Action to Reduce Discrimination

Published: 4 November 2004


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in its intervention under this agenda item in 2003, spoke of the relationship between its global/local Action to Reduce Discrimination in the context of our commitment to the outcomes of the 2001 Durban Conference. We are in a position to take that commitment significantly further this year, following the positive and constructive work done in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement at its major statutory meetings at the end of 2003.

That work is embodied in a resolution adopted by the Movement's Council of Delegates', which, apart from reaffirming with strength the commitments of the Movement's components to promote respect for diversity and fight discrimination and intolerance, importantly recognised that discrimination and intolerance actively jeopardise the efforts of civil society and governments to build prosperous and sustainable communities.

In this sense, the IFRC sees work against racism and all forms of discrimination as having a clear place within the work we must all do together if the United Nations Millennium Development Goals are to be achieved. It is important, we believe, that the General Assembly should acknowledge the current realities of racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and related intolerance as major threats to sustainable development as well as international peace and security.

This is one of the reasons why the IFRC lodged a Pledge on Non-Discrimination and Respect for Diversity during the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2003. The Pledge is available on the Internet , and I would encourage all delegates with a dedicated interest in the real work to be done at national and community levels to read it.

We have started our work towards the fulfilment of the Pledge, both with our members and other global and regional organisations. One of our key objectives has been to help build an enabling environment in which governments can work with their auxiliary National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society partners to achieve what must be common objectives at the national level.

Some examples of how this is done in practice might be helpful to this debate:

- In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the "Friendship without Borders" programme run by the local Red Cross Society in collaboration with the Norwegian Red Cross and with the support of the authorities works to rebuild broken relationships between young people from all the republics of former Yugoslavia, now independent states.

- The Icelandic Red Cross, with the support of the Ministry of Social Affairs, UNHCR and IOM works to support refugee families who might otherwise be marginalised to the point that they could suffer seriously from contemporary forms of discrimination.

- In Sierra Leone, the Community Animation and Peace Support Project run by the Sierra Leone Red Cross facilitates the work of communities to rebuild and revitalise their own tolerance and mutual relations destroyed by years of war and related violence.

Many of our National Societies in different parts of the world have identified discrimination based on xenophobia or straightforward racism as a priority challenge in a world, which sees population movement, issues rise higher and higher on the political agenda in their countries. This is a serious concern for us. It links directly to paragraph 115 of the Durban Programme of Action which "underlines the key role that politicians and political parties can play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and encourages political parties to take concrete steps to promote equality, solidarity and non-discrimination".


We recognise that all those concerned with promoting respect for diversity, fighting discrimination and intolerance must work together to be successful. We, working closely with the ICRC, are convening a group of experts covering all relevant aspects of the non-discrimination and respect for diversity agenda to work towards the implementation of the commitments contained in the 2003 resolution of the Movement's Council of Delegates.

That group will be invited to meet in Geneva in December 2004. It will, hopefully, also be inspired by the debates taking place on the issue during this session of the UN General Assembly, as well as by good work, which has been done on various elements of the discrimination agenda in the treaty bodies. The IFRC regards the treaty bodies as having a central role to play, for they are in a position to work closely with governments on the implementation of legally binding obligations undertaken by the governments.

For us, the work against discrimination does not need to involve new treaties or new laws. In nearly all countries the legal basis for action is in place, but what is missing is commitment and the concrete steps called for in the Durban Declaration. That is why the members of the IFRC are reaching out more and more to their governments and seeking action to fulfil commitments. It is our hope that the resolutions which this General Assembly will adopt will take that cause further, and will encourage much wider consultation with national organisations (including Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) as part of that work.

In closing, may I also pay respect to the energetic work done by some regional organisations? The one I would single out today is the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Its work, extending throughout Europe and sometimes beyond, is a good example to other regions of how to organise their efforts more effectively.

Against this background, the IFRC looks forward to working closely with the new High Commissioner, Justice Louise Arbour. She comes to the task at a very challenging time, and we will do all in our power to help her succeed.