KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 4 / October-November-December 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

From: Hector Mareque

Sent: Friday, 11 January 2002 01:51


Here comes some good news for the New Year as the WCAR final documents have been released. I reproduce here a text by the Office of The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson announced on January 3rd the publication of the Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference against Racism, which clears the way for the implementation of measures adopted in Durban, South Africa, last autumn. "The anti-discrimination agenda the World Conference gave us is now a living, breathing document", the High Commissioner said. "With this agenda in our hands, we can regain the momentum created by the Conference and get down to the business of making the commitments made at Durban a reality. I cannot think of a better way to start the New Year".

Publication of the Declaration and Programme of Action had been delayed due to a difference of views or perceptions regarding mainly where to place several paragraphs of text drafted as the Conference drew to a close in Durban in September. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Foreign Minister of South Africa and President of the World Conference, and Louis Michel, Foreign Minister of Belgium and then-representative of the European Union, have now indicated, however, that all outstanding issues had been resolved. The General Assembly will consider the report of the Conference, including the Declaration and Programme of Action, in the near future.

The Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference are available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at

No final Durban declaration as yet

The United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) was held in Durban, South Africa this year. Over seven thousand representatives from civil society participated in the NGO Forum from 28 to 31 August 2001. The governmental meeting was held from August 31 to September 7. Although more than four months will have passed by the time the United Nations General Assembly (GA) resumes in January 2002, it is unlikely that the final versions of the WCAR declaration and program of action will be agreed and ready for GA approval.

Migrants Rights International (MRI) reports that approval could be deferred as late as October 2002 when the next annual session of the 3rd Committee begins its work. "The 3rd Committee of the General Assembly was unable to discuss the adoption of the WCAR documents and further referral to the General Assembly plenary for final approval, as there is still a stalemate on the fate of three paragraphs dealing with the slave trade, slavery and reparations on whether they will be placed on the declaration or plan of action. There is a whole NGO movement pressing member states to place paragraphs, 97, 99 and 100 in the program of action as it had already been agreed upon in Durban," writes Héctor Mareque of MRI.

Roger Wareham of the International Association Against Torture comments that "It is the WEO (Western European and Others) Group which objects to these paragraphs." Wareham criticises the Secretariat for its subservience to the WEO grouping and its disregard of the Conference mandate.

However, despite this delay, the Conference Secretariat will begin to draft its report. Also, reports MRI, at a December meeting with NGOs in Geneva, the Secretariat expressed its willingness to set up the Anti-Discrimination Unit of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on January 1, although the mandate and full implementation of this unit is contingent upon the release of the final WCAR documents. The database on good practices will also commence.

The WCAR Media Team of ISIS International-Manila recorded the contentious issues in their report written three days after the closure of Conference:

"Israeli NGOs inserted text stating that anti-Zionism is equal to anti-Semitism. Put against the background of the Holocaust, which the Israelis repeatedly highlighted, Palestine supporters had a hard time of it to have the text changed even as they argued that the two cannot be equated." Almost every thematic and regional caucus expressed frustration that the Israeli versus Palestinian issue overshadowed all other concerns.

Organisations representing the many peoples struggling for the right to self-determination, such as the Tibetans, Kurds, Berbers and Hawaiians, among others, found they had little space to air their views. "While the Draft NGO Declaration highlighted the plight of the Kurds, the Tibetans were horrified to find not a single mention of their problems." Smaller organisations, such as the support group working to bring international attention to the violent repression of the Oromo people in Ethiopia, have made independent statements to the official Working Group finalising the WCAR Declaration.

Among those groups whose voices were little heard during deliberations are the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual groups as well as groups advocating spirituality. A number of these organizations have also submitted independent contributions.

According to Isis, the indigenous people's caucus was one of the best organised and most coherent. "The final recommendations emphasised indigenous peoples' right to decision-making, self-determination and also linked their problems to environmental racism." There is, however, insufficient mention of indigenous peoples in the paragraphs that refer to reparations and migration.

"One of the most positive outcomes of the conference was the establishment of linkages between several groups concerned with migrant workers." There is a separate report from Isis about below.

Mainstreaming of the gender perspective is another positive outcome of the conference. The multiple discriminations faced by women as migrants, refugees, black, dalits, etc. was a running theme through every debate. The caucus on media deplored the continuing racial stereotyping of women in the mass media.

The media caucus also highlighted the propagation of hate speech. "Participants in the caucus agreed that hate speech must be prohibited by enforcing codes of conduct with strict anti-racism standards and other self-regulatory mechanisms."

"The caucus on caste, while it was unhappy about the lack of support from the intergovernmental meeting, had the satisfaction of having the Draft NGO Declaration clearly spell out that "caste-based" and "work and descent" related discrimination are issues requiring UN intervention. Caste-based discrimination has been squarely put before the international community for the first time by activists."

At the opening of the WCAR, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said that "every country has some form of discrimination" and that all delegates to the conference must return to their homelands with concrete plans. "All at the WCAR must assuredly agree," writes Isis, "but sharp differences in the interpretations of what are effective and concrete plans are inevitably delaying decision-making."

with reports from Isis International-Manila, Migrants Rights International, Mirek Prokes, International Association Against Torture, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, and HURIGHTS-Osaka.

KATHY CLARIN of ISIS INTERNATIONAL-MANILA wrote about the migrant workers' perspective in WCAR. The following are extracts from her article in the October 2001 issue of We!

For nearly two years, governments and NGO activist-lobbyists had immersed themselves in the process of crafting documents that would reflect the conviction that human dignity is paramount and that eliminating racism and all other forms of intolerance and discrimination is the key to genuine development. It has not been easy. Pinpointing the sources of racism and intolerance, identifying those most vulnerable to "crimes against humanity," and drawing up concrete plans to combat these age-old problems often brought state and civil society actors at loggerheads with each other.

But the sacrifices have paid off, and among those who gained the most from their relentless pursuit of their agenda were NGOs within the Migrant Caucus. UN member states now recognize the fact that migrant workers are at the receiving end of racism and racial discrimination. …[Paragraph 45 of the draft document recognizes] that migrant workers "give positive economic, social and cultural contributions to both countries of origin and destination." They have likewise adopted in the language of the official WCAR declaration key provisions that assure the protection of millions of migrant workers around the world, according to Mary Lou Alcid of Kanlungan Foundation, a Philippine migrant support NGO.

The declaration calls upon states to facilitate family reunification, provide social services and legal protection, implement measures to eliminate manifestations of racism against migrants and migrant workers, among others. Paragraph 85 calls upon states to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their families. WCAR Migrants Rights lobbyists called it a victory. Ellene Sana of KAKAMMPI, who also represented Migrants Forum Asia, said these provisions would help eliminate cases of rape and other forms of sexual/physical abuse, deception by employers and brokers, unjust wages, detention and deportation because of fake documents among migrant workers.

For years NGOs had lobbied unsuccessfully for governments to sign the said Convention. Prior to the WCAR, only 17 countries, all labor-sending, had signed it. At least 20 signatory states are needed for a convention to be enforced in the UN. With the adoption of the WCAR [statement and program of action], migrants and migrants rights advocates [will be able to] invoke these provisions… to address their needs and welfare, even if the Convention is, technically, still short of three signatures.

There had been strong resistance from labor-receiving countries against the inclusion of the term "migrant workers" in the language of the formal document. But the term eventually appeared in a few paragraphs of the section on conditions in the workplace. The most important is from Section III.A. Paragraph 67 which, "Urges States to design or reinforce, promote and implement effective legislative and administrative policies, as well as other preventive measures, against the serious situation experienced by certain groups of workers, including migrant workers, who are victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Special attention should be given to protecting people engaged in domestic work and trafficked persons, from discrimination and violence, as well as to combating prejudice against them."

Migrants rights activists say that although they know they cannot rest on these "laurels," or that these gains do not automatically translate into palpable benefits, nonetheless, the space for the protection of the rights and welfare of millions of migrant workers worldwide has been widened.

Of the many issues that the Caucus brought to the WCAR floor, two concerns were not even given the light of day: the abolition of the trainee system prevalent in Japan and Korea, and the alarming violations of migrant workers' rights in West Asian countries.

WE! is the newsletter of Isis International-Manila, an international NGO servicing women's information and communication needs within and beyond Asia and the Pacific region. The electronic version of WE! is at

Isis International-Manila, 3 Marunong St. Barangay Central, Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Tel: +632 435-3404 Fax: +632 924-1065