Challenging racism and discrimination

Date of publication: 
28 January 2009

Former Eastern Door publisher combing over UN text on Indigenous rights


When it comes to global Indigenous rights in the last 21 years, former Eastern Doorpublisher Kenneth Deer has seen several UN initiatives and declarations come and go, and in some cases linger through the years.

Deer was in Geneva , Switzerland this week attending a UN conference. Preparatory Committee focusing on the 2001 World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance Outcome Document, known as the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action (DDPA), which was adopted by consensus at the end of the Conference held in Durban , South Africa .

A progress meeting was set for 2006, but was delayed.

States are debating The fivepart “Draft Outcome Document” containing 88 pages and 646 provisions. The Durban Review Conference in Geneva from April 20 to 24 will endorse the document.

“It will be a basis for the continuing battle against racism and racial discrimination,” Deer said. “We need to make it strong and possible so we can use it to protect ourselves from racist states and people.”

There is a tug of war between states that want to strengthen the text against those that want to weaken it,” said Deer, who is focused on four paragraphs that specifically mention the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“I am here to try to strengthen the paragraphs that deal with our rights or, at least, not to allow states to weaken them anymore than they already are,” said Deer.

“That means lobbying governments and speaking on the floor when we can. We are only allowed to speak at the end of each day for about six minutes for each non-state participant. It is a very difficult exercise.”

Deer is the only Indigenous representative from overseas to be at the preparatory meetings.

“It is disappointing that other Indigenous representatives are not here. It is hard to be almost alone. I think that some are staying away because of the propaganda that this process is an anti-Semitic exercise fueled by pro-Palestinian elements,” he said.

Deer suggests another reason for the lack of overseas representation is that after the passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, some may think that alone it will protect Indigenous rights.

“This is a grave mistake,” said Deer. “We should always have a presence at these kind of Human Rights meetings. Governments would love to omit references to Indigenous Peoples from these declarations.”

Deer also cautions Indigenous groups about being drawn into polarizing issues like the Palestine/Israel ongoing standoff that marred the 2001 Conference. The Durban 2001 conference degenerated into a forum attacking Israel and calling Zionism a form of racism.

“It does not serve our long-term goals to pick sides in this matter particularly since we can identify with each side whether it is foreign occupation or genocide. Diplomacy is our best ally.”

Canada stated it would not participate in the Durban Review Conference, saying that the 2001 conference “degenerated into open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations and the very goals the conference sought to achieve.”

In a press release Canada said it “had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 Durban Review Conference would remedy the mistakes of the past,” but Canada had concluded the process was too flawed to make the conference worthwhile.

Israel and the U.S. are the other two countries boycotting the process and several other Western states have threatened to boycott – most notably Denmark .