(Geneva) – Governments that boycotted the UN racism conference should now demonstrate their commitment to fight racism by endorsing the conference declaration, Human Rights Watch said today. By so doing, they can ensure that the conference will be remembered for its commitment to victims of racism and not for an inflammatory speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

The document affirms the right to freedom of expression while combating racism, and calls on governments to take action to eradicate multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination.

“Nations that attended this conference in good faith proved that it’s possible to reaffirm the global commitment to fight racism, despite efforts to derail the process,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The adoption of this document by consensus only a day after Ahmadinejad’s divisive speech is a clear message against intolerance.”

The declaration takes stock of the fight against racism since the first UN racism conference in Durban in 2001, which was tainted by efforts to focus criticism on Israel. It lists some of the challenges affecting the struggle against racism, including the global rise in religious intolerance and the need to combat discrimination in the fight against terrorism.

Despite the efforts of some governments, including Iran, to single out specific situations for criticism, the document contains no reference to Israel or the Middle East and rejects the dangerous concept that religions, as opposed to individuals, could be defamed or have their rights violated. It also reaffirms the tragedy of the Holocaust and condemns anti-Semitism. In addition, it fully protects the right to freedom of expression as defined under international law, affirms and strengthens the call for the protection of migrants’ rights, and acknowledges multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination.

The declaration recognizes the progress made in the codification of migrant rights, through the entry into force of the Migrant Workers’ Convention and calls for its ratification. It also calls on states to better protect migrants’ rights, including the rights of migrant domestic workers and migrant women. However, the declaration fails to adequately address the issue of caste discrimination, which affects more than 260 million people worldwide. Caste discrimination imposes enormous obstacles to the enjoyment of all rights and affects all areas of life. Although many states with a history of such social structures have adopted legislation to prevent discrimination on this basis, implementation is lacking, and prejudices remain socially embedded.

“States that boycotted the conference for fear it would foster hatred should be reassured by this declaration and should join the global consensus against racism,” de Rivero said.