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        General Assembly
4 October 2004

Original: French

Fifty-ninth session
Item 105 (a) of the provisional agenda*
Elimination of racism and racial discrimination:
elimination of racism and racial discrimination

Combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

Note by the Secretary-General **

The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to members of the General Assembly the study on the question of political platforms which promote or incite racial discrimination submitted by Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance pursuant to Assembly resolution 58/159.

* A/59/150.
** This document is submitted late so as to include the most up-to-date information possible.

The present study is submitted pursuant to paragraph 14 of General Assembly resolution 58/159 in which the Assembly invited the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to submit to the General Assembly at its fifty-ninth session the study on the issue of political platforms that promote or incite racial discrimination, as requested by the Commission in its resolution 2003/41, and updated and expanded as appropriate.

The study reviews political parties or other organizations that promote racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance worldwide. The Special Rapporteur highlights three main factors in the study. First, he highlights the key role played by political organizations and parties in every region of the world in the rising tide of racism, discrimination and xenophobia. In that context, he goes on to underscore the intellectual posturing, namely the post-11 September 2001 proliferation of writings and publications that legitimize the culture of encouraging discrimination and racism and develop concepts such as the clash of civilizations, which have the potential to heighten ethnic and racial tensions by way of culture.

Lastly, the Special Rapporteur notes the major role played by extreme right parties and organizations, which are dangerous not only because of the xenophobic ideas they expound, but also because of their ability to exert influence at election time on mainstream democratic parties by promoting three issues: preference for nationals, opposition to family reunions and rejection of cultural diversity. The Special Rapporteur submits his recommendations on the above-mentioned issues to the General Assembly.


I. Introduction

1. The present study is submitted pursuant to paragraph 14 of General Assembly resolution 58/159 in which the Assembly invited the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to submit to the General Assembly at its fifty-ninth session the study on the issue of political platforms that promote or incite racial discrimination, as requested by the Commission in its resolution 2003/41, and updated and expanded as appropriate.

2. The study should be read and considered in the context of the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (A/CONF.189/12 and Corr.1) in which the international community expressed its concern that, “beyond the fact that racism is gaining ground, contemporary forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia are striving to regain political, moral and even legal recognition in many ways, including through the platforms of some political parties and organizations and the dissemination through modern communication technologies of ideas based on the notion of racial superiority” (Declaration, para. 27). The international community further underlined “the key role that political leaders and political parties can and ought to play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and encourage political parties to take concrete steps to promote solidarity, tolerance and respect” (ibid., para. 83).

3. The report is structured around two main sections preceded by an introduction. The introduction presents the study in the context of the follow-up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Section I seeks to explore the manifestation of racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East and North America. Section II offers recommendations drawn from that analysis.

II. Regional contexts and characteristics


E. The Middle East

40. In the Middle East, nationalists have sought to build a single Arabic nation interweaving the common culture, religion and history. However, despite the intellectual and political expression of this quest, notably by the Ba’athists in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, the region is still witnessing the reality of regionalism and the solidarity of tribes and clans. In many countries political parties are structured along confessional and religious lines. The unifying factor of Islam often gives way to religious identity.

41. Lebanon in its recent history has symbolized the tragic consequences of ethnic and communal polarization, with long years of civil war. In Egypt, the situation of the Coptic Christians illustrates the reality of religious and communal tensions, antagonisms and discriminatory practices. 26 In Algeria, non-Muslims and opponents of Islam have fallen victim to the deadly violence of the Muslim radicals of the Islamic Salvation Front and the Armed Islamic Group (AIG).

42. The Israeli-Palestinian divide, along political, ethnic and religious lines, is the main consequence of the Middle East conflict. The issues of racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia are consequently fundamental dimensions, and indeed expressions, of the conflict. The cycle of extreme violence triggered by the dynamics of occupation — violent acts of resistance followed by military retaliation — is not only terribly costly for the civilian populations on both sides (in particular the hopeless economic and social situation of the Palestinian civilians and the insecurity of Israeli civilians), but has fuelled profound ethnic antagonism and hatred. Political platforms and discriminatory practices have been built along the same lines. The present unacceptable situation of the Palestinian population, particularly in the economic, social and humanitarian spheres, is that of a population suffering discrimination. The attacks on Israeli civilians are totally unacceptable and, even if Israel has the right to defend itself, its construction of a “security wall” nevertheless constitutes a jarring symbol of seclusion, erected by a people whose entire tragic history has been marked by the rejection of the ghetto. One of the perverse effects of this conflict is its intolerable contribution to the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in other parts of the world.

43. At other levels, States and subregions in the Middle East have been locked in conflicts carried out along real and imagined lines of race, ethnicity and religion. Most of the States have large ethnic and religious minorities that have been subjected to exclusion and persecution. In fact, countries such as Lebanon, Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic are known as “nations of minorities”. Others, such as Jordan, are referred to as one State with two peoples: Jordanians and descendants of Palestinians. The larger States, from Egypt and the Islamic Republic of Iran to Turkey, have ethnic and religious minorities that have borne the impact of State-sponsored or communal-based discrimination. Even the hitherto homogenous populations of the Gulf States in the oil era now have to confront the issues of ethnocentrism and exclusion stemming from the influx of huge numbers of foreign workers. The struggle against terrorism is demonstrating its most pernicious effects in this region by literally bringing into conflict groups and communities, and even whole religions and cultures, that had spent many years constructing a vibrant and interactive coexistence.


III. Recommendations

A. Recognition and awareness

56. The current realities of racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and related intolerance should be acknowledged as major threats to peace, security and human development. Paragraph 115 of the Durban Programme of Action, which “[u]nderlines the key role that politicians and political parties can play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and encourages political parties to take concrete steps to promote equality, solidarity and non-discrimination in society, inter alia by developing voluntary codes of conduct which include internal disciplinary measures for violations thereof, so their members refrain from public statements and actions that encourage or incite racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”, should be the cornerstone of all political programmes in the States Members of the United Nations.

B. Prohibition of racist and xenophobic programmes and ideas

57. States must exercise greater control over racist and xenophobic statements and ideas — especially when they are expressed by representatives of political parties or other ideological movements — and ensure that such activities are stopped. Freedom of expression cannot be used to justify incitement of this kind. The law should also prohibit any party or movement from promoting racist and xenophobic ideas. Moreover, Internet sites with racist content should be prohibited and monitoring procedures introduced to this effect.

C. Establishment of monitoring, reporting, documentation and information processing institutions and procedures

58. Information, data collection and documentation of incidents, movements and propaganda materials are key to responding to immediate problems as well as to avoiding long-term disasters. Just as the need for early warning systems for weather-related catastrophes is now firmly established, a preventive monitoring system against potentially explosive racial, ethnic or religious conflicts is warranted as well. Early warning systems that monitor developments in communal violence can detect changes through the recording of racist incidents, the spread of hate literature or the mobilization of groups for war.

59. The collection and processing of information on cases of violence, discrimination and unfair violations of individual and group rights need to be conducted by autonomous, complementary and mutually balancing institutions such as statistical bureaux, universities and schools, community groups, legal bodies, international organizations and research establishments. Monitoring, processing and dissemination of information to policy-making bodies and the public at large should be conducted by organizations at the national, regional and international levels. It is now widely accepted that the mass killings and genocides that were allowed to take place in Rwanda, the Balkans and other areas could have been prevented by information-gathering and dissemination systems that would have alerted the world public. The key steps to prevention — establishing universal principles and standards; monitoring developments; recording cases, events and trends; assembling, processing and relaying information to all concerned — need to be institutionalized.

D. Developing an intellectual and ethical strategy against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

60. The eradication of racism requires going beyond basic political and legal strategies. Racism is a huge iceberg whose visible tip — its expressions and concrete manifestations — hide its deep-rooted causes. The roots are embedded in beliefs, value systems, traditions, perceptions and individual and collective feelings, in other words in culture. The culture of discrimination is not an unidentified flying object coming in from outer space, but a long and elaborate construction, built up through time and space, constructed on an intellectual and “scientific” foundation and made substantial through processes of education, image and identity-building. Consequently, combating it requires archaeology and deconstruction; understanding its processes, its mechanisms, and its spoken as well as its non-spoken language. The urgency of adopting a strategy to this end is justified by the fact of the resiliency and the living reality of racism in acts of daily life and the deep, negative perceptions and images of communities in States that have already adopted elaborate political and legal strategies to combat lasting legacies of racial prejudice.

61. In this context, States should develop awareness-raising and education programmes to promote tolerance and diversity and combat violence and exclusion, at both local and national levels. More particularly, consideration should be given to the dissemination of such messages of tolerance through magazines, cartoons, games, films and other highly popular youth media.

E. Promoting democratic political vigilance against the normalization of the racist and xenophobic agenda of the extreme right

62. The rise of racism and xenophobia on many continents and in many States can be explained by the capacity of the extreme right to shape the national political agenda around nationalist, xenophobic and racist ideas and policies under the guise of protecting national employment and combating immigration. In order to win elections, many political parties are promoting political platforms espousing these ideas and policies. A careful study of political debates in several States, in particular in Europe, will show without doubt the steady and powerful penetration of the platforms of xenophobia and discrimination of the extreme-right parties in the agendas of the traditional democratic parties, from the right and the left. The post-11 September atmosphere is revealing the profundity of their impact, with the intellectual and ideological legitimization of these platforms in the writings and discourse of leading scholars and writers. The theory of the inevitability of a “clash of civilizations” is slowly but steadily becoming an ideological reference point for political leaders.



26 Bernard Lewis, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East, New York, Schocken Books, 1998.


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