Bahai News - Human Rights Day program at the United Nations
Human Rights Day program at the United Nations focuses on
upcoming World Conference Against Racism
UNITED NATIONS, 15 December 2000 (BWNS) Featuring a nine-city
videoconference that gave it global reach, a commemoration of Human Rights
Day held here on 7 December focused on preparations for next year's World
Conference Against Racism, with speakers stressing the worldwide nature of
racism and intolerance and the need to find new approaches that will promote
the acceptance of human diversity.
Speakers included Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights;
Jyoti Singh, Executive Coordinator of the UN World Conference Against
Racism; Techeste Ahderom, Chairman of the NGO (Non-Governmental
Organization) Committee on Human Rights and a Baha'i International
Community representative to the United Nations; and Pitso Montwedi,
Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the UN.
"My central message for the World Conference is that we are all one human
family, regardless of race, color, descent, ethnic or social origin, and
that for too long diversity has been regarded as a threat rather than a
gift," said Ms Robinson, who spoke from Santiago, Chile, where she was
taking part in a regional preparatory meeting for the upcoming World
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related
Intolerance, which is scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa, from
31 August to 7 September 2001.
"It is time that we refocus our understanding and allow diversity to be
a potential for mutual enrichment and benefit," continued Ms. Robinson,
who is also Secretary-General of the Racism Conference. "I believe,
therefore, there is a need to generate a constructive, positive,
forward-looking approach to the possible outcome of the World Conference
against Racism, the first of its kind to be organized by the United
Nations in the post-cold war and post-apartheid era."
Pitso Montwedi of South Africa, also speaking from Santiago, expressed
his hopes for next year's conference and for the efficacy of the outcome
document, which will be known as the Durban Declaration and Platform of
"We, as the hosts of the World Conference, believe that racism is a
global problem," said Mr. Montwedi. "We would like to see the widest
possible participation from governments, NGOs and civil society because
everyone has a stake in this issue."
Mr. Ahderom, speaking in New York, addressed the concerns of
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the upcoming World Conference.
"NGOs are already going to the substance of the issues to be presented
at the conference," said Mr. Ahderom, noting that NGOs have been
extensively involved in preparatory meetings for the Conference. "There
is an effort to try to pass from the mere articulation of the problems
to true implementation of a solution.
"Racism is a stubborn foe with roots that run deep in the human
psyche,” Mr. Ahderom added. “Racism is very tenacious because it
is not confined to its political manifestation. It is enduring because
it takes place in the hearts and minds of individual people.”
The videoconference linked participants in Bogota, Chicago, Geneva,
Mexico City, New York, Rome, San Francisco, Santiago and Vienna. It also
enabled participants in those cities and on the Internet to ask
questions and join in the discussion.
In that discussion, participants expressed concern about a wide range of
issues related to racism and intolerance, from the exploitation of
indigenous peoples, migrant workers, the mentally ill, and refugees to
the concerns of specific groups like the Dalits in India.
Renata Bloom, a participant in Geneva, asked for example: “How do we
go beyond the naming of the issues to the real matter of seeing
diversity as a gift?”
Addressing this question, Mary Robinson said there was a need for a
positive approach to teach the acceptance of the value of diversity and
stressed the need for education at the primary school level. “Racism
is a value system that is learned,” she said. Schools should get
involved, she said, by sponsoring essay contests and other such
competitions to engender greater tolerance and appreciation of cultural
and ethnic differences.
“Racial hatreds are the fruits of ignorance,” added Mr. Ahderom.
“In the absence of spiritual values, people have a need to elevate
one group over another.”
Like Ms. Robinson, Mr. Ahderom called for a far-reaching educational
campaign as the answer to racial intolerance, and said that NGOs and
civil society should be in the forefront of such an effort, building on
the “beautiful consensus” they have already achieved in many
The provisional agenda of the World Conference Against Racism is grouped
around five themes: 1) sources, causes, forms and contemporary
manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance;
2) victims of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance; 3)
measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the
eradication of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance at
the national, regional and international levels; 4) provision for effective
remedies, recourses, redress, and other measures at the national, regional
and international levels; and, 5) strategies to achieve full and effective
equality, including international co-operation and enhancement of the
United Nations and other international mechanisms in combating racism,
racial discrimination, xenophobia.
©Copyright 2000, Baha'i World News Service
Page last updated/revised 122600
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page