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Following the 2001 United Nation’s World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, a resolution resulted in the decision to repeat Durban taken by the UN General Assembly in December, 2006. The resolution sought “to convene in 2009 a review conference on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action” (DDPA.)

In 2007, Canada’s Harper government embraced the contention that the 2001 Durban conference had been an anti-Semitic “hate fest” and became the first government in the world to announce that it would boycott the DDPA Review. Israel and the United States subsequently joined the Canadian-led boycott.

Despite these efforts to undermine the DDPA Review, an impressive array of delegates from around the world gathered in Geneva to attend the UN Durban Review Conference to assess the progress member nations of the UN are making to eliminate racism. Unfortunately, the opening day of the conference was dominated by controversy generated by the appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has gained international notoriety for attempting to cast doubt on the Nazi holocaust.

CUPE was part of an eleven member CLC delegation. Our delegates were Sister Yolanda McClean, Brother Brian Barron and Brother Harminder Magon.

For two days prior to the DRC Conference we attended the Civil Society Forum. The debates alternated between guest speakers and group work sessions, discussing many thematic issues like anti-black racism, discrimination and xenophobia against migrants, trafficked persons, multiple discrimination against women: the interface of race and sex and discrimination against indigenous peoples, including environmental racism.

The Forum in consultation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) proposed to sign a common declaration that was presented to the Durban Review Conference

A statement, delivered by the CLC delegation, stated that as civil society we are here to affirm our commitment to this Conference. Despite our multicultural makeup, we in Canada continue to face many and serious challenges with racism in all spheres of society. Racism is a harsh everyday reality for Aboriginal and racialized communities who suffer disproportionate levels of poverty, access to decent employment, and social services such as education, housing and healthcare. Other struggles include racial profiling, social exclusion and violation of their human, environmental and land rights and the rights of migrant workers and their families; and for equal recognition of those with international credentials seeking to live and work in Canada. These are just some of the fundamental issues facing us all and which the DRC must deal with.

We are here to share with the international community our tremendous disappointment with our government’s withdrawal from this important and critical international conference. We consider the Canadian government’s shameful withdrawal as a failure to conform to its UN obligations. We urge you to set the conditions to combat racism high - the circumstances and time that has already passed require a high standard.

There was also a demonstration for an International March against Racism organized by the Swiss organizations. More than 800 hundred people that showed up and many NGO organizations had their flags and banners. This was the first international anti-racism demonstration in Geneva.

Our delegates listened to the opening comments from Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She reminded everyone this UN Review Conference is intended to take stock of progress and implementation of the DDPA, a landmark anti-racism document that was agreed by consensus at the end of the 2001 World Summit against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

Eight years on, anti-racism pledges and measures have not yet succeeded in relegating discriminatory practices and intolerance to the heap of history’s repugnant debris, said Pillay. She urged delegates to transcend their differences and find consensus.

The Canadian government’s decision to withdraw from the UN process was a shameful abdication of multilateral responsibility. The persistence of colour coded economic and social disparity facing the growing number of racialized and Aboriginal persons throughout Canada made the Canadian government’s absence there all the more disgraceful.

We were successful in making our presence known despite our government’s absence, networking with the other NGOs and our special meeting of the Canadian delegation with the Deputy High Commissioner of UN on Human Rights. Brother Barron made a presentation on the situation facing First Peoples in Canada to the Deputy High Commissioner.

For a more detailed report please click on the attachment below.

Submitted by Yolanda McClean, Brian Barron and Harminder Magon

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