Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance

Published: 17 June 2008

Statement by Katherine Bundra, IFRC Research Associate, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies welcomes this discussion on racism and the active preparation of the Durban Review Conference, which is of vital importance to us.

Since its inception, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has actively challenged racism and racial discrimination.

The Fundamental Principles of our Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement explicitly prohibit any form of discrimination and racism.

Decades ago, our Governing Board requested all Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies to combat racism in all its forms highlighting that racism and racial discrimination are a violation of human dignity and human rights.

In addition, they are serious impediments to the strengthening of community resilience in the face of disasters and public health threats, and to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Our commitment to protecting human dignity and tackling discrimination was given a further practical dimension in November 2007 at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

At that Conference, all 194 States Parties to the Geneva Conventions, all our 186 RC/RC National Societies, as well as the IFRC and ICRC adopted the Declaration “Together for Humanity” which addressed the main humanitarian challenges now facing the world.

Within the context of addressing violence, in particular in urban settings, all conference members formally committed themselves to “intensify efforts to mobilise community respect for diversity and action against racism, discrimination, xenophobia, marginalization and other forms of exclusion, faced by all vulnerable groups, … based on the considerable experience of National Societies”.

This commitment is an active reflection of the way we manage all our programs, in all parts of the world.

Despite all that has been done, and all the laws enacted by governments, discrimination unfortunately remains an endemic problem today. It is with deep regret that we have seen a growth of anti-foreigner xenophobia and violence in a variety of countries.

It is particularly troublesome to have witnessed the urban violence which has affected South Africa, a country which has built a proud and justified record of tolerance, a "Rainbow Nation" which has celebrated the benefits of inclusion embracing many cultures and languages.

Nevertheless, the South African Red Cross Society stands as an example of a National Society whose preparedness and volunteer strength has enabled it to be an effective provider of emergency relief, mobilising its network of hundreds of volunteers and staff, from 35 local branches throughout the country.

After the violence began on 12 May 2008 it launched a national emergency appeal, and has been gratified by the generous response it has received from the South African public.

This has been followed by a number of National Society measures, culminating in a proactive awareness-raising campaign and an anti-discrimination campaign drawing from the International Conference outcome, under the banner Together for Humanity.

South Africa also provides an example of the way the IFRC is able to support a National Society in such times.

We released funds from our Disaster Response Emergency Fund to enable a team of technical experts to assist the Society in the distribution of emergency relief items as well as providing tracing services, first aid and basic counselling to those affected by the violence.

Together with the South African Red Cross Society, we have also integrated an anti-discrimination perspective in its operational response, for instance by including leaders of displaced communities in the decision-making processes when providing relief assistance.

This is a dramatic example of the Red Cross Red Crescent at work, but all our National Societies are committed to working towards the same objectives.

In the post-election violence, the Kenya Red Cross demonstrated how it was able to effectively reach all different ethnic groups and played a bridging role uniting the nation.

The auxiliary role of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies to their public authorities in the humanitarian field, offers them a privileged platform to engage in humanitarian advocacy and influence decision-making.

The Spanish Red Cross Society, for example, operates a project titled, “Building spaces for social inclusion” focusing on immigrants by emphasising social sensitization and reducing stereotypes.

It lobbies with government bodies to foster equal opportunities, present a positive image of immigration and diversity, and address discrimination.

At the same time, we recognise that we need to do more. We see now many Red Cross Red Crescent Societies supporting youth camps, which bring together volunteers from different cultures and religions, to foster understanding and explore ways of working together.

We strongly believe in the role of youth as agents for behavioural change. As requested by the last International Conference, we are working on empowering youth to prevent, defuse or mitigate violence, particularly in urban settings, tackle discrimination and foster social cohesion, through developing training in skills such as non-judgment and consensus building.

Let me conclude, Mr. President, by reiterating the need to reinforce the foundation of our common existence as members of a universal human family with inherent dignity, and equal and inalienable rights.

Each one of us should seek to stop divisive labelling which feeds the seeds of violence and leads to a racial, civilizational and religious partitioning of the world.

We need to view diversity as a source of wealth rather than a threat, and see beyond our common humanity, the aspirations and vulnerability which all humans profoundly share in the deepest of their being.

We look forward to taking these points further in our discussions with members of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner.

We will in particular be examining the best ways of employing the energy of our National Societies and their grass roots network of tens of millions of trained volunteers in the promotion of effective humanitarian dialogue which makes a real contribution to addressing the causes of racism and discrimination.

Laws have been made, virtually everywhere, but more needs to be done.

We call upon governments to support capacity-building at the grass root level and campaigns designed in consultation with the communities themselves.

We will be emphasising this point at the Durban Review Conference, and look forward to your support as we develop and intensify our own programs in this area.