On Friday, the last day of the preparatory conference held in Geneva in October 2008 it was apparent that considerable distance separated a number of the UN member nations in their efforts to reach a satisfactory draft outcomes document. Much of the proposed language for the final document was controversial.
Some wanted to improve specific clauses by inserting language that placed more responsibility on member states. Others were intent on diminishing the text with nuance. Some member states were not prepared to accept the status quo, and the question was obvious why review without improving efforts to eliminate racism?
What could improve this draft outcomes text?
Our delegation felt that specific improvements were important to demand.
First and foremost maintaining the first clauses that affirm the Durban Declaration and that Programme of Action as was adopted by all parties in 2001 we felt was critical. We had heard the US delegation was not prepared to affirm this principle clause and argued their participation was contingent on the point.
Beyond that other specific text improvements we argued for included;
• Naming that a lack of access to decent jobs enables racism.
• Supporting major reforms in international trade and investment deals is long overdue and related to systemic forms of racism and discrimination.
• Calling for exhaustive reforms to the global financial and regulatory system including tough sanctions for abuse and criminality.
• We observed this draft omitted references to unions unlike the DDPA which frequently cited unions. We advocated to delegates that when employers are mentioned in the text than it is important to equally reference unions, who have led workplace initiatives to identify, challenge and eliminate racism.
• We argued the text needs to refer to and demand member nation’s commitment to actions that include ‘effective implementation mechanisms”, implying that a real monitoring and assessment process must be applied.
• We noted the need for greater clarity in acknowledging the intersectional impacts of race, gender, and class. Further more member nations must ensure their national action plans are designed to counter these factors.
• We argued that efforts are needed to link actions to other agreed upon initiative that have specific goals and time tables such as the Millennium Development Goals.
• Those member nations who have not signed international instruments like the Convention to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families & the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, must commit to doing so and take tangible steps to make these commitments’ meaningful.
• We believe that extending the use of law and enforcement mechanisms is needed for more than hate crimes –it is also needed for anti-racism/anti-discrimination measures. For example –managers, who are responsible for implementing EE programs, need to find out in their pay cheque the consequences of not implementing EE in the workplace rather than getting bonuses.
Closed door strategy
Much of the work leading up to this prepatory session was held behind closed doors between October 2008 and April 2009. In the 3 days leading up to the Review Conference, the pattern continued, and once again behind closed doors, the strategy to deal with the growing controversy was simply to remove divisive language.
This could not have been done without compromises.
It appeared the removal specific language had two goals;
1) To encourage countries such as the US and Canada that were not in attendance to make an appearance next week at the Durban Review Conference.
2) To appease countries and regional blocks like the EU, Italy, Australia, and the Netherlands that were threatening to leave.
One of the member nation delegates reacted to this strategy by describing the document as a meal that has ‘no feel, no taste, no smell and if other countries wanted to leave, they won't be missed, nor miss much.’ Anti-racist and human rights activists felt this description hit the mark.
In our conversations with delegates from civil society from around the world we heard scepticism about what some governments have done within their countries since 2001, when the DDPA was agreed upon. In other cases, we were impressed to learn of initiatives that improved cultural awareness amongst young and old, and human rights training in workplaces.
As the day neared a close on Friday, the pressure was on for member delegates to either approve the draft text with all its flaws and shortcomings or admit to failure. The choice was loaded with public implications.
The Chair posed the question to the delegates; do your support the draft? In almost a blink – it was approved. Oddly, we noticed, that the closed door process continued right up to the end. One delegate quietly said, ‘we are improving the text –but none of us actually has the final copy in front of us!’ –
Why? The chair was still behind closed doors finalizing wording.