Throughout the preparations for the 2001 World Conference Against Racism
, an essential aspect of the conference emerged - the need to amplify the voices of those most affected by racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances. A forum for voicing experiences was needed to ensure that the day-to-day reality endured by individuals and communities throughout the world would be central to Conference discussions of practical measures to address racism.
Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill and IHRLG Executive Director Gay McDougall, both members of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Barney Pityana, Chair of the South African Human Rights Commission, convened the VOICES FORUM. This special forum on comparative experiences of racism, held in Durban during the World Conference, featured 21 individuals from 18 countries who gave voice to the reality of many familiar manifestations of racism, such as hate crimes and slavery, as well as systematic discrimination on the basis of race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin that is evident throughout the world.
Over the course of six days, VOICES participants shared their experiences with racism before a panel of United Nations officials and experts, including activist and UN Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover. Hundreds of UN delegates, government leaders, members of civil society groups around the world, and international media attended forum sessions. On the final day of forum, VOICES participants presented a statement to Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as part of the official proceedings at the World Conference Against Racism.
Their stories were moving reminders that racial discrimination is not only the use of hateful words or hate-motivated violence; that it is not only individual acts of prejudice. Racism is manifest in the unequal and unfair treatment of entire groups of people, be it in the form of economic marginalization, bias within the criminal justice system, or denial of cultural rights or control of ancestral lands. Several of the testimonies were also reminders of how racism often intersects with other forms of oppression, such as gender bias, which results in compounded abuses and marginalization.
IHRLG continues to celebrate the courage, spirit and vision of the VOICES participants and is developing educational materials on combating racism that draws on their testimonies and proceedings of the 2001 World Conference.
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