Towards the World Conference Against Racism - From the Viewpoint of " Discrimination based on Work and Descent"

Kenzo Tomonaga
Director, Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute

Challenges Raised by the World Conference

From May 21 to June 1, 2000, the Second Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) was held at the European Headquarters of the UN (Palais des Nations) in Geneva, Switzerland. I attended the meeting from May 22 to 25 with Mr. Masahito Tagawa, a member of Central Executive Committee of Buraku Liberation League. In this article, I will give my observations of the Preparatory Meeting, and discuss the significance and challenges of the World Conference, and its relation to the elimination of "discrimination based on work and descent."

The World Conference against Racism has the following objectives: 1) to evaluate achievements so far made in the world's efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, and identify problems together with possible solutions; 2) to examine applicability of standards to combat racial discrimination; 3) to build public awareness about racism; 4) to make proposals for UN programs to combat racism; 5) to examine political, historical, economic, social and cultural elements of racism; 6) to make recommendations for measures and actions to be taken at local, regional and international levels; 7) to secure resources necessary for implementing Plan of Action of the UN towards the elimination of racial discrimination, and to adopt the "Declaration" and "Plan of Action."

Of the above objective 5, the primary concern goes to the issue of "compensation" for damage caused by the colonial rule of imperialist countries historically and the impacts of such damage that still continue today. The second concern is to elucidate effects of globalisation on racism and racial discrimination. Specifically, with on-going globalisation, a gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider both at the national and global levels while marginalizing various types of minorities in society. The third concern relates to the arrival of IT society as seen in the widespread growth of Internet users. While it brings many benefits to us, it also facilitates networking and expanding of groups supporting racism and racial discrimination.

Lobbying at the Preparatory Meeting

In the process of globalisation, marginalisation of minority groups has become more apparent. It has affected such groups as migrant workers, indigenous people, ethnic minorities and refugees. In addition, some of NGO meetings and experts meetings which were held in different parts of the world in preparation for the World Conference have stressed the importance of including the issue of "discrimination based on caste" as demonstrated in discrimination against Dalit (outcaste people) in India and Burakumin in Japan, and the issue of discrimination against minority women (multiple discrimination) in main agendas. The main purpose of our participation into the Second Preparatory Meeting was to make sure that the issue of "discrimination based on caste"would be placed on the agenda. To this end, during the meeting, we tried to establish good liaison with those people who have worked for the elimination of discrimination against oppressed castes in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, whileorganising an NGO briefing session and lobbying with official representatives from the concerned countries.

UN Resolution on "Discrimination Based on Work and Descent"

The issue of "caste discrimination" has been addressed at the UN level in a form of individual complaints by representatives from NGOs during sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights and Sub-Commission. It has been also focused on in connection with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, especially with the term of "descent" stipulated by Article 1 of the Convention. In addition, last August, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has adopted a resolution in regard to "discrimination based on work and descent." For the first time in its history, an official UN meeting focused on the issue of discrimination against Dalit in India and Burakumin in Japan as "discrimination based on work and descent," and confirmed it as one of the forms of discrimination prohibited under international law while stressing the need to prohibit it at the national level.

During the NGO briefing session of May 21 attended by 150 people representing governments and NGOs, Ms. Smita Narula of Human Rights Watch based in the U.S. stated that the caste discrimination is not solely specific to India, but it is a worldwide problem involving the following; Dalit discrimination in Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan; Buraku discrimination in Japan; "discrimination based on caste" in Nigeria, Senegal, Mari, Guinea, Mauritius, and Madagascar; "discrimination based on caste" in Indian communities in Malaysia, UK, USA, eastern and southern Africa and Central America.

Opposition of the Indian Government

The Second Preparatory Meeting focused on the draft "Declaration" and "Plan of Action" to be adopted at the WCAR to the end of the final day of June 1. However, it only finalised the draft for the preamble part of the "Declaration." Because of this, the Third Preparatory Meeting would be held from July 30 to August 10. At this moment , as far as the issue of "discrimination based on caste" is concerned, there has only been one proposal made by the Swiss government to include a recommendation in the draft Plan of Action based on the resolution on "discrimination based on work and descent" made by the Sub-Commission. The Indian Government has raised a strong opposition against the proposal, making it s adoption difficult to predict.

The official reason for the opposition of the Indian Government is that, "As Dalit discrimination is not racial discrimination, the World Conference has nothing to do with it." However, the World Conference is focusing on a wide range of discrimination, amply covering the issue of Dalit discrimination. The Indian Government shows a strong opposition out of fear that it will call world's attention to the problem and make Dalit people excited if the issue is included in the "Declaration" and the "Plan of Action". Meanwhile, the Japanese Government takes the position that it will not oppose to the inclusion of the clause in the "Declaration" and "Plan of Action" as long as it does not go beyond what is written in "resolution regarding work and descent" of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights. (E/CN.4/SUB.2/RES/2000/4)

Untiring Efforts Bear Fruits

The Second World Conference to Combat Racial Discrimination was held at Palais des Nations in August 1983, which I also attended. The most important agenda item for the Second Conference was the Apartheid in South Africa, while little focus was given to the problem of Dalit or Buraku during the Conference.

Fifteen years later, the first World Conference for the Elimination of Caste System was organised in Malaysia in October 1998. Every Dalit participant who made a speech on the stage stated; "Discrimination against Dalit constitutes the largest and most serious discrimination problem in the world, as the population of our people reaches 300 million worldwide," and "We will realise a complete elimination of discrimination against Dalit in joint efforts of the UN and the international community." Their firm stand has been gaining more support and involving more people. It is expected that the World Conference in Durban in August will be one of the most important rallying points for the Dalit movement.

Towards the World Conference

According to the information given by a UN related person, the WCAR is expected to have more than 12,000 participants from around the world. In Japan, through the initiatives of IMADR-JC, the Durban 2001 Organising Committee for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was formed to do work including pubic relations, organising seminars or talks with government officials. The Organising Committee is jointly represented by several people including Professor Kinhide Mushakoji and Ms. Hanson Edes. The Organising Committee aims to include the following recommendations in the "Declaration" and "Plan of Action" of the World Conference: 1) Japan's enactment of Anti-Discrimination Law; 2) creation of a national institute to remedy human rights violations in Japan; and 3) Japan's ratification of the individual complaint system to international human rights mechanisms.

For the WCAR in August, IMADR, BLL and Osaka Liaison Committee for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will send tens of people. IMADR and BLL have been preparing for a panel exhibit and a workshop at the venue.

Durban 2001 Organising Committee:

(This article was written in July.)