Tag Archives: UN

Merkel Heads to Africa on Stemming Migrant Flow


Merkel heads to Africa with eye on stemming migrant flow

 

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Africa’s Population Boom Fuels “unstoppable” Migration to Europe


Africa’s population boom fuels “unstoppable” migration to Europe

The making of India’s modernity


The making of India’s modernity

Reviewed publication: Arnold, D. 2015. Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226269375


In terms of thematic exploration, David Arnold’s book on technological modernity in colonial India, which covers the period between the 1880s and the 1960s, is seminal. In the current historiography, there is hardly any book which includes sewing machine, bicycle, rice mill, and typewriter in one single account that tells us the story of modern India that unfolded at the intersections of technology, state and society.1

Two important aspects related to the theoretical positioning of the book need brief comments. One relates to the scale of technology; and two, the scale of history and history writing.

Technology: A function of scale & site of social issues

On the first: the book makes a very pertinent claim that “Technology did not need to be big to be significant, audible, visible, and everyday” (10). Arnold claims that much of the existing historiography in South Asia has remained focussed on railways, irrigation (and very recently on telegraph) as main technological movers of the nineteenth century. Against this, he presents his justification of studying “everyday technologies” because “they frequently possessed an intimacy, a companionable association with family life and domestic existence, which bigger machines lacked” (11-12).

Arnold rightly observes that the little that exists on the history of technology, which includes his own earlier works, has remained focussed on big-scale technology. They explore the big politics of imperialism, nationalism and capitalism. There is, therefore, a need to look at small-scale technologies. However, intimacies, domesticities, and other such quotidian markers/formations are not necessarily a function of the scale of technologies. If a group of girls riding on bicycles sang away, quite literally, their free-spirited pedalling across the serene landscape as one towards love and freedom which no one should try to stop (the famous song main chali, main chali from the movie Padosan, 1968) then almost two decades earlier a song picturised in a railway carriage amusingly chronicled the enactment of some other everyday practices such as sleeping, playing cards and not least eating (the song rail mein jiya mora from the movie Ankhen, 1950). Further, Bhojpuri folksongs from the early twentieth century on railways and steamships (the big technologies) very vividly depicted the intimate everyday relationship around conjugality, family life, and domestic existence (or lack of it).

The argument that technology did not need to be big to be significant is absolutely valid, but equally true (and I assume Arnold will agree as he himself uses Nirad Chaudhuri’s reminiscences of the sound of steamers, pp17-18) is that the ‘everyday’ does not need to be necessarily located in something that is plebeian, subaltern, and small. Everyday is not a function of scale. Railways and sewing machines were both part of the same everyday – at individual and social levels. And the colonialists/corporatists displayed the same kind of prejudices in relation to both: as Singer agents thought Indians incapable to use their machines, so did the agents of railway companies a few decades earlier. If Singer claimed to have helped Indians move towards better civilization, so did the power of steam.

Influenced by the ‘social construction of technology’ theory (SCOT), Arnold’s second theoretical intervention is to rescue the social history of these technologies, which were all imported in their provenance, from an instrumental relationship of transfer and diffusion from the West to the East. This relates to the scale of history and history writing in which he admits of not looking at the technical make-up of the machine, but in exploring how they became part of the social and political processes of change in specific localities; how in India they became carriers as well as sites of issues such as race, class and gender (12).

All technologies and commodities covered in this study were global in their reach and introduced in India largely but not exclusively through the network of imperialism, but their ‘creative appropriation’ in different settings gave them context-specific meanings. It is the context of the social which is at the heart of this book, which ties the global, the imperial and the local in an un-formulaic way. Given the ascendancy of formulaic ways of doing global history through connections and comparisons, I find this approach of not letting the ‘social’ go adrift refreshingly important (see the brief comment on 38). Once again, it must be stated that the cultural adaptation of technology is not specific to small or big.

Global technologies & colonial state

The foreignness of these technologies invariably leads Arnold to raise the question of their relation with colonial state power. Most of the big and small technologies were thought of first serving the state power. He says, unlike western societies where commerce, industry, and civil society played a more dominant role in fashioning technological modernity, in India the colonial state remained the leading user and publicist of these technologies (148).

Bicycles were distributed to help policing, typewriters in government offices and courts to speed up administrative work and efficiency, cars and telephones to speed up the movement of administrative personnel and information. The state was not the producer; in fact, within the ironic relationship between imperial protectionism and laissez-faire, American products (Singer sewing machines, Remington typewriters and Ford automobiles) dominated the Indian market. But the state significantly benefitted from this. These technologies strengthened the ‘inner life of the state’. And they did so in phases. During the Second World War, for instance, the expansionary nature of the state in terms of being able to regulate the usages of these technologies was quite marked.

Yet this is only one part of the story. The social and political re-calibration of these technologies to either subvert the state power or to question the existing social identity was equally important and forceful, which Arnold lucidly demonstrates. Women working for communist organisations and low-caste villagers using bicycles, typewriters used for disseminating anti-colonial nationalist aspirations – they all point at colonial control that was leaky if not absent. They all show that the life of technology was beyond the simplistic control of the state. They all indicate that different social groups used these technologies to articulate the idea of modernity and modern self-hood.

Nature of technological modernity

What are the axes and scope of this technological modernity? Exploration of race, gender and class is obviously one way of knowing the nature of this modernity, which this book like many others especially on a colonial society, does. Numbers definitely are not on the side of showing the ‘quantitative’ axes of this modernity. In spite of the rapidity with which these commodities became part of Indian life, they were still used rather sparsely if compared with figures of other countries. Arnold is aware of this dilemma and hence the way out for him is to underscore the social, experiential and utopian articulations of this modernity. The mix of social life captured through visuals, literary works and films is interesting. The articulation of this modernity is tied to the manifold effects these different technologies produced on diverse social groups and classes.

Moving beyond the state and the enterprising initiatives of some Indians selling, part manufacturing, repairing, and assembling these products, Arnold leads us into the world of users and consumers. Did new technology such as sewing machines and typewriters require new skills? Who were the people that moved in to operate them? Did they lead to displacement of existing groups and skills? One gets glimpses of answers into these questions. Bicycles empowered rural folk and elite women; typewriters mainly remained within the confines of Anglo-Indian women in offices and scribal Indian men outside the courts; rice mills took away the work of poor women; and sewing machines tapped into the existing skills of darzis, but also became part of the reformist discourse on ‘new women/new domesticity’ of the late nineteenth century. The last enlarged the scope of domestic work for women.

Yet, many of the answers to the question of modernity are just about at the exploratory level. Bicycle races fitted into the notion of Bengali manliness, but did it also contribute to the emergence of a new sensibility and aesthetics of landscape, space and movement, and if yes, how? Did the new modernity based upon widespread use of sewing machines create a new culture of mass production and consumption? Was it linked to, if any, the emergence of new ‘modern’ fashion? How did the earlier individualized notion of work which darzis performed on the veranda of their masters/employers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries transform into a shop based work culture of the later period, in which these people were not the owners of their tools? Did technological modernity bring alienation and firmer labour control? Passages from literary sources on sewing machines (141-42), and work-related changes brought about by rice mills (134-40), are illuminating sections.

Typewriters brought bureaucratic utility and speed; it “transformed bureaucratic work regimes”; transformed the “ways in which novelists, journalists, politicians, and administrators pursued their daily work”, but exactly how is not clear (56-7). I would imagine for a long time the typewriter functioned as a ‘copying machine’ producing the ‘fair’ and ‘official’ version of hand-written letters, petitions, judgements, news, and even academic theses. In fact, this was true for early day computers as well (people wrote on the paper and got it ‘typed’ with the only but significant difference of editing on the screen, which theoretically meant fewer errors in the final print, but only theoretically). It has only very recently happened that the machine has become an accompaniment of the user in the same way as her lunch box or smart phone are. The question remains how did the typewriter change, or not, the processes of thinking, reading, writing, and reporting. Everyday Technology can mark the beginning of a more systematic tapping into sources to unearth the complex social relationships around these technologies.

Conflict and resistance

If modernity is a product of conflictual claim and counter-claim making, then the history of technological modernity should also reflect the same – conflicts between social groups and classes. Arnold says that “there is little evidence of significant cultural resistance to sewing machines” (49), but what about resistance based upon capital and skill? Did the traditional catchment of darzis’ work and clientele suffer because now women started sewing at home (and quite massively, with vernacular magazines publishing essays on how to sew different types of materials) or did the expanding market compensate for it (pp. 50-51)? The competitive clerical job market revolved around the skill of typewriting; what kind of social conflicts did it lead to? Arnold prefers to look at the history of interaction between technology and society through assimilation and acculturation; I wonder if there is more to be said about conflicts and dissonances; to be fair, they are not absent (most directly to be seen in the sections on traffic and roads, 162-64 and 167-71), but not adequately presented either.

Based largely on the biases for big technologies, Arnold revisits the temporal divide of technological modernity in India. For him, seemingly it was not the period of the 1830s-1850s that saw railways, steamers, and telegraph creating a modern India (a bias that has its obvious origins in colonial claims), but rather the period between 1905 and 1914 – marked by the Swadeshi movement – that constituted the technological watershed. Not only had the influx of everyday commodities started in this period but also the imaginaries of modern India. It is this extensive engagement with technology in both its supporting and opposing viewpoints (ranging between Saha and Nehru on one side and Gandhi on the other), that Arnold sees the constitution of modernity. The study of India’s modernity – derivative or otherwise – is being constantly traced from the times of the ‘Bengal Renaissance’ to that of the railways, Macaulay, census, ghore/bahire, and hybrid Bengali cuisines. Now it has reached the shores of everyday machines, technologies and commodities. If it is a mere addition to the set of ideas on how Indians thought of themselves to be ‘modern’, or a potential new framework that would recast the historiographical thinking, is too early to say.

Make in India

Finally, at least in two ways, this book reverberates with contemporary Indian politics over technology, and the social perception of Indian skill, and thus unwittingly adds an interesting historical layer to it. Foreign capital and the current governmental slogan of ‘Make in India’ are not very far from how American firms like Dunlop promoted their products as “made in India, by Indians, for Indians” (100). There is no dichotomy between nationalistic manufacturing boost that this present government is spearheading (with the logo of the lion) and the inflow of foreign capital. In fact, the mechanical robust lion can only survive with a financial begging bowl in his mouth. Arnold’s treatment of the Swadeshi phase shows historical antecedents. Second, from repairing cycles on street pavements to that of fixing typewriters (and in the current age of unlocking and repairing all sorts of mobile phones), this book tells us that there is a serious history to be told about how India has achieved its worldwide status of ‘jugaad economy’. The production of many a commodity was stifled under colonialism – is this the reason that the skill got channelized into fixing, assembling, repairing and selling, but not innovatively producing?


Nitin Sinha, Senior Research Fellow, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (nitin.sinha@zmo.de).


The 50th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and the Film’s Impact on the Black Radical Imagination


The 50th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and the Film’s Impact on the Black Radical Imagination

An excerpt from an important new book on the film.

Is the United Nations racist?


Is the United Nations racist?

Ramesh Thakur
JULY 19, 2013 02:27 IST | UPDATED: AUGUST 16, 2016 19:20 IST


Western countries occupy almost all powerful and big-budget posts in the organisation, and sadly developing countries, despite their numbers, have allowed the bias to persist

Ask it quietly, but ask it we must. Is the United Nations racist, either deliberately or unconsciously? Many years ago, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, universally admired as one of the brightest and best U.N. officials, was pulled out of the Balkans because the Europeans would not accept a non-European as head of the U.N. mission there. This despite the fact that in personality, outlook and ways of thinking, he was more European than most Europeans. Their stance might have had credibility if, by the same logic, Europeans excused themselves from serving as heads of U.N. missions outside Europe. In fact, westerners dominate this category.

Double standards

We have seen the same double standard, rooted in the belief in the innate superiority of the westerners, in the choice of the chief executives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The former is always headed by an American. On any objective measure, the U.S. nominee last year would not have made it to the short list against the other two main candidates from Africa and Latin America. But under the cosy EU-U.S. arrangement, the American candidate got the job. This causes neither Americans nor Europeans to blush when they lecture others on good governance norms.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn had to resign in the wake of a sex scandal, his successor as IMF chief was another French nominee. Again without blushes, where all the years previously they had justified the self-serving arrangements on grounds of how well Europe had done economically, this time it was because only a European could understand the grave crisis afflicting the eurozone and lead the IMF.

The position of U.N. Secretary-General (SG) is protected against such shenanigans by the rotation principle whereby each continent gets its turn for the top job. But almost all the top U.N. posts after that, at the ranks of deputy, under and assistant secretary-general, are within the personal discretion of the SG to fill. The same applies to the large number of his special representatives and envoys.

Unlike the parliamentary system of government, the top ranks of this international civil service are not filled by career officials. Instead the practice is closer to the U.S. system where the President gets to choose his own senior people. But in the U.S. system, senior appointments, including ambassadors, are subject to independent confirmation by the Senate. The U.N. practice does not have any comparable check on whimsical and unsuitable appointments.

>Ban Ki-moon has been commendably conscious of and good at appointing women to the senior ranks. But both he and the system are yet to be sensitised to the fact that the top-level under-representation of non-westerners is even worse. The situation persists not just because western donor countries use money power and are more focussed in lobbying for their nationals. An even more telling explanation is that the developing countries fail to act in pursuit of their collective interest, are not equally committed to backing their own, and do not wish to jeopardise their own individual chances of a cushy U.N. post.

Remarkably, many commentators seem to believe that the alleged waste, inefficiency and corruption in the U.N. system is rooted partly in affirmative action policies that prioritise incompetent and unqualified personnel from developing countries in recruitment and promotion. When I looked into the statistics almost a decade ago, I was astonished at the reality as compared to the myth. Almost all the powerful and big-budget senior posts in the Secretariat and in the U.N. system are filled by westerners, including peacekeeping, political and humanitarian affairs, management, development and environment programmes, children’s fund, refugees, etc. I suspect that for the same ability, qualifications and experience, western U.N. officials can expect to retire two ranks higher than the rest.

Asians contribute about half the U.N.’s total peacekeepers and one-quarter of its regular and peacekeeping budget (although most of this comes just from Japan). They have also suffered around one-quarter of total U.N. peacekeeping deaths. Yet a decade ago, two-thirds of senior peacekeeping officials were westerners. In the U.N. Secretariat overall, Asians comprised a mere 17 per cent of senior U.N. staff at the grades of director and above. This for a continent that accounts for well over half the world’s population, is not short of experienced and sophisticated diplomats, and has many high achievers. Between them, Canada and the U.S. had the same number of senior staff in the Secretariat as all of Asia, when they account for 5 per cent and 60 per cent of the world’s population respectively.

I no longer have access to U.N. data and cannot guess what the numbers might be today. But another set of figures is publicly available. A decade ago, Asians comprised a mere 12 per cent of high-level representatives. Today, according to the list available on the U.N. website, of the total of 94 special representatives/envoys of the SG, 16 per cent are Asian, 30 per cent African (almost all dealing with African crises), 2 per cent from Latin America and the Caribbean: and 52 per cent from Europe, North America and Australia with nine out of ten of them dealing with non-western and global problems. This is like western scholarship. If you are western, you can tackle any topic or region. If you are non-western, you are expected to inhabit the intellectual ghetto of your own country or continent.

Consider three specific examples. To avoid being misunderstood: my comments do not apply to particular individuals. I am interested only in the patterns of over and under-representation and the consequences for the U.N.’s legitimacy and effectiveness. We would have been rightly outraged if the first two heads of U.N. Women had been men, no matter how capable the individual might have been.

Why is there no matching outrage and unacceptability when the head of the Development Program is a westerner? No matter how well intentioned, they cannot possibly know the political and social imperatives driving development strategies and policies. This is compounded by having an American as a special adviser on development goals. A practising economist from a developing country would be an infinitely superior choice, instead of people whose knowledge of development is derived from books or as an aid donor. The developing-country background and experiences of Mahbub-ul Haq and Amartya Sen were crucial, not incidental, to the emergence and enduring appeal of the notion of human development.

The only part of the system that has its global headquarters in Asia is the U.N. University. Only one of its six chiefs to date has been Asian, when equity and justice would have seen only one non-Asian. On every table of university rankings, the Asian universities (although not, alas, Indian universities) have made the most dramatic progress. Asian university presidents and vice chancellors must be doing something right. How then to explain the bias against them?

Or take a third example, the responsibility to protect (R2P). The likely sites and targets of intervention in the foreseeable future will be developing countries. It is their people who will suffer if mass atrocities being committed are not stopped, or if geopolitical and commercial interventions are masked in humanitarian language. Conversely, people in developing countries will primarily benefit if interventions are motivated mainly by humanitarian concerns and executed responsibly. The interveners can come from advanced and/or developing countries. Conversations on R2P should occur therefore first among the civil societies and governments of developing countries, and secondly between developing and advanced countries.

Norm hijacked

And the SG’s special adviser on R2P should be a powerful (public) intellectual from the global South. Instead we have had an American and now a Canadian. This is not going to help as sentiment firms that the norm, in whose origins Africans (Kofi Annan, Francis Deng, Mohamed Sahnoun) have played the most crucial roles, is being hijacked and appropriated by the West to serve the old and discredited humanitarian intervention agenda, or to pursue regime change (Libya, Syria).

Why, with numbers to put a stop to it, do developing countries put up with such clear and heavy bias and permit it to persist? One dispiriting answer might be that a particularly insidious consequence of the century of European colonialism is that non-westerners have themselves internalised the sense of racial superiority of westerners. My own extensive experience suggests that the immigration, customs and security officials in developing countries are more obviously racist than in the West.

Part of India’s national identity is the self-belief in being a champion of developing countries. Is it prepared to take the lead in demanding an explanation-cum-correction of this anomaly in the U.N. system?


(Ramesh Thakur, a former senior U.N. official, is professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University)


UN to Campaign Against Xenophobia, Racism in Dealing with Refugees


UN to campaign against xenophobia, racism in dealing with refugees

Reuters | May 10, 2016, 10.11 AM IST


united_nations_trusteeship_council_chamber_in_new_york_city_2

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Monday proposed that its member countries create and agree upon a system to share responsibility more fairly for the hundreds of millions of refugees and migrants around the world.

The global compact would be accompanied by a UN-led campaign to combat the xenophobia and racism that have tainted discussions of the refugees and migrants, UN officials said at a briefing to release a report on the global migration.

The UN estimates there are 20 million refugees worldwide and another 40 million people displaced inside their own countries. Of the refugees, 86 per cent live in developing countries, often near the countries they came from, it says.

Added to those figures are 244 million migrants who live and work in countries where they were not born, it says.

The campaign would attempt to counter an increasingly negative attitude and tone in debates over how to deal with the crisis, the UN said.

“I am concerned at the increasing trend of member states to erect fences and walls,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report.

“Xenophobic and racist responses to refugees and migrants seem to be reaching new levels of stridency, frequency and public acceptance.”

The proposals come ahead of a summit meeting planned at the UN in September to address the global refugee crisis.

The UN-led campaign will promote such steps as more direct, personal contact between refugees, migrants and people in their host countries, said Karen AbuZayd, UN special adviser on the summit.

Also, nations will be called upon to develop plans for including refugees and migrants in education, language and skills training and employment opportunities.

The global compact would require nations to share responsibility in a variety of ways so that a few nations do not shoulder much of the burden while others do far less, the UN said.

It might include resettlement policies, financing arrangements, aid to host countries and technical assistance, AbuZayd said.

“States will share responsibility for refugees more fairly. Host countries will receive immediate support for their development needs. International migration will be governed better,” she said.

Amnesty International called the plan a potential “game changer”, but said its success depends upon nations agreeing on a permanent system for sharing responsibility.

“World leaders cannot go on lurching from crisis to crisis, haggling over numbers and fiddling while parts of the world burn,” Amnesty said.

Citing “refugees in shaky boats, trapped at border fences or crammed into overcrowded camps where hopes and dreams wither”, it said: “Too often, these scenes of despair are borne not just from war and persecution but also of bad, callous policies.”

 Facilitating safe migration is included among the Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint of plans for nations to fight poverty, promote equality and slow climate change by 2030. UN member nations signed the goals last fall.

“The UN estimates there are 20 million refugees worldwide” Out of this how many are Muslims? Almost all. Why should non Muslims be burdened with Muslim trash when the oil rich Muslim states… Read MoreCloudcompute


Is Durban the Answer?

durban1photo credit: http://www.wildolive.co.uk/IMAGES/Durban.jpg

Is Durban the answer?

The Hindu
Online edition of India’s National Newspaper
Sunday, September 02, 2001

#UnFair #UN #DurbanConference


Dalit activists hope that raising the issue of caste at the Durban conference will pressure the Government to implement protection and affirmative action laws more effectively in favour of the underprivileged. VIR SINGH writes.

WHEN Madhuri Devi complained about the wife beating going on next door, people in her north Delhi neighbourhood dismissed it as an internal family matter. When she went to the local police station, the officer on duty angrily asked: Why is it your concern? Who are they to you?

These key questions will come up before the international community when scores of activists highlight the suffering of Dalits at a major U.N. conference on racism and other discrimination which started on August 31 in the South African port city of Durban.

The Indian government has marshalled mighty arguments as to why caste discrimination should not be discussed at the event, which is titled the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Chief among these is the contention that this problem is an internal matter.

Dalit activists ridicule this position, saying this is akin to the case made by the former rulers of South Africa just a decade ago to shield apartheid from outside scrutiny. India rightly rejected this argument, loudly declaring that the mistreatment of black Africans is a global concern. So how can New Delhi use the selfsame strategy to block wider discussion of a problem that affects tens of millions of Indian citizens every single day?

Well, the short answer is that it can and it will. India has more than enough diplomatic clout to ensure that references to discrimination based on “descent” – the compromise term for caste that human rights activists have injected into U.N. documents – are kept to a bare minimum in the Durban conference declaration and action plan. Most Dalit activists know this. The more compelling story, however, is about what they have already achieved.

The beginnings of a global Dalit movement have been traced back to the mid-1970s (see Gail Omvedt’s article, The Hindu, April 2001). The last five-odd years have seen this process gathering momentum. In 1996, the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination accepted the contention of human rights lawyers that its responsibilities include monitoring discrimination based on descent. (This makes it mandatory for all governments to file progress reports on actions taken to halt such discrimination). Two years later, activists from across India came together under the banner of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights. Last year, New York-based Human Rights Watch presented its highest award to Martin Macwan, a lawyer and Dalit activist from Ahmedabad.

racisma
photo credit: http://www.smom-za.org/images/racisma.jpg

The Durban conference “is a sort of organising event,” says Maja Daruwala, director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Intiative. “There’s been a lot of solidarity, and a lot of churning, a lot of movement. (Dalit groups) are coming together and their demands are being amplified.”

To the charge from some quarters that highlighting abuses against Dalits gives India a bad name in the eyes of the world and is therefore an anti-national activity, Daruwala responds: “It is anti-national to continue with caste discrimination in this country… It is like saying to a woman that she is against family life because she is beaten at home, but she musn’t speak about it outside. You don’t blame the victim for making a noise.”

It is a powerful analogy and, for some Dalit activists, one that offers hope. Years of campaigning for women’s rights, especially at the international level, finally got governments to start doing something to prevent abuses such as wife beating. Similarly, Ashok Bharti of the Centre for Alternative Dalit Media hopes that a frank discussion of caste discrimination at Durban will “bring the issue in focus” once again and pressure the Indian government to implement protection and affirmative action laws.

“Those issues have been purposely kept away from the international forum,” he says. “And this time when it is going to be discussed, the government of India and the nation as a whole is responsible to the whole world community.”

“Our faith has been broken,” adds P.L. Mimroth, a lawyer working with Dalit victims. “That’s why we’re going to the conference.” He says that despite special laws guaranteeing compensation to members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who face atrocities, the government has fulfilled its responsibilities in only a handful of cases.

The caste debate is just one of the controversies dogging the Durban conference. After two years of preparatory meetings, governments are still deeply divided over the wording of a political statement and a comprehensive action plan to address racism and related problems.

The United States has repeatedly threatened to pull out if references against Israel are not removed. A group of mostly Islamic nations wants the conference documents to equate Zionism with racism, saying this accurately describes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Washington boycotted two earlier U.N. racism meetings, in 1978 and 1983, because of similar disputes involving Israel, a staunch U.S. ally.

The issue of compensation to countries, mostly in Africa, that still suffer from the effects of slavery, presents an even greater challenge for governments trying to hammer out a common agenda at Durban. The European Union led by Great Britain has joined the United States in opposing any mention of “compensation” for the formerly enslaved countries.

“This is a world conference that quite a number of governments would have preferred didn’t happen,” says Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and chief organiser of the Durban conference. “That’s why as far as I am concerned this is a victims’ conference,” she said in an interview to the Ford Foundation Report. “It has to speak for and listen to the voices of those who are marginalised, excluded, discriminated against and put down because of their color or their background.”

The politically charged atmosphere of the conference has even seasoned U.N. monitors worried. “I have great concerns about what’s going to come out of it,” says Michael Colson, director of Geneva-based U.N. Watch. One problem is that governments have, according to Colson, failed to “de-politicise the debate on human rights.” The other is that the U.N. meeting has become less focussed over time, so that “it’s an open question now as to how wide the conference agenda is.” 

The author is an independent journalist.


 

durbaniii

image credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-mT6l_e4zvCg/TofX4f3TuoI/AAAAAAAAABo/oq1QSYGVZgc/s1600/durban+iii.jpg

 

 

UN Racism Conference Fails on Caste-Based Discrimination

UN Racism Conference Fails on Caste-Based Discrimination

Document Ignores Abuses Against 260 Million People


#UnFair #UN #DurbanConference


(Geneva) – The international community should take action on caste-based discrimination, which violates the rights of 260 million people globally, a group of nongovernmental organizations including Human Rights Watch, Lutheran World Federation, Pax Romana, IMADR, IDSN, NCDHR, and FORUM-ASIA said at a news conference on caste-based discrimination and the Durban Review Conference.

The Durban Review Conference was organized to evaluate progress towards the goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Millions of victims of caste-based discrimination, hoping that the conference would serve as a platform to highlight their problems, were left deeply disappointed.

“Caste discrimination is one of the most important issues being left out of this conference and because of the predominant attention to one specific issue, all other concerns within the field of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and racial intolerance are being excluded,” said Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation, who has worked for many years toward eliminating caste discrimination.

Dalits have long claimed that caste- and descent-based discrimination falls under the remit of this conference. Despite this, the final outcome document makes no reference to caste-based discrimination.

“Caste discrimination is a major global human rights issue that needs to be effectively dealt with at the international level,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor at Human Rights Watch. “As the UN racial discrimination committee has made perfectly clear, caste discrimination falls under the Race Convention, and thereby within the scope of this review conference.”

Even as the issue is ignored at the conference, caste discrimination remains a massive problem in countries like India, where ongoing elections have once again exposed the challenges faced by Dalits. NCDHR, which has been monitoring the elections, has found that many Dalits are not being allowed to freely exercise their democratic rights, and are being beaten, threatened, and obstructed from voting at local polling stations.

“This Durban Review Conference has totally eliminated any mention of caste or discrimination based on work and descent,” said Paul Divakar of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) in India, where more than 167 million from the Dalit communities suffer from caste discrimination.

Representatives from the Dalit communities present at the news conference also included Fatima Burnad and Dibakar Poricha, who explained how Dalits were subjected to violence, rape, inhumane untouchability practices, and suffered routine discrimination, socially, culturally and politically. They also explained that due to the high level of impunity in cases involving Dalit victims, they have no way of asserting their rights through the judicial system.

Pointing out that victims of caste-based discrimination suffer a hidden apartheid of segregation, modern-day slavery, and other forms of discrimination as a result of having been born into a marginalized group or caste, Rikke Nöhrlind, coordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), stated: “This issue has been skilfully hidden by certain governments, and Dalits are simply being treated as lesser human beings and denied justice.”

Determined to keep fighting for their rights and to try and get the international community to listen, a sizeable delegation of Dalit representatives has travelled to Geneva to stage a number of side events and raise their voices against the wall of silence they are met with at the Durban Review Conference.

Background

  • Caste discrimination is any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on inherited status such as work and descent, commonly originating from a division of society into castes or social categories. This chronic human rights condition, which is associated with the notion of impurity, pollution, and practices of “untouchability,” involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. It is estimated that 260 million people are affected by caste discrimination worldwide.
  • The Durban Review Conference is being held in Geneva from April 20 to 24, 2009, with thepurpose of reviewing the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA).
  • The Durban Declaration and Plan of Action (DDPA)includes several provisions relevant in the fight against this form of discrimination, andseveral UN bodies – in particular the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – have repeatedly reaffirmed that caste falls underthe Race Convention.
  • Several UN bodies have furthermore reaffirmed that discrimination based on work and descent – the UN terminology for caste discrimination – is prohibited by international human rights law, and that it is a global human rights phenomenonwhich should be addressed comprehensively through existing human rights mechanisms.
  • Human Rights Watch has also previously highlighted the need for tackling the causes and consequences of this kind of discriminationby, among other things, encouraging delegations to welcome the work carried out by CERD on discrimination based on descent, to review CERD’s General Comment No. 29 on Descent, and to include reference to it as a guiding opinion in defining and combating descent-based discrimination.

To read a joint position paper prepared by IDSN, Human Rights Watch, NCDHR and other organizations, please visit:
http://www.idsn.org/fileadmin/user_folder/pdf/New_files/UN/Durban_and_caste_-_joint_position_paper.pdf

For more information on the Durban Review Conference, please visit:
http://www.idsn.org/international-advocacy/un/durban-review-conf/dalit-solidarity-events/

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on India, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/en/asia/india

For more of IDSN’s work, please visit:
http://www.idsn.org/

  • The IDSN website – provides a wide range of resources and material on the topic of caste-discrimination including case studies, video materials, and research materials.

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stories from: Skin | Colour | Race | Caste – Made in India

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