Elimination of racism and racial discrimination

Published: 24 October 2003

Mr. Chairman,

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is impressed by the level of attendance and dedication displayed by many governments and civil society partners meeting together at various fora to find ways of addressing racism and racial discrimination. We have also been pleased to see that organisations, like the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, to give one example, are devoting significant resources at regional and country levels to the search for ways of addressing the problems.

Nevertheless, racism and racial discrimination present a serious challenge to the world, and whilst we are encouraged to see that many governments do take it seriously, we participate in this debate to bring to the attention of all governments, the concerns of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with regards to the relative loss of priority in some countries to the struggle against intolerance and discrimination. We are very worried about the growth of extremism, and with it, the reduction in levels of action to combat exclusion, social inequality, economic differences, xenophobia and discrimination.

In a substantial sense, this confirms the timeliness of the Programme of Action and the Declaration, which came from the Durban Conference in 2002. It does, however, also demonstrate that the work done since the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenants on Human Rights, has been insufficient.

We are convinced that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement with its fundamental principles of Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality can provide a counterbalance to the prevalence of racism and discrimination. Especially relevant in this respect is the principle of humanity, which by no means is confined to the boundaries of cultural, political, ethnic, religious or other differences.

Four years ago, in 1999, at the 27th International Conference, States parties to the Geneva Conventions together with their National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies committed themselves ". to reduce discrimination and violence in the community" and more particularly to "cooperate and, as appropriate, take initiatives to promote tolerance, non-violence in the community and respect for cultural diversity". This has been the basis for a new Global/Local Action developed by the IFRC to promote the values of tolerance and non-discrimination - as well as respect for diversity, and our fight against exclusion. Therefore, the issue will re-appear for further consideration at the 28th International Red Cross/Red Crescent Conference in December this year.

Mr Chairman,

When we speak of Global/Local Action, we speak in terms consistent with the outcomes of the Durban Conference. Our work is aimed at building local capacity, centred on our National Member Organisations, so that the work is done in a context appropriate to local conditions but towards a result which is consistently obtained in all countries. We look for partnerships with others who share our objectives, and in this context are particularly pleased that our hope for programs of joint action linking our National members with National Human Rights Institutions is close to implementation.

The work we do takes different forms from country to country, but there are many common points. All make extensive use of trained volunteers, people who are able to reach into the shadows of their communities to help vulnerable people who are often by-passed by regular processes. All make use of the tools provided by the IFRC or associated agencies, and all see the work as closely related to their own capacity-building work.

We are very pleased by the response to our initiatives, and let me take this opportunity to give a few examples of the reach of our work: One initiative, is development of a training tool of worldwide value, "Action to Reduce Discrimination and Violence in the Community: Global / Local". Consistent with it, a variety of programmes to reach different ages of population at community level are being implemented, e.g., "Stop the Violence" by the Norwegian Red Cross, "Friendship without borders" by the Bosnia Herzegovina Red Cross, "Red Cross Quiz" and "Count me in" by British Red Cross, "Urban Moderators" by the French Red Cross, "Community Animation and Peace Support" project by Sierra Leone Red Cross, and "Freeze! We are targeting violence" Democratic Republic of Congo Red Cross in collaboration with Belgian Red Cross.

The work done in different countries provides good examples to be followed by, and to inspire, other National Societies. This has led us to establish a network to share best practices and lessons learned in the field of reducing discrimination. This work will be taken further in 2004 by the inauguration of IFRC's "FedNet", an extranet project, which will facilitate linkages in this and other important humanitarian sectors.

Mr. Chairman,

Most governments accept readily that the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society can make a valuable contribution to their own work against discrimination. In our view there is a need to take a more proactive stance on this issue, and it is our hope that the work to be done at the 28th International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference in December together with your governments will lead to a common understanding that they should initiate dialogue with all civil society institutions capable of working with them to overcome the scourges of racism and discrimination. It is only with a proactive attitude to these partnerships that we will be able to redress the slippage the world has seen in recent years.

Thank you.