by Sergia Galván
ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento

The events of September 11th 2001 were, for the majority of governments, the perfect excuse to immediately abandon the commitments made from August 31 to September 8, 2001, at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, Africa.

Under the argument of combating terrorism, the global agenda was reconfigured and the priorities changed, while the commitments made against inequality and social exclusion were thrown in the trash. In this context, the Durban Plan of Action was concluded.

The post-Durban context is characterized by an increase in racial hate and intolerance, the international and regional adoption of racist and xenophobic agenda, an increase in anti-Semitism and islamophobia, a reduction in most government's political will to fight racism, the adoption of discriminatory and racist policies against migrants and refugees, a decrease in the resources for international cooperation in the fight against racism, the increase in new contemporary forms of racism and the reaffirmation by some governments that racism does not exist.

At least in our region, the demobilization and weakening of social movements' spaces, networks and articulations should be emphasized. These movements, which played a central role in the Durban Conference organizing process, also face a limited capacity to monitor and ensure public accountability for the projects launched as part of the Action Program.

The Action Program has advanced very little in our region. What scarce actions there are have been oriented towards the creations of mechanisms to ensure racial equality in some countries, but with little or null political power and without budget resources. Programs have also focused on the adoption of affirmative action for afro-descendent or indigenous peoples in terms of education, political participation and healthcare in a few countries. And others have focused on the inclusion of ethno-racial statistics in censuses and other state statistics and information gathering.

We can also point to some gains, such as the creation of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendents and the process for the elaboration and adoption of an Inter-American Convention for the Elimination of Racism and all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance.

In this context, the Brazilian government, in alliance with the social movements that coordinated the process at Durban-currently called the "International Committee"-, with the support of the Chilean government, took on the challenge, in 2006, of convening the Conference of the Americas. The objective of the event was to identify the advances and challenges in implementing the Durban Action Plan.

The Conference's results-the Brazilian government's commitments and the demands of groups that fight against racism-were the central pivots in reversing the refusal of the United Nations to convene a conference to evaluate Durban.

The effective execution of the Conference to Examine Durban faces among its difficulties sparse political will of the participating States. This is clear from the lack of financing for the conference, the lack of response to an evaluation questionnaire and the low level of involvement and support for regional conferences. Other difficulties and threats for holding the Conference include the resistance of European countries, the lack of consensus among African countries, Canada's withdrawal from the negotiations, the United States subtle boycott and the lack of agreement over the structure of a final conference document.

The regional process
The Latin American and Caribbean Regional Conference took place June 17-19, 2008 in Brazil. The governmental delegations were low profile. The documents and discourses did not reflect the Durban Action Program's low level of implementation in their respective countries, nor their tepid commitments for future work.

A consensus declaration was adopted that recognized that the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination constitute an unavoidable prerequisite for sustainable development, the construction of democracy and social justice. Nevertheless, they did not adopt a single commitment with a timetable or resources to take on current problems.

It is important to note that the Caribbean and Latin American Regional Conference is crucial to effectively more forward in the agenda to review the progress since Durban, at the international level. The eyes of the United Nations and other regions were waiting to see what happened in our region.

The holding of this Conference has sent a strong message to the international community about the historic responsibility and political costs that will have to be paid if the review process is detained or has its scope limited.

Civil Society in the region was able to reorganize itself in a short time-span to support the process of the Regional Conference. It was understood as a strategic path that enables us to involve ourselves in and influence the process at the world level.

Prior to the Regional Conference, civil society organized a forum with the aim of evaluating compliance with the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action in the region, by governments, international bodies, society and the United Nations. The documents called for the establishment of 5 and 10 year goals for overcoming racism, sexism, homophobia, racial discrimination and related forms of intolerance.

As a result of the three days of work at the Civil Society Forum, we achieved consensus on a political declaration that was presented to regional governments and the adoption of a document that will be presented to the Geneva preparatory committee meeting (prior to the revision), that will serve as an instrument for the negotiation and positioning in the face of the 2009 Conference.

Latin American and Caribbean civil society faces the challenge of building a process of mobilization at the national level of movements against racism. This must include generating alliances with other social movements, building global networks monitoring and generating accountability and social pressure on governments to create national processes for evaluation and firm commitments for the 2009 Conference.

What about women?
n Latin American and the Caribbean, afro-descendent and indigenous women played a protagonist role in the preparatory process for the World Conference at Durban. They built a social force of women that produced documents and proposals, ensured that their realities were made visible and demanded spaces for participation in decision making. However, none of the documents, whether official or from civil society, adequately reflected the impact of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination in the lives of women.

The documents that surfaced in the course of the Conference recognized the difficulty of understanding that racism and sexism go hand in hand and that they cannot be seen as two mutually exclusive categories.

Uncovering the ins and outs of the link between sexism and racism requires a structural analysis of patriarchy and the racial paradigm that allows us to transcend mere discrimination and deepen our understanding of the complex processes that construct identities and subjectivities.

From there, afro-descendent, indigenous and feminist movement women carried out the initial efforts in the region, dealing with both problems through their interconnection. In this way they have undertaken debates, studies, essays, dialogue meetings and theoretical approaches about the interaction of race, gender and ethnicity.

There are still challenges in disaggregating gender, race and ethnicity from the censuses and public policy indicators, the adoption of legislative frameworks that recognize and punish racist practices against women, the democratization of political systems in a manner that allows for the participation of afro-descendent and indigenous women, the projection of positive images of indigenous and afro-descendent women in the media, the urgency of public policies and programs to face the problems of afro-descendent and indigenous women in areas related to maternity, healthcare and education.

*Editor's Note: The past several years have seen intensifying discrimination and other human rights violations owing to increasing paranoia and fundamentalisms. The events of September 11 in New York in 2001 appears as a watershed for the efforts that were being done to eradicate discrimination especially on the basis of ethnicity. They marked the beginning of security measures which have encroached even basic human rights such as privacy, communications, mobility and others. The events have also overshadowed the 3rd World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held from 31 August to 7 September 2001. On the 7th anniversary of the last WCAR conference, we! intends to feature stories and resources, as a reminder of a conveniently forgotten obligation. This article may be found in⟨=es

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