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Racism Summit success marred by reversals on Indigenous Peoples

8 October 2001

The UN World Conference Against Racism has delivered a major boost for anti-racist action worldwide, said Minority Rights Group International as the summit concluded today. However, the achievement of states in overcoming political differences to agree a final text was marred by the failure of the agreed programme of action to address racism against indigenous peoples.

The final declaration and programme of action from the World Conference pledges the UN and individual states to enforce the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Although not reflected in the final document, many states at the conference have also recognised for the first time the reality of caste discrimination, or discrimination based on work and descent, which damages the lives of 250 million people worldwide, including India’s Dalits.

‘The agreement today is a victory of reason over cynicism,’ said Krishna Maharaj of Minority Rights Group International. ‘But the real test of the World Conference’s success is not the agreement of a document, but whether in the months and years to come the action programme actually reduces discrimination and delivers redress to the victims of racism.’

The final document included a controversial legal disclaimer which provided that ‘the use of the term ‘indigenous peoples’… cannot be construed as having any implications to rights under international law’, thus removing any legal force from the commitments in the document to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

‘Indigenous peoples, including Batwa pygmies in central Africa, Amazonian peoples, native Americans and aboriginal Australians, face some of the most extreme forms of discrimination in the world today,’ said Mr Maharaj. ‘To attempt to undermine their rights under international law is both a failure of vision by governments and an insult to indigenous people themselves.’

Contact: MRG Press Office, [email protected]

Minority Rights Group International is a non-governmental human rights organisation with consultative status at the UN, dedicated to protecting the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and promoting cooperation between communities.