Conclusion of the Durban Review Conference in Geneva

Bern, Press release, 24.04.2009

The Durban Review Conference has sent a strong message to the victims of racism thanks to the final text it adopted by consensus. It also constitutes an unequivocal statement by the international community in support of the fight against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The follow-up process to the 2001 Durban Conference has advanced the fight against racism in Switzerland. Civil society was a very active partner both during the Conference itself as well as in the margins. The demonstrations organised by civil society this week were orderly and peaceful.

The text, that was adopted by consensus on 21 April 2009, is the product of negotiations that have been carried out over several months. The efforts and the skills of the Russian President of the Conference, as well as the commitment of delegations from all parts of the world enabled a compromise to be reached on very sensitive subjects of law and of the dialogue between civilisations such as cases of genocide, the Holocaust, reparations for tragedies of the past, colonialism, slavery, the freedom of expression and limits to it, migrant workers and discrimination against women. Switzerland supported the work of the President of the conference for the entire duration of the negotiations. 

During the Conference itself, extremist views were expressed but they remained isolated. The compromise is therefore a victory for the moderates and for international law.  

The text of the Declaration constitutes progress because it gave confirmation to the conviction that all human rights are rights belonging to each and every individual for reason of their being human regardless of skin colour, nationality, political or religious convictions, social origin, sex or age. 

It is positive that this document in particular highlights the essential role of the freedom of expression, democracy, information networks, education in human rights as well as the competence, independence and impartiality of judicial systems.

Switzerland is also pleased to note that the final document mentions new and specific measures, demanding especially that the fight against terrorism respect human rights, in particular the principle of non-discrimination, that States protect migrant workers in their territories, and that they adopt criminal or civil laws to eliminate multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination. 

For the last two years, the preparations for this Review Conference have created the opportunity for all the parties concerned to take stock of the situation with regard to the fight against racism. Many States, including Switzerland, submitted individual contributions setting out the measures taken at the national level to implement the Durban Declaration and the Programme of Action. Several special rapporteurs, international organisations, treaty bodies or mechanisms have done the same and  given their assessments of progress achieved and of the challenges ahead. The different regional contributions have shown the interest of all in this process and  enriched the debates.  

Since the Durban Conference in 2001, Switzerland has taken measures to combat racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The Federal Commission Against Racism has been strengthened and the Service for Combating Racism was created within the Federal Department of Home Affairs in 2001. The latter makes grants to finance projects in education, awareness-raising and prevention targeted explicitly against racism. During the last five years, all the cantons and many cities in Switzerland have adopted legislation and created structures to develop the potential to be gained from migration.   

In June 2003, Switzerland declared that it recognised communications from individuals as provided for in article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Another measure to be mentioned is the practice of the authorities regarding the treatment of acts of racial discrimination as provided for in art. 261bis of the Swiss Penal Code.  

Civil society was able to take an active part in the work of the Durban Review Conference. Almost 120 NGOs were able to make interventions during the activities of the Conference, i.e. three times more than in Durban in 2001. They were also mobilised in the margins of the Conference and organised many lectures and events in the period from April 15-24 in Geneva. The full range of opinions could be heard. Switzerland is pleased to note that in general these events took place in an atmosphere of calm. The federal and cantonal authorities, as well as the city of Geneva, in cooperation with the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights were very involved in achieving the best possible conditions for holding the Conference and for ensuring security during the entire period in which it took place.     


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