The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Civil Rights Monitor

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The CIVIL RIGHTS MONITOR is a quarterly publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Back issues of the Monitor are available through this site. Browse or search the archives

Volume 11 No 4

World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Other Related Forms of Intolerance

In 1997, the General Assembly of the United Nations made the decision to convene a World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. The World Conference will be hosted by South Africa in the summer of 2001, from August 31 to September 7, setting the stage for global interrogation of racial discrimination as well as for the development of a universal Plan of Action focused on practical measures for eliminating racism and all its devastating effects. Convening of the World Conference represents the international community's recognition of the critical and urgent need to address the global crises of racial discrimination, ethnic conflict and intolerance. It also provides a platform from which civil rights and social justice organizations and advocates can interject their voices, calling attention to specific injustices and urging particular action.

The World Conference Against Racism will provide a unique opportunity to focus global attention on the need to create a world vision for the fight against racism in the twenty-first century. The UN General Assembly emphasized that the Conference must be action oriented, focusing on practical measures to eradicate racism. With this in mind, the World Conference was designed to address all forms of racism, including contemporary forms of intolerance, and to consider how to ensure the application of international standards and instruments in combating these issues. The Conference aims to formulate specific recommendations for future actions in the fight against bias and intolerance.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), recognizing the exceptional opportunity offered by the World Conference Against Racism, have designed plans for integral involvement in the process. Participation in the World Conference, through a delegation of U.S. civil rights leaders who will carry the voices and concerns of the diverse civil rights coalition to the international community, will allow the Leadership Conference to share its years of experience and to learn from others working on related challenges. Additionally, work on the World Conference and World Conference issues has the potential to expand LCCR and LCEF connections internationally and to help systemize the informational and technical assistance the Leadership Conference has previously provided on an ad hoc basis to NGOs from other countries. Collaboration with international human rights organizations and civil rights groups from around the globe both at the World Conference and in related future endeavors will strengthen the work of the Leadership Conference and help to advance the domestic civil rights agenda.

LCEF and LCCR's involvement in the World Conference will center around the substantive work the organizations have done on both historical and contemporary civil rights issues. While the major focus of this work has been on domestic policy issues and programs, increasingly the Leadership Conference has begun to benefit from international perspectives reflected in important and related international covenants to which the United States is a signatory. As the leading exponent of democracy and constitutional protections, the United States is sensitive to exposure in international forums. With national borders becoming ever more porous, opportunities to access international human rights laws to address domestic civil rights policies will flourish. The intersection of domestic civil rights policy and international human rights covenants will become an increasingly important component of the work of the Leadership Conference.

The international covenant at the center of global action to combat racism, and specifically of the World Conference Against Racism, is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This treaty, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1965, has been ratified by 155 States including the United States in 1994. A major objective of the World Conference will be to encourage universal ratification of the Race Convention, and to promote recognition of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) as the pre-eminent body to receive and act on communications from individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of any right set forth in the Race Convention.

In collaboration with other civil rights organizations, the Leadership Conference has made several presentations to CERD and the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights. On October 25, 2000, a delegation of civil rights organizations including numerous LCCR coalition members held a private meeting with Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to present a "Call to Action" urging the U.N. to examine human rights violations of racial discrimination and race bias in the U.S. criminal justice system and to expressly include this issue on the agenda for the World Conference Against Racism. The meeting was a follow-up to an August presentation of the "Call to Action" by Wade Henderson (LCCR), Mary Frances Berry(U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) and Julian Bond (NAACP) to CERD and the U.N. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Additionally, the Leadership Conference together with the Lawyers' committee for Civil Rights Under Law is in the process of completing a response to the U.S. governmental report to CERD which was released in September. The U.S. report was required to detail efforts at bringing U.S. laws and practices into compliance with the U.N. Race Convention. The "shadow report" to the U.N. is designed to call attention to the disparities which the U.S. governmental report left out or minimized. Critical issues of non-compliance and continued discrimination within the U.S. will be stressed in the shadow report as well as by the NGO community at the World Conference in South Africa.

The U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance presents an unparalleled opportunity for U.S. civil rights and social justice organizations. Developing a practical understanding of the relevance of international human rights law and practice and incorporating this understanding into advocacy efforts will be an invaluable benefit stemming from participation in the World Conference process. The international discussion on racism generated by the World Conference will provide a spotlight on the U.S. which civil rights groups will be able to use to advocate for their agendas and, in doing so, they will be able to take advantage of international instruments. The U.N. World Conference Against Racism, unique in its scale, composition and agenda, will be an exceptional milieu for making international connections and beginning the work of identifying our missions as interrelated and truly global in scope and significance.

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