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Intro: Institutional Racism
01 Race and Racism                                        x
02 Citizenship Rights                                       x
03 Justice                                       x
04 Basic Needs                                       x
05 Intersectionality                                        x
06 Worldwide                                        x

  Web Editor:
  Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton
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1. Massive presence and principal actors

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Citizenís Conference was the massive presence of civil society. According to the official data kept by the organizers of the Conference, there were more than 1,700 people registered, with representation from every country of the hemisphere. The Chilean delegation was among the largest delegations, with more than 400 participants, most of whom were members of the Mapuche peoples. Of the delegations that traveled to Santiago, the Brazilian delegation stood out with more than 170 members, with impressive participation from the Brazilian Black Movement and in particular from Afro-Brazilian women. The United States, Uruguay and Canada were also represented by large delegations.

One of the common characteristics of the different delegations is that they were comprised of a wide range of groups. The Citizenís Conference and the Regional PrepCom represented the first time that the great majority of attendees had participated in an international conference within the framework of the United Nations.

The presence of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants deserves particular emphasis. Representatives of indigenous peoples, in spite of the heterogeneity of their composition, showed a great coherence in their general statements with a clear identification of the principal points for collective assertion at the Citizenís Conference and the Regional PrepCom. Furthermore, they took a clear ideological position prior to the regional meetings, maintaining that the lack of acknowledgement of their status as peoples is a manifestation of racial discrimination.

For Afro-descendants, the Citizenís Conference and the Regional PrepCom represented the first opportunity in which they were principal actors as a regional group in the international arena. The Afro-Latin Americans in particular participated with a burgeoning collective identity that demonstrated enormous potential for bringing the fight against racism in their respective countries to the international arena. Undoubtedly, one of their biggest successes was heightening their visibility and that of the problems that they face throughout the entire hemisphere. In comparison with indigenous peoples, however, it is clear that the Afro-descendant movement has not developed a regional conceptual platform with assertions that are uniform throughout the region. The lack of international and regional forums where Afro-descendants of the Americas can jointly discuss their concerns and proposals works against the objective of formulating certain consensus points.

The migrant caucus and the womenís caucus were very active throughout the entire Citizenís Conference. Both caucuses showed that their labor began long before the meeting in Santiago, which translated into a strong articulation of their positions and clarity in the distribution of tasks and responsibilities. Other actors who were very active during the Citizenís Conference and who were able to make their assertions reflected in the final document were the Roma, gays and lesbians, youth, persons with disabilities and Jews. Among the thematic groups, the group that worked on environmental racism was noted for being both articulate and effective.

In the Citizenís Conference, there was a noticeable absence of internationally recognized mainstream human rights organizations. Unlike other regional preparatory conferences and meetings where international as well as regional and national human rights organizations participated with a large and highly visible delegation, in Santiago, the International Human Rights Law Group was the only "international human rights organization" that was visibly active.

2. Lessons learned

  1. Organization
  2. In order to analyze the concrete results of the Citizenís Conference, it is essential to first take into account the time constraints that the Conference faced. All of the principal decisions, including format, structure, substantive themes of discussion, participants, and the granting of financial aid for participation, were made less than four months before the date of the Conference, with the majority of them being made in the two months preceding the Conference. This situation produced a large measure of uncertainty, and coupled with contradictory information, made the preparatory process for the Citizenís Conference challenging and made it difficult for NGOs to define their strategy for the Conference.

    However, the organization of the Citizenís Conference generally proved to be successful. There are two critical elements which converged to produce this success. In the first place, there was a strong structure at the national level, coordinated by the Ideas Foundation. The staff of the Ideas Foundation completely dedicated their time before, during and after the Conference. Additionally, there were a large number of volunteers during the Conference which allowed the Conference, with a presence of 1,700 people from more than 30 different countries, to function without any major problems. Efficient modes of communication with the Chilean government, an extensive network of contacts in Santiago, and the ability to communicate with organizations throughout the region, also proved to be important resources supported by the Ideas Foundation.

    The second critical factor in the organization of the Conference was the formation of a Convening Council, where important organizations throughout the region were represented. While the Convening Council was not as active as it could have been, it proved to be fundamental to giving a regional rather than national perspective to the Conference and assuring that all sectors and sub-regions were able to contribute to its development.

    The choice of the Diego Portales Convention Center, where the Regional PrepCom would also be held, for the location of the Citizenís Conference, was a very apt choice in two ways. First, it allowed NGOs to familiarize themselves with the building, which would be key during the following days when the meeting of governments took place. Second, it concentrated participants within a defined area, which added to the possibilities for interaction among themselves and with governments.

    Various reflections can be made in relation to the format of the Citizenís Conference. The obvious point is that a rigid format, with predetermined schedules and little space for parallel activities, does not correspond well with the dynamics of a two-day conference involving exceedingly diverse NGOs from multiple countries throughout the hemisphere. The parallel activities, the subdivision of caucuses, the surge of new caucuses, and the informal meetings in the hallways and communal spaces, proved to be as rich as the planned activities. However, a certain structured program, with clarity about the objectives of the Conference and the desired outcomes and final documents, was useful in that it gave a certain coherence and sense of unity to the Conference.

  3. Final Declaration
  4. The drafting of the Final Declaration of the Citizenís Conference proved to be one of the most demanding processes of the whole Conference. In the first place, the first draft of the Final Declaration was released only ten days before the Citizenís Conference and only in Spanish, in spite of the fact that English, Portuguese and French were also languages of the Conference. These circumstances meant that very few participants had access to the document before the Conference. Given the shortage of time in Santiago, it was agreed that the Conference would focus on preparing a Final Declaration, and that a separate Plan of Action would not be drafted. Approximately 30 people participated in the Final Document Drafting Committee, which was comprised of two representatives from each one of the caucuses and thematic commissions. This process, while proving to be very democratic, made the drafting of a coherent document very difficult. In the end, due to the limited time, the version of the Final Declaration read in the final plenary was only in Spanish.

  5. Cross-regional dialogue
  6. The primary goal of the NGO Forum was to provide a forum for a cross-regional dialogue within as well as among groups that are subjected to and working against racial discrimination. The exchange of experiences, the identification of common problems and proposals to solve them, and the creation of alliances are some of the objectives that cross-regional dialogue facilitates. The need for this type of dialogue was reflected, for instance, in the case of Afro-descendants who lacked an awareness and understanding of the realities faced by Afro-descendants in other countries. This lack of cross-regional and collective consciousness resulted in an absence of uniformity and consensus, which had the effect of weakening their positions.

    The original concept of the Citizenís Conference, however, worked against cross-regional dialogue among and within the different groups. The division in the caucuses according to social groups prevented a dialogue among the different groups (indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, migrants, displaced persons and other ethnic groups). Additionally, the division of the caucus of Afro-descendants into sub-regions prevented a cross-regional dialogue within this group. Practically speaking, the only possibility for discussions across different groups and different sub-regions was in the Drafting Committee, the specific objective of which was limited to drafting the Final Declaration. The use of different languages both in the discussions as well as in the production of the Final Declaration also worked against cross-regional dialogue. The need for simultaneous translation during the discussions as well as sufficient secretariat support to produce documents in different languages simultaneously was strongly evident.

    There were, despite these challenges, various unofficial initiatives to promote cross-regional dialogue. As has already been indicated, the indigenous peoples caucus decided to deliberate as a single caucus and not to divide into sub-regions. The Afro-descendants caucus also held a joint meeting to identify the themes, priorities and proposals of the different sub-regions. The indigenous and Afro-descendant representatives decided to hold a roundtable to coordinate their future activities. Parallel activities, such as the Roundtable on Race and Poverty that was organized by the International Human Rights Law Group, also facilitated this dialogue.

  7. Funding

The massive presence of civil society organizations at the Citizenís Conference was made possible by the allocation of funding to a large number of participants. In particular, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which provided funding for a significant number of representatives of civil society organizations and maintained an equilibrium of thematic, gender and geographical representation, assured that there was a diversity of participants in the Citizenís Conference. This aid was crucial since it was not limited to participation in the Citizenís Conference, but was also extended to the Regional PrepCom, which enabled participants to pursue significant work with governments as well.

The contribution made by some private funders, among which the Ford Foundation stands out, also helped this process. The Mott Foundation deserves mention as well, especially for its support of the Roundtable on Race and Poverty organized by the International Human Rights Law Group. Particularly important was the resulting division of aid through different processes, for example, channeling funds through the Ideas Foundation, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and through different national and regional organizations.

The selection process for groups that would receive financial aid from the Citizenís Conference was difficult, but was managed with a high level of professionalism. The creation of a Scholarship Committee, in which there was a clear equilibrium in the representation of main actors and groups in the region, as well as the establishment of clear selection criteria, greatly added to the legitimacy of this process. The main problem with the selection process is that the selections were made with very little notice and some beneficiaries received confirmation that they would receive financial aid only a week before the Conference.

A point of particular importance is that all recipients of financial aid from the Ideas Foundation, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights obtained at the same time accreditation to participate in the Regional PrepCom. This mechanism was exceedingly useful in that it facilitated the work of NGOs with governments in the region.

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