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III. REGIONAL PREPCOM

The Americas Preparatory Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance (hereinafter "Regional PrepCom") was held December 4-7, 2000, at the Diego Portales Convention Center in Santiago, Chile.

The Bureau for the Conference was composed of a President (Chile), six Vice-Presidents (Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru) and a General Rapporteur (Guatemala). The Conference was divided into two commissions which met in a parallel manner: the Plenary and the Drafting Committee. The Drafting Committee was subdivided into two groups: one debated the Final Declaration and the other discussed the Plan of Action.

1. Issues

A number of issues were discussed during the Regional PrepCom, including slavery and colonialism, reparations, victims of racism and racial discrimination, globalization, poverty, gender and race, and indigenous peoplesí issues. The following are brief highlights of some of the discussions.

  1. Slavery and colonialism
  2. The legacy of slavery and colonialism was the subject of much discussion, and throughout the preparations for the World Conference, governments were divided on this issue. Some States maintained that the World Conference should concentrate exclusively on present forms of racism and racial discrimination. Other States, however, maintained that even though the Conference should concentrate on contemporary manifestations of racism and racial discrimination, it is essential to analyze the history of colonial and slave-holding regimes. These States asserted that examining the legacy of slavery and colonialism was necessary for addressing contemporary forms and causes of racism.

    The Final Declaration of the Regional PrepCom makes important references to slavery and colonialism. In paragraph 3 of the Final Declaration, governments "recognize and admit that conquest, colonialism, slavery and other forms of servitude were a source of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in the Americas, and condemn the injustices that were committed, especially against indigenous peoples and Africans and their descendants. The political, socio-economic and cultural structures imposed in the context of those processes permitted and encouraged racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." The Conference repudiated the injustices committed during that era and indicated that its effects "persist in many of our societies and are a source of systematic discrimination that still affects large sectors of the population" (para. 3). Reaffirming these principles, in the section dedicated to Afro-descendants, the Regional PrepCom recognizes that "the legacy of slavery has contributed to perpetuating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against people of African descent throughout the region" and finds it "at the root of the situations of profound social and economic inequality" which continue to affect them (para. 28). In paragraph 4, governments go a step further and "[r]epudiate the brutal crimes and injustices that were committed against indigenous peoples and Africans and their descendants who were subjected to slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and other forms of servitude that today could constitute crimes against humanity."

    Thus, the Final Declaration of the Regional PrepCom affirms that slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and other forms of servitude could today constitute crimes against humanity (para. 4) and crimes under international law (para. 70).

  3. Reparations
  4. The issue of reparations, or its most debated form, compensatory measures, has generated the greatest amount of discussion and controversy in the preparatory process of the World Conference. When the themes on the agenda for the World Conference were being defined in the first global PrepCom in May of 2000 in Geneva, the term "compensatory measures" was the only one that remained in brackets, showing the deep differences in opinion that existed between the position of the United States and European countries who argued that the term should not be included on the agenda, and other States that contested that it should.

    In this sense, the Regional PrepCom for the Americas represents progress as references to reparations are included in different parts of the final documents. Above all, States affirmed that "it is the legal duty of States to carry out exhaustive, timely and impartial investigations of all acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia or related intolerance, to penalize those responsible according to the law and to secure prompt and fair reparation for the victims" (para. 68).

    The most debated point in Santiago was not that of reparation for individual acts of discrimination, but rather for the vestiges of slavery. In an important step forward, the PrepCom acknowledged that the centuries of enslavement and servitude of Africans and their descendants and of the indigenous peoples of the Americas "have resulted in substantial and lasting economic, political and cultural damage to these peoples, and that justice now requires that substantial national and international efforts be made to repair such damage. Such reparation should be in the form of policies, programmes and measures to be adopted by the States which benefited materially from these practices, and designed to rectify the economic, cultural and political damage which has been inflicted on the affected communities and peoples" (para. 70).

  5. Victims
  6. One of the five items on the agenda of the World Conference is to identify who are the victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

    In the preparations for Santiago, the debate about this issue involved a methodological discussion with substantive implications about whether it was necessary to have a document which devoted chapters to certain identified groups who are most discriminated against, or whether the document should speak generally about the situation of racial discrimination in the hemisphere and only mention the situations of a particular group when there are significant differences. The United States held the first position: that there should be specific chapters for each group. It justified this position by stating that this methodology would give the greatest visibility to groups that have traditionally been discriminated against, which is one of objectives of the World Conference. The States which were opposed to this position argued that a document divided by groups would have two serious consequences. First, it would imply a hierarchy among different groups. Second, the final document would be less coherent if it were divided into groups before addressing the general themes and phenomena that affect the entire region.

    The position of dividing the document according to victim groups prevailed. The three groups which received a section with particular treatment were indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and migrants.

    The references in five paragraphs to the mestizo population was perceived as a serious setback by indigenous groups as well as by Afro-descendants. Traditionally, Latin American countries have viewed or portrayed themselves as a region that is significantly mestizo or "mixed-race" and allegedly free of prejudice and racial discrimination. Presumably, if the population is comprised largely of mestizos, then there are no racial distinctions and mere discussion of racism is therefore viewed as a foreign or non-regional issue. The denial of any racial distinctions within the population of a given country obscures the reality in Latin America that a personís skin color is a decisive factor in determining opportunities to succeed in society.

    There is a later section of the document devoted to what is termed "other victims of racism," in which mestizos, refugees, internally displaced persons, Jews, Arabs and Muslims, the Roma, and persons of Asian descent are identified. After the description of the different groups that are discriminated against, there is a section about the victims of aggravated or multiple discrimination, including women, children, those with HIV/AIDS, and the poor.

  7. Globalization
  8. States also took contradictory positions on globalization. A number of States maintained that globalization exacerbated disparities among countries and within countries. Some States focused on the neoliberal economic model and the economic inequalities that it produced, while others pointed out the negative effects that a globalized cultural model has on the cultures of indigenous peoples in particular. Other States maintained that globalization offered opportunities for economic development and trade, increased global communications, and improved the situations of groups that have traditionally been marginalized.

    The Final Declaration reflects these tensions. It recognizes that globalization presents "challenges and opportunities" for the struggle to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance (preamble). It also expresses the determination of States in the region to "prevent and mitigate the negative effects of globalization" as well as to "maximize the benefits of globalization" (para. 10).

  9. Poverty
  10. The intersection of poverty and race constituted one of the central points of the Regional PrepCom, beginning with the first drafts of the Final Declaration. The debate centered around a few key questions: How are racism and poverty linked? To what extent is racism a cause of poverty? Are the conditions of poverty made worse and further perpetuated by racism? Does poverty lead to racism? A governmentís answers to these questions will determine its policy towards race and poverty. The governments at the Regional PrepCom chose to emphasize that poverty is linked to racism primarily in the sense that racism worsens the already marginalizing impacts of poverty. Governments were reluctant, however, to state that racism is a causal factor of poverty. The potential implication of this is that anti-poverty programs may not acknowledge the role that racism plays in putting people in poverty in the first place.

    The discussion also addressed how poverty should be referenced in the central documents. While some governments argued that poverty was the central question in the region, others postulated that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance were the central issues and it was only necessary to make a tangential reference to poverty.

    The Final Declaration reflects the compromise position reached. The document recognizes that the manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance are aggravated by socioeconomic status (preamble); that poverty is frequently linked with racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance and that these practices aggravate the conditions of poverty, marginality and social exclusion (para. 5); that in many countries the sectors with the highest indices of poverty and with the lowest social indicators in the areas of education, employment, health, housing, infant mortality and life expectancy coincide with indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and migrants (para. 15); that the victims of acts of racial discrimination in the past are found in the poorest sectors of States (para. 13); and that there is a strong correlation between poverty and racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance (para. 59).

  11. Gender and race
  12. The issue of the intersection of gender and race received a great deal of attention during the Regional PrepCom. The Drafting Committee noted that not only would it include specific references to the issue in the Final Declaration and Plan of Action, but also that the entire document would contain a gender perspective. The Final Declaration contains, from the preamble onward, a recognition that the manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance are made worse by other factors, including gender (preamble); that there are persons that suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including for reasons of their gender and race; that "special attention should be given to the elaboration of strategies, policies and programmes, which may include affirmative action, for those persons who may be the victims of multiple forms of discrimination" (para. 51); and that "racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia reveal themselves in a differentiated manner for women" (para. 53). Governments also recognized the "need to integrate a gender perspective in programmes of action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, in order to address the phenomenon of multiple discrimination against women" (para. 52). In addition, it was noted that migrants find themselves in vulnerable situations because of their gender, among other things (para. 37).

  13. Indigenous peoples
  14. Perhaps the most substantive advance in the Final Declaration of the Regional PrepCom was the use of the term indigenous "peoples," as opposed to "people" or "populations." However, a clarification was added to limit the reach of this term, similar to that used in ILO Convention No. 169, which denies any implications for the self-determination of indigenous peoples. States which traditionally had been opposed to the use of the term "peoples" in the framework of the United Nations and in the OAS, set aside their objections, although with the aforementioned limitation.

    Not all of the goals of the indigenous peoples were reflected in the Final Declaration. Despite recognizing their special relationship with the land (para. 20) and noting that there are efforts to universally recognize the right of indigenous peoples to manage their own lands and natural resources (para. 23), the Final Declaration does not include a clear statement about protection of their traditional lands and territories, nor does it include a categorical recognition of the collective rights of indigenous peoples.

  15. Other issues
  16. Some themes which appeared in the Regional PrepComís Final Declaration deserve mention as they indicate important changes in the official position of many States in the region. There are clear recognitions that the history of the hemisphere has been frequently characterized by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, that these phenomena persist in the region (preamble) and that the denial of the existence of these phenomena on the part of States and societies directly or indirectly contributes to their perpetuation (para. 2). There is also a positive call for censuses and other compilations of statistics to include ethnic or racial criteria in order to give visibility to different sectors of the population (para. 18).

  17. Some gaps

Among the gaps in the Final Declaration are that there are virtually no references to the role of transnational corporations in the perpetuation or aggravation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance; that there are only limited references to the role of international financial institutions; and that there are very few references to discrimination in crucial sectors of society such as the labor market and educational institutions.

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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
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