and Turkey that deny multiculturalism and pluralism in recent months. He mentioned the high participation of neo-Nazi groups within football competitions, as well as violent nationalists in Spain. In Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua he pointed out the high incidents against indigenous populations, as well as peoples of African descent. Finally, he discussed racism and discrimination in Thailand, Ivory Coast and others in the fight against terrorism.
Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ivory Coast (who had all received country visits from Mr. Diene) made strong Defense Statements and outlined all of the areas where Mr. Diene was misinformed or incorrect, and proceeded to detail all of the advances in this regard in their nation. All of them claimed to embrace multiculturalism, pluralism, ethnic diversity, the promotion of languages and the conducive environment of their country towards the elimination of racism and discrimination.
During the Interactive Dialogue with Mr. Diene, most nations posed very bland and general comments or questions, with the exception of the intervention by Cuba who pointed out the exclusion of African-Americans in the recent voting processes of the USA, a very apt statement which has been a huge issue in the USA during the last two elections.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Diene stated that racism and discrimination are constructions in the sense that they did not arrive on this Earth from outer space. They are daily created and policed by society, and the manner in which a society builds its identity is key to the roots of racism. Furthermore, the legacy of large scale violence, slavery, genocide, colonization and others which have become the ideological pillars of most nations in the world must be dismantled to their very roots. Furthermore, all manifestations of the scourge of racism must be dealt with equally, and he asked that Nations take note that racism is not an isolated issue relevant to one community or another, although many communities tend to confine themselves within this evil feeling that its presence in their lives is unique. It is not and a cooperative and complimentary approach will be needed to slay this monster.
Mr. Peter Lesa Kasanda, the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, gave a brief presentation in which he discussed the technical aspects of the Working Group as well as encouraged Western countries to participate in these meetings as they have, to this date, not attended nor contributed to the Group’s work. The report of this Working Group is excellent and delves into quite some detail on institutionalized racism in North America and Europe, and comes up with some very astute recommendations for countries struggling with racism against people of African descent.
Mr. Juan Martabit, the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, also gave a very brief presentation of his report and discussed the issues of health and the internet with their impact on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration.
Although the Commission had before it three very strong and detailed reports on these varying issues of racism and racial discrimination, there were very few governments who made accurate or substantive contributions to the discussions. You will recall in my Open Letter to the High Level Segment of the Commission I had detailed four trends of governmental interventions which were present at that time. These were the Name and Shame, the Pre-Emptive Defense, the Avoidance Intervention and/or its fraternal twin the Time-Filler Talk, as well as the Empty Introduction. By today’s meetings of the Commission, it is no longer possible to distinguish between the Avoidance Intervention, the Time-Filler, nor the Empty Introduction. We can call these bland and general statements from this point onwards a Hollow Discourse, and it could be defined by a government detailing the importance of whichever issue, how the issue is a serious breach of human rights and dignity, and that their government is committed to the promotion and protection of said right and the elimination of its violations within their country. These statements are usually the entire speaking time of the government delegation, but manage to say absolutely nothing substantial whatsoever. The mind becomes numb. Governments such as Luxembourg on behalf of the EU, Libya on behalf of the League of Arab States, Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, among so many others made these Hollow Discourses during the discussion of Item 6. There were also a number of Pre-Emptive Defenses from such governments as Qatar, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Australia, Burkina Faso, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Indonesia, Eritrea, Ireland and again, many others. I found it interesting to hear Australia make a Pre-Emptive Defense, as usually it tends to be Third World Nations who feel the need to justify their actions to the world before being accused. After the Australian delegate’s glorious declaration on the multitude of protections against racism in their tolerant and pluralistic society, they ironically finished by noting that they would not be able to support the Durban Declaration in its entirety because of several reservations their government has on its content.
Cuba, once again and thankfully, tore into the well-documented racist and discriminatory policies of the USA and many European countries, going so far as to detail recent activities of the Ku Klux Klan in America as well as the horrific treatment of indigenous peoples, Hispanic and African Americans, nothing that they are at a much higher risk for suicide, infant mortality, and with a significantly shorter life expectancy than their white American counterparts. The delegation also pointed out the practices of environmental racism within the USA and Europe, not only against poor nations, but against the poor populations in their own countries, as well as the fact that developed nations tend to encourage Islamophobia in their imperialistic measures.
The USA made a most farcical statement in which they (finally) admitted to their government’s genocide of the indigenous populations, slavery and Japanese internment; but of course, these were issues so far back in the past it was really quite pointless even to mention them because things are just about perfect for everyone living in the USA. George W. Bush’s cabinet is the most diverse in the history of the USA, with the example of Condoleeza Rice as the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae that is the sweet state of non-racism in America. Never mind that Condoleeza Rice is what most liberal and/or educated Americans would call an Oreo, black on the outside and white on the inside, or some going so far as to call her a traitorous ‘Uncle Tom’ like her predecessor Colin Powell. To use Rice as an example of the state of non-discrimination in the USA is a sick joke, to say the least. But like Mr. Diene noted, racism is a beast, a monster and it takes many forms.
The Observer States made a similarly bland set of interventions, the majority of which detailed Islamophobia and the situation of Palestine. When NGOs took the floor under Item 7, again there were several detailing both sides of the Israeli-Palestine-Syria conflict. Interestingly, there were two NGO interventions (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and a joint statement of FIDH and ICJ) that discussed the intersection of racism and sexual orientation, noting the phenomenon of multiple discrimination. I was sad to hear that the delegate from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network who was at the Commission last year lobbying for the resolution on sexual orientation (who I remember) was actually murdered this year in her office in Sierra Leone. Hopefully, this issue will be brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. The International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism detailed how the tsunami relief supplies to the Tamil and Muslim areas in Sri Lanka were being deprived and denied by the Sri Lankan government. Apparently, when The Creator’s hand opens up the globe and creates a situation where our souls have the opportunity to rise up and grow, the Sri Lankan government continues to be loathe to extend even the slightest bit of help to its own peoples. The Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) gave a strong statement in response to the Australian government intervention in which discriminatory legislation against indigenous populations was exposed as well as the recent CERD Committee decision that found Australia in breach of the Convention on the Elimination of Racism. FAIRA called upon the Commission to officially target states such as Australia in their condemnation of these offending acts of racial discrimination. Several organizations discussed the caste system in India and Nepal as a still-existing reality. Indigenous World Association urged the Special Rapporteur on racism to make a country visit to the USA to examine in more detail the situation of human rights violations and racial discriminations against the indigenous populations.
Last Friday, a delegate from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom made a statement detailing human rights violations of the Botswana government and their forced relocation of an indigenous population from a game reserve. During the Right of Reply session at the end of the meeting, the representative of Botswana took the floor to say that her statement had been propaganda, and a malicious lie to stain the liberal democracy of their country. He said that the relocation of what the speaker had called ‘the bushmen’ was not true (and for the record, she did not use the term ‘bushmen’ which is quite rude and racist, and in fact used the name of the tribe to refer to the group), as well as the claims of cultural genocide and torture. Botswana said that the Special Rapporteur on indigenous issues did not attest to this claim in his report (like he has time to detail every single act of violence against indigenous peoples, the report would be thousands of pages and last I heard there is a word limit for these reports), and Botswana wanted to assure the Commission that the indigenous group was relocated with full free, prior and informed consent. They asked that the Commission ‘dismiss WILPF’s comments with the contempt they deserve.’ I could say the same thing about his comments and guess I just did.
Japan and North Korea were at each other’s throats. Again. Much to the amusement of the Commission as both nations used the entirety of their two allotted rights of replies to go back and forth on accusations and avoidance. North Korea would like Japan to cease making statements on human rights in the Commission until they have admitted to their human rights violations dating back to World War II and their occupation of Korea, as well as pay reparations. These violations include forced sexual slavery of Korean women who were drafted into the war as prostitutes, kidnapping, torture and other crimes against humanity. Japan, in last year’s Commission, did in fact say that they had paid reparations and formally apologized for their inhumane acts and did not understand why North Korea was continuing to mislead the Commission. This year, Japan simply notes that they have made their position clear in the past and that’s all that they have to say about that. But for the record, they made this statement twice, as did North Korea with the litany of Japanese abuses.
It is quite disturbing when an interchange such as the North Korea/Japan Right of Reply fight becomes comedy, especially when neither country has great human rights records. The insistence of certain governments to stick on an issue like a broken record (Why? To waste time? To avoid their own human rights situations?) to the point that when either nation takes the floor it is met with Pre-Emptive laughter as the entire room knows what exactly word for word will be said, is unfortunate and embarrassing. No wonder people think this Commission has a credibility deficit. And on that note, the day’s session was closed, Item 6 was exhausted and all of us delegates along with the hulking shadow of the Racism Monster, retired to our homes for the night.
In honour of Tony Black Feather,