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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

RD/964
7 September 2001

MAIN COMMITTEE TO MEET AS RACISM CONFERENCE

GENERAL DEBATE COMES TO AN END


DURBAN, 7 September -- As delegates worked to complete action on the final documents on the last scheduled day of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) this morning urged them to address a range of issues to improve the situation of the millions of victims of daily discrimination.

This morning’s meeting marked the end of the general debate. At the end of the meeting, it was announced that the Main Committee would meet this afternoon.

The 29 speakers addressing the plenary meeting covered a number of national concerns, as well as addressing more general subjects, including the double discrimination which affects black women, discrimination in the workplace, and identifying the root causes of racism. Those issues and others, the speakers insisted, should be included in the Conference’s Declaration and Programme of Action, which was being discussed in an adjacent room. The Conference is scheduled to complete its work today.

Several NGO representatives spoke about the double discrimination faced by women, with some saying that certain groups of women even suffered further forms of discrimination. The Women’s National Commission described the plight of AIDS widows. In some areas of the developing world, 92 per cent of those who lost a spouse were women and were subject to a wide range of discrimination and loss of rights. Several speakers talked about the effect racism had on women’s health. The representative of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands said racism has established barriers to health-care access. The impact of racism on the health of black women, in particular, is apparent in the cases of HIV/AIDS. Black women make up 23 per cent of AIDS-related deaths, and have the fastest growing rate of infection after homosexuals and intravenous drug users.

In addition, speakers from the African and African Descent Women’s Caucus said the specific discrimination suffered by black women often gets lost because human rights’ agencies treat anti-black racism and anti-women discrimination as mutually exclusive. Such discrimination also affected the world of work, others said. According to the World Confederate of Labour, black women were paid 55 per cent less than white women, who already received less pay than men.

A speaker from the Roma Centre for Public Policies “Aven Amentza” called attention to the situation of the Roma people, who, she said, have suffered centuries of discrimination and abuse by European countries. The speaker said the United Nations should recognize the Roma non-territorial nations and provide for adequate Roma representation in its fora.

NGOs from all regions of the world have been a vocal presence in Durban since the Conference opened last Friday. Last weekend, they approved an NGO Declaration and Programme of Action, which were presented to the President of the Conference. But some NGOs expressed regret about the process of adopting those documents. The United Nations Association of China said Chinese NGOs were discriminated against and not listened to in the drafting process.

Before the plenary opened, Gathering Forces, a South African band, performed several songs, played with indigenous instruments, including animal horns, bells, hand drums and wooden frogs.

Also addressing the meeting this morning were: Service Peace and Justice in Latin America; The 1990 Trust; American Psychological Association; Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University; Africville Genealogy Society; Physicians for Human Rights; Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights; Association of Islamic Women Researchers; Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man; Committee on Women, Population and the Environment; World Federation of Democratic Youth; Women Association Follower of Ahlul Bait; Pax Romana; African Canadian Coalition against Racism; Nucleo de Estudos Negros; Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, also on behalf of the All-China Women’s Federation; International Possibilities Unlimited; Centro de Eustudios e Defenso do Negro do Para Amador; Union of Palestinian NGOs in Israel; Universal Day of Hope Trust; Union de Negros pela Igualdade; Pan-African Movement; and Youth against Racism.

The plenary session will reconvene to conclude the Conference at a time to be announced.

Statements

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ASSOCIATION OF ISLAMIC MUSLIM WOMEN RESEARCHERS: Almost 10 years have passed since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and it is time to evaluate the outcomes of that international event. International statistics and other available information clearly show the disinterest of the Western world in pursuing genuine human progress and development. Statistics also show that Western schools of thought have chosen to take for granted or blatantly neglect the “principle of dignity”, one of the most important principles of the United Nations. Instead, the technological advancement of countries is emphasized as a sign of progress. The fact that the basic rights of women in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Palestinian women were violated clearly denotes the ineffectiveness of laws and regulations that are haphazardly formulated without taking into account man’s true nature. We would urge further research and study in the following areas: women’s poverty, education for women and youth, religious intolerance and, most importantly, stereotyping of women in the media.

AL-HAQ, LAW IN THE SERVICE OF MAN: The Israeli military occupation affects every facet of Palestinian life. Travel restrictions and pass laws, curfews, land confiscation, house demolitions, school closures, assassinations, torture and arbitrary arrest are all actions taken against the Palestinian population as Israel attempts to retain control of Palestinian land and resources. Since last September, Israel’s actions have increased in brutality and have resulted in the killing of more than 640 Palestinians, over one third of whom were children under the age of 18. In the same period of time, 18,000 Palestinians have been injured. Israeli practices in occupied East Jerusalem provide clear evidence of the systemic racism faced by Palestinians.

/... UNITED NATIONS ASSOCIATION OF CHINA: The United States regards itself as a world of democracy, but the fact is, it is a model of racism. It is a shame that the Government walked out of this Conference. In Europe, xenophobia has become a serious social problem. Asians and Asian descendants face deep-seated racism, and a lack of access to political, economic and social opportunities. Chinese and Chinese descendants are often the targets of racism. In South Africa, apartheid was abolished in 1994. However, the whole continent is still poverty stricken. The very reason of its underdevelopment is its colonial history, as well as economic exploitation today. African countries are entitled to reparations. In the Middle East, the Palestinian people are being killed every day. Their legitimate right to self-determination is being denied. There should be an end to the violence against our Palestinian brothers and sisters. The NGO Forum was not democratic, and the whole process was not transparent. The working method was not in line with the usual practice of NGO conferences. The final document was adopted without consensus and its credibility is challenged. The paragraphs relating to the issue of Tibet are distortions and cannot be accepted. We struggled to be heard at the Forum, but our right to expression was denied, not only in the Asia-Pacific Caucus, but also in the NGO plenary. We were victims of discrimination at the Forum simply because we are from China.

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UNION OF ARAB COMMUNITY BASED ASSOCIATIONS: We are the indigenous people of historic Palestine, Palestinians who remained inside the borders of the new Jewish State in 1948. Almost overnight, we became an unrecognized national minority in our homeland. Despite our formal citizenship, we lived under military rule for 18 years, during which harsh restrictions on our civil liberties were imposed. The military rule ended in 1966, but there are still over 20 racist and discriminatory laws in Israel that address such issues as citizenship, access to land and adequate housing, political participation and education, among other things. Those laws emphasize the Zionist and Jewish ethnic character of the State. Israel’s response to the October 2000 demonstrations, in which 13 Palestinian citizens were killed and hundreds injured, also provides a clear indication of the State’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens. Today, our struggle is focused on our demand for full rights, both individual and collective, and for recognition of our status as a national minority. That recognition must include acknowledgement of our history, our national memory, our historical land claims, our culture and language, and our right to full and equal political participation. We will not be silenced.

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YOUTH AGAINST RACISM: This Conference triggers an explosive advancement for the contributions of young people in the world. Because of our age, we have a unique view on the situations of our neighbours around the world. We rejoice for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in South Africa, and we cry for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. At the same time, we are realistic about the vagaries of change and what real change requires. We care about the conditions of our brothers and sisters around the world. We care about the effects of globalization on the world’s children.

When necessary, we will rise up and fill the streets of cities in order to be heard. We will face the clouds of tear gas and storms of plastic bullets. We will stand up against police dogs and police brutality. We do all that in the name of a better world. But let us avoid those violent avenues. Let us forever work as we are now, together, on a level platform. May our union together continue towards development and our fight against racism continue towards success.
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For information media - not an official record