UN expert calls for attention to root causes of racism

24 October 2002
Doudou Diene

Tackling the global problem of racism requires attention to its root causes, a United Nations human rights expert said today.

Briefing reporters in New York, Doudou Diene, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, pledged to promote the implementation of all international treaties aimed at combating those scourges.

At the same time, he stressed the importance of addressing the cultural and historical roots of racism. “We have to get to what I call the archaeology of racism – how is a racist and discriminatory feeling born in different societies, what form does it take, what expressions, what are the value systems which give them strength, and, ultimately, what society has done about this,” he said.

As an example, he quoted from Voltaire, who wrote that “the skin of the Black is such that he is the natural slave of others.” The Special Rapporteur said this was evidence that “even at the highest intellectual level of thinkers, the ideology of discrimination, the perception of the other as inferior, has a long history.”

The tragic events of 11 September demonstrated that when the international community faces difficult conflict situations, “most of the time the attitude is certainly first to express positive feelings of understanding, but immediately – and it is what we are witnessing – [there is a] resurgence of feelings of hatred and discrimination… and the fact that communities and groups are designated as culprits or as the main cause of these tragic events.”

At the request of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur said he planned to conduct a preliminary worldwide study on the situation of Muslims and Arabs in the aftermath of 11 September 2001.

Refuting the theory put forward by Samuel Huntington of an inevitable “clash of civilizations,” Mr. Diene said “in the relations between cultures and civilizations, as in the relations between different communities, races and people, historically we know that we have a very complex process whereby conflict is a step to dialogue.” Contact between peoples had never been peaceful; “it has always been a contact of misunderstanding, of misgivings, of bad perceptions.” Dialogue should naturally follow, he added.

Urging implementation of the final documents adopted at the World Conference against Racism, held last year in Durban, South Africa, he called on all governments and societies to join forces towards that end.

 

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