Durban Review Conference: the first substantive Preparatory Committee meeting
Source: AWID
Rochelle Jones

May 23, 2008

The Durban Review Conference, scheduled for mid 2009 to review the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, is a follow-up to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban in August/September 2001. The United Nations Human Rights Council is acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference, and held its first substantive meeting recently in Geneva, from 21 April to 8 May. In this Friday File, AWID revisits the WCAR and highlights some of the concerns in the lead up to the Review Conference.


The WCAR was held in Durban, South Africa, in August/September 2001. Convened as a critical element in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance, it was a significant and symbolic event for South Africa due to the end of apartheid nearly seven years earlier. Unfortunately the event was marred by controversy amid allegations of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and then overshadowed by the events of September 11, 2001. The outcome of the WCAR was the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) - which notably excluded the final statement of the NGO Forum's proceedings- rejected by governments because the conference became extremely politicized.

There are apprehensions surrounding the impending review conference, based on what happened in Durban in 2001. Canada bowed out of the conference in January this year over concerns some of the issues that precipitated expressions of intolerance in 2001 have not been readily dealt with nor remedied [1]. The presence of Libya and Iran on the organizing committee, for example, has generated concern [2]. Some NGO's have also decided to boycott the event, but many organizations hope that the follow up conference will drive state action on the 2001 outcomes, and open dialogue on issues that have evolved or intensified since 2001. These NGO's are hoping for a productive
Conference, and have developed a 'Statement of Core Principles for WCAR follow-up' [3].

The DDPA is a substantial document outlining recommendations to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance. It is an important framework and guideline and makes reference to a wide range of issues such as: measures of prevention and education at the international and national levels; prosecution; policy research and action plans; and economic and political decision-making. [4]

The DDPA has provisions for the inter-sectionality of racism with gender, such as: "Paragraph 62 urges States "to take all necessary measures to address specifically, through policies and programmes, racism and racially motivated violence against women and girls". The involvement of women in decision-making at all levels in working toward an end to discrimination is stressed in Paragraph 51. In the development of concrete measures, it calls for States "to incorporate race and gender analysis in the implementation of all aspects of the Programme of Action and national plans of action".

Paragraph 50 urges States "to incorporate a gender perspective in all programmes of action...and to consider the burden of such discrimination which falls particularly on Indigenous women, African women, Asian women, women of African descent, women of Asian descent, women migrants and women from other disadvantaged groups".

The gender dimensions of poverty must also be taken in consideration by ensuring "gender analyses of all economic and social policies and benefit those individuals or groups of individuals who are victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance" (Paragraph 52). [5]


In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly decided to convene in 2009 a review conference on the implementation of the DDPA. Three Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) meetings were planned in the lead-up to the review conference.

The first meeting was held in August 2007, where Governments made organizational decisions around the accreditation of NGOs, funding, and the objectives of the Review Conference, which are to review progress and assess implementation of the DDPA; assess the effectiveness of the existing Durban follow-up mechanisms and other relevant United Nations mechanisms in order to enhance them; promote the universal ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and to identify and share good practices.

The second meeting, which was the first substantive meeting of the Prep Com, adjourned on 2 May, to resume on May 26. On the agenda was a review of reports, contributions and other documentation - of which were to be used to draft the outcome document of the Review Conference.

To facilitate the process, a decision was taken at the first meeting in August 2007 to obtain information from Governments on their implementation of the DDPA. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights drafted a questionnaire, which was disseminated to all 192 member states and consists of six core questions drafted on the basis of the objectives of the Durban Review Conference. These core questions basically ask: "what, if any has been the general impact of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) in your country, can you identify the level and scope of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances in your country today and what are you, as government doing about it?" [6] 39 Governments responded as at April 4 [7], and according to the Netherlands based ICARE (Internet Centre Anti Racism Europe), responses ranged from "we have no racism issues" to page after page of measures taken to eliminate any and all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. [8]

The Annex of the questionnaire allows Governments to elaborate on specific policies, programs of action, legislative change etc. they have taken. Question 9 in the Annex specifically relates to gender, and asks: What measures have been taken to combat racial discrimination against women and girls and to ensure the incorporation of race and gender analysis in the implementation of all aspects of the Programme of Action and your national plan of action? [9] Not all respondents answered questions from the annex, however, focusing primarily on the core questions.

NGO presence at the Prep Com meetings is encouraged, and there were several NGO meetings organised by CONGO - the Conference of NGOs with consultative status. 29 representatives discussed the engagement of the NGO community with the Review process, some expressing their disappointment at the lack of initiative taken by NGOs to participate [9]. The possibility of an NGO Forum to be held in parallel to the Review Conference was raised at an NGO meeting organised by Interfaith International, with all agreeing that an NGO Forum was necessary. However, there seemed to be a common sentiment amongst representatives that an NGO forum was not wanted by some Governments and organisers of the Review Conference – allegedly related to the controversy that erupted from the NGO forum at the WCAR. A group of NGOs has requested a meeting with High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to ask for support for a NGO Forum at the Review Conference.


When the second Prep Com meeting resumes on May 26, the report will be adopted and the venue for the Review Conference confirmed. The third Prep Com meeting will be held in October 2008, with official regional meetings in Brazil and Nigeria hopefully taking place before then. About 30 civil society representatives from ten countries in Asia attended the First Regional Workshop on the Durban Review Conference (DRC) 2009, organised by FORUM-ASIA and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) in Bangkok in February this year.

Their Joint Statement was delivered at the 7th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March, making reference to the multiple forms of discrimination faced by women in Asia. This is an example of successful organizing by regional NGOs to participate in the Durban Review process.

Georgina Stevens from the IMADR spoke about the importance of organizing at one of the CONGO meetings convened at Prep Com 2. She said that "although countries and regions were slow in organizing regional meetings, that should not hold us back from organizing our own events. We should try not to be slowed down by the lack of response from states. We must coordinate, create a united front and be strong as NGOs to facilitate our own participation".[10]

The Review process is complex and substantial, and for a successful outcome of driving Governments' commitment on the issues, it is critical that NGOs mobilise and participate.


(1) Canada quits racism conference, 24/01/2008
(2) See also Pushing the World's Battle against Racism By Benjamin Pogrund
(3) Statement of core principles, pdf.
(4) Declaration and Programme of Action 2001, pdf.
(5) Excerpted from Forum Asia.
(6) Cited in ICARE's (Internet Centre Anti Racism Europe) special report on the Prep Com meeting
(7) All documentation pertaining to the first substantive session of the Prep Com meeting can be found here
(8) Ibid Note 6
(9) Ibid Note 7
(10) Ibid Note 6

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