THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLES:
An Interactive Dialogue and Round Table
Palais des Nations, Geneva, April 23, 2009.
Geneva 23 April 2009 - International Council for Human Rights (ICHR), in
association with International Human Rights Association of American Minorities
(IHRAAM), Indigenous Peoples and Nations Coalition (IPNC) and The Indian Council
of South America hosted an Interactive Dialogue & Round Table at the Palais des
Nations in Geneva. The event entitled The Rights of Peoples ran in parallel to
the Durban Review Conference that has taken place at the United Nations this
The list of speakers included Barrister A. Majid Tramboo, Chairman of ICHR and
IHRAAM's permanent representative to the UN Geneva, Prof. Alfred de Zayas
Public and International Law professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy &
International Relations, Prof. Krishna Ahoojapatel UN Representative Womens Int.
League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Doudou Diene United Nations Special
Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia
and related intolerance from 2002 to 2008 and Mr. Ronald Barnes Chair of
Indigenous Peoples and Nations Coalition (IPNC).
Barrister A. Majid Tramboo opened the Interactive Dialogue & Round Table by
outlining five kinds of discrimination that peoples face around the world.
Firstly; self-determination. He said that: the Durban Declaration and Program
of Action reaffirms the principles of equal rights and the self-determination of
peoples. It stresses that such equality must be protected as a matter of the
highest priority and recognising the duty of states to take prompt, decisive and
appropriate measures with a view to eliminating all forms of racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The charter of the United
Nations and common Article I of the International covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights and Article 15 of the International Convention on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination contain these principles.
International law recognises that violations of the right to self-determination
based on grounds of racial discrimination are a crime against humanity. Yet in
todays world order, very regrettably, the exercise to self-determination is
based on grounds of racial discrimination and religious discrimination. The
Kashmir conflict is a particularly pertinent point when discussing the right to
self-determination. In Kashmir the state of Indian has systematically denied
the peoples that live there their right to self-determination. In doing this
they have abused their human rights on a gross scale.
Secondly, comes religious intolerance. The increasing phenomenon of religious
intolerance is a dangerous new threat to both the rights of peoples and peace &
security in the world.
Thirdly are the increasing use of anti-terrorism laws by states. Whereas it is
recognised that states have a legitimate right to protect their states and
citizens from terrorist attacks they also have a duty to uphold their human
Forth are gender concerns. Undoubtedly, discrimination based on gender
continues to exist in terms of equal opportunities, violence, trafficking,
unequal justice, inadequate healthcare and so on. One of the greatest
challenges faced by the world is redressing this balance.
Finally there are health concerns. Discrimination based on diseases such as HIV
and Aids continues and those affected people become subject to cultural
practices and ignorance that are out of step with modern thinking.
Indeed it is imperative that racism and discrimination do not go unchecked,
regardless of where they occur, who their victims are or who is responsible.
The fight against discrimination should be seen as a part of the global struggle
for Human Rights.
Mr. Doudou Diene drew attention to the idea that racism has existed for
centuries and that every ten to fifteen years a community and culture has been
destroyed. He stated that: after each time genocide occurs the global
community comes back to the idea of "never again". The genocide in Rwanda
displays two effects. Firstly the genocide in Rwanda took three months and the
world was exposed to it daily through the media. The world was disgusted while
the nations of the world discussed it in New-York. What is more complex, and
what should be debated, is the complexity of people. Secondly, the people of
Rwanda had the same language, culture and religion; they were the same. It was
the colonists that ethnicised the people of Rwanda; they literally invented the
divide between these people.
We have to realise that the idea of different people is a construction of man.
The modern version of racism is a Human Rights issue. Those who ideologize the
issue, when you read their speeches, you come to the central motion that is at
the heart of modern racism; that is the construction of identities. This notion
is now the source of racism. Deciding that one identity is the sole identity of
a nation, and all other groups have to submit to that national identity, is when
the process of de-humanisation starts. We can see it now in Europe. The root
cause of racism in Europe is its current identity crisis. Its the clash between
the historical national identities of people, linked to the idea of the nation
state, states are defined along ethnic grounds. This clash between the
national and the state identity, as outlined in history, has added to the
construction of racism in Europe. I use Europe as an example but it can be seen
allover the world. Modern day the racism is directed towards foreigners, an identity framed
centuries ago. Framing identity in this way, by both the extreme right and even states, is the
source of the new racism.
In conclusion, whenever we get out of a meeting like this we have to remember
that the duty of all of us is to use what is approved during forums like this is
to fight racism. The solution to racism has three forms. Firstly, combating
discrimination. Secondly, promoting equality. Finally, and this point gets the
least attention, is promoting interaction between communities. Only by
combating the above points will the culture of racism, by combating the tinted
glasses though which communities look at each other, can we make way towards
combating racism. The lack of dialogue between communities while noting each
others individuality can be seen as the source of modern racism.
Prof. Krishna Ahoojapatel discussed colonialism, racism and the current state of
misinformation that is disseminated by the modern media. She stated that: there
is a difference between information and knowledge; that information has to be
analysed to become knowledge. We all move through these corridors each day [the
United Nations] and we can be easily mislead.
I want to talk about three matters. Firstly I believe that racism is a direct
consequence of colonialism. I would like to look at how colonialism has affected
how we look at other people, how racism is currently framed in the minds of
people. There is not a single country in the world where people are not
fighting for their rights. constitutional and international law cannot help us
answer this question. We know that in the last two hundred years of colonialism
ethnicities, cultures and languages were split along lines that suited the
I use the example of the partition of India. The decision was made, as to where
the border between Indian and Pakistan should be, by a British military official
whilst holding a glass of whiskey. The drawing of this line resulted in a
terrible massacre and has lead to a terrible history. The second point that I
would like to make about colonialism, and in African so many histories exist,
but I will draw attention to just two examples. In Ethiopia they had defeated
the attempts of colonialism by the Italians in the 18th century. However, this
history is little known because the people that wrote the history at the time
were the colonialists. In Haiti, they defeated the French in many battles, but
this history is also lost. If the history of people is lost then where are the
people? We read every day history that is written by the colonial powers
themselves; it is only now that people are starting to write their own history.
Therefore we are still learning the history as it was written by the colonialists. Finally, if we
look at the world then we can see that cultures and communities are fighting for their rights;
due to the financial policy of the west. Although the middle classes are becoming more
wealthy we are still fed misinformation. An idea had been formed that all those
that are not white are indeed called non-democratic. All of the UN documents
put women, minorities etc. in the same basket. demographically women are the
majority; this is a fact. So when we want to treat the majority in a minority
way we call them minorities. Further, the majority of people are indeed
non-white, therefore white is the minority. It is the labeling of people that
causes the problems of the world.
Finally, I would like to bring to your attention that 90% of the people killed
in the recent wars of the world are women and children. What has happened to
this conference is the most dangerous thing that has happened in the political
scene. We have had to argue to include the rights of women and it is a shock
that these rights still remain such a decisive issue.
Prof Alfred de Zayas began by discussing the differences between "hard" and
"soft" law. Noting that Durban is soft law he said that: frequently soft law
can be "harder" than hard law. Soft law is based on consensus and much
consensus has been reached in the final document of the Durban Review
Conference. The European invaders identified all of the communities of what is
now America as "Indian:. Millions upon millions were killed by the Spaniards
and later by the Anglo-Saxons merely for being native. This was perhaps the
greatest demographic tragedies in history and was rooted in ignorance and
After discussing the differences in "hard" and "soft" law he went on to ask
when the indigenous peoples of the Americas, particularly Alaska, will get the
justice they so richly deserve. The UN charter and Article 1 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that people have
the right to self-determination and access to the natural resources in their
lands. In the Human Rights Committee, we managed to adopt important precedents,
notably about the Saamis in Scandinavia, the First Nations of Canada, The
Indigenous of Tahiti and the Lucas of Peru. How can indigenous peoples achieve
equality? What you need is affirmative action, truth commission, and the
rehabilitation of victims as envisaged in article 62 and 63 of the outcome
document of the Durban Review Conference.
Mr. Ronald Barnes pointed out that indigenous peoples have always tried to fight
for their right to self-determination. He noted the discussion of Mr. Doudou
Diene and agreed that, particularly with the native people of Alaska,
colonialists had made an attempt to divide the native peoples and make them seem
different to others which resulted in openly racist treatment and policies.
He said that: native Alaskans were placed there with the God right to chose
their own fate and that they have the internationally recognised right to