Carry on the fight against racism [People’s Daily]

by Guo Jisi (China Daily)

Sept. 24, 2011

The UN General Assembly held a high-level meeting in New York on Thursday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. This document, which serves as the international community’s blueprint for action to fight racism, was adopted by consensus at the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.

However, it is regrettable that several Western countries are boycotting it and even urge other countries to follow suit. But on second thought, it is no surprise, especially if we recall the situation in 2009 at the second World Conference against Racism, also known as Durban Review Conference, when nearly 10 countries refused to participate, and a walkout by about 40 delegates occurred, most of them from Western countries.

It is important to note that the 10th anniversary is not meant to single out any country for criticism or to pour salt in anyone’s wounds. Rather, it provides a platform for all nations to confirm their commitment to the values and principles of equality and non-discrimination and the measures by the international community to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The boycott of the Durban Review Conference and this year’s anniversary is a testimony to Western countries’ hypocrisy and lack of respect for fundamental human rights, including equality and the right to freedom of expression, supposedly strongly defended in the West. It clearly shows the West’s double standards over the issue of combating racism. The withdrawal from the conference by several Western countries exposes some countries’ fears of being held accountable for the implementation of the Durban Declaration.

First, some countries turned their backs with the excuse that the Durban Conference and its follow-ups had been “hijacked” by those seeking to bash Israel. But to the contrary, the noble mission to fight racism and discrimination was hijacked by those who were not willing to address human rights violations they have committed in history. Those with a myopic worldview seek to hold this conference hostage by preventing it from realizing its original objectives.

Second, some consider the history of the World Conference against Racism “a Durban disaster” as if they are the victims, while in fact it was slave trade, colonization, racial segregation and expropriation of indigenous people’s lands and resources that brought hideous disasters to generations of Africans, Asians and Latin Americans.

Third, as some countries explained that “many states would prefer to forget” the Durban Declaration, the decision to boycott the anniversary event stems from their attempt to downplay and legitimize racial wrongdoings by circumventing international criticism and open discussion. What some countries are doing is nothing short of self-deception. As a Chinese saying goes, with history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a nation. What we are doing by commemorating the anniversary is not settling old scores or giving a hard time to anyone, but learning from the past, putting things in perspective and being forward-looking in dealing with racism.

Both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay were “profoundly disappointed” at the boycotts in 2009. It was contrary to the principles the same countries claimed to uphold. Since the 2001 conference, the international community has made positive efforts in the fight against racism that have produced a number of good practices. But racism has not been eradicated and new forms have since appeared. The so-called democratic societies have experienced an erosion of human rights in the name of the war on terror since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, which is simply an outpouring of intolerance and xenophobia in the first place.

Likewise, the shooting rampage in Norway was triggered by an anti-Islam mindset and xenophobic worldview. The recent British riots were, in part, fueled by institutionalized racism and discrimination. Skinheads and neo-Nazis basing their thinking on racial superiority, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination are lurking again and have menaced numerous Western countries over the past decade.

That said, it is time to stop the sentiments espousing enmity and making vitriolic attacks against each other. It is time to get down to business, identify new forms of intolerance or racism and turn words into action. It is time to renew our commitment to fight all forms of racism, racial discrimination and intolerance that plague many countries and regions throughout the world in a way that appreciates cultural diversity, solidarity and harmony.

The author is a Beijing-based scholar of international relations.

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