Human Rights Watch said today that it expected the upcoming United Nations-sponsored World Conference Against Racism to lead to concrete programs to combat racial discrimination around the world.

The U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will meet in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 7.

"Racism today is a pervasive problem which affects every society," said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. "We are expecting governments to commit to concrete national and global programs to stamp out racism in all its forms."

Human Rights Watch criticized the United States for warning other countries that the conference should not lead to any new programs to combat racism, any new legal standards, or any additional money to fund anti-racism efforts.

"Victims of racism around the world expect more than empty talk -- they expect action," said Brody. "This meeting needs to offer something to the refugee in Europe who is beaten up simply because he is a 'foreigner,' to the scavenger in India whose low caste prevents him from rising in life, to the Tibetan tortured by Chinese police, to the Palestinian under Israeli occupation, to the African-American child who is three times as likely to live in poverty as her white counterpart."

Human Rights Watch also called on the government of India to drop its insistence that the issue of caste discrimination be kept out of the meeting's final declaration, despite an unprecedented international mobilization around the issue.

"More than 250 million people worldwide suffer under a hidden apartheid of segregation, modern-day slavery, and other extreme forms of discrimination because they were born into a marginalized caste," said Smita Narula, Senior Researcher with Human Rights Watch. "Caste discrimination has been a shameful secret for too long, but an emerging global movement will not let it be hidden any longer."

Human Rights Watch also said it hoped that the conference would:

  • Call for reparations to address the continuing effects of slavery, segregation, and other extreme forms of racism. Human Rights Watch has proposed the creation of truth commissions to examine how a government's past racist practices contribute to contemporary deprivation and to propose methods of redress;
  • Recognize discrimination against refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and internally displaced persons as a contemporary form of racism and call on governments to reverse practices that discriminate against refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants and to reaffirm their commitment to the U.N. Refugee Convention;
  • Address the issue of racial discrimination in the conferring, denying and stripping of citizenship; and
  • Recommend measures to identify and to remedy the racist effect of law or practice in the administration of justice, even in the absence of racist intent.