When and where: The United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCR), a meeting of all UN member states, will take place from 31 August to 7 September 2001, in South Africa.
An NGO forum will precede it, probably 29 August - 2 September.


A United Nations Conference on Racism

Previous world conferences on racism were held in 1978 and 1983 and the UN has adopted programmes of action for three International Decades to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.

The First Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1973-1982) provided a structure to focus on measures which should be taken to implement international instruments to eliminate racial discrimination and to launch a worldwide education campaign.

The Programme of Action for the Second Decade for Action to Combat Racial Discrimination (l983-l992) was proclaimed at the 1983 World Conference. It emphasised recourse procedures for victims of racial discrimination, a sweeping world public information campaign and the drafting of "model national legislation" to guide governments.

The Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1994-2003) has been marked by a broadened view of the problem and the realisation that each society is affected by discrimination. The UN General Assembly urged governments to combat new forms of racism; discrimination based on culture, nationality, religion or language; and racism resulting from official doctrines of racial superiority or exclusivity.

The WCR slogan is "United to Combat Racism: Equality, Justice, Dignity". The conference aim is to ensure that international standards and instruments are applied in efforts to combat it. It could also formulate recommendations for further action to combat bias and intolerance.

The Conference’s First Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), held from 1 to 5 May 2000, in Geneva, defined the following themes as a provisional agenda of the WCR.

1. Sources, causes, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
2. Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
3. Measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, at the national, regional and international levels.
4. Provision of effective remedies, recourses, redress, compensatory and other measures, at the national, regional and international levels. (The word ‘compensatory’ is in square brackets in the text, a UN way of signaling that there is no agreement on the use of this word).
5. Strategies to achieve full and effective equality, including international cooperation and enhancement of the UN and other international mechanisms in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and follow-up.

The PrepCom elected Ambassador(Madame) Absa Claude Diallo (Senegal) as its chairperson. Other members of the ‘bureau’ are Tunisia, Iran, Malaysia, FYR of Macedonia, Georgia, Brazil, Mexico (Rapporteur), France, USA and South Africa.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), Ms Mary Robinson, is responsible for preparations.

The HCHR NGOs Liaison is Ms. Laurie Wiseberg whose contacts are:
World Conference Secretariat, United Nations, Room 4-025, Tel. 0041-22-917-9393, e-mail The Website of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for general information on the WCR:

An Inter-sessional open-ended working group will meet for five days at the end of January 2001, in Geneva, to develop the draft agenda, the draft declaration and the draft programme of action of the World Conference.

A Second PrepCom meeting: meet for two weeks at the end of May 2001, in Geneva, Switzerland. The exact dates will be decided by the Inter-sessional working group at its meeting in January 2001.

Regional Preparatory Meetings
10-11 October: Forum for Non-Governmental Organisations, Strasbourg, France.
11-13 October (afternoon): European Conference Against Racism: "All Different - All Equal: From Theory to Practice", Strasbourg, France

Participants will include:
a) The Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) and Anti-Racism, Anti-Discrimination Working Group, represented by Ms. Pat White (a CCME Executive Committee member). Her e-mail is: and telephone 0044 181 356 74 04. (To be confirmed by the Council of Europe).
b) Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ), represented by the Rev Arlington Trotman. His e-mail is, and telephone 0044-20-7523 2121. (To be confirmed by the Council of Europe).

28-30 August 2000, Teheran, Iran.

20-25 November 2000, Dakar, Senegal

The Americas
Date and venue not yet defined. Brazil, which was supposed to host the meeting, announced that it would not do so.

Expert meetings
organised by the Conference Secretariat:

Eastern Europe, in Warsaw
5-7 July 2000, on the theme "Protection of Minorities and Other Vulnerable Groups and Strengthening Human Rights Capacity at the National Level"

Asia, in Bangkok
5-7 September 2000, on the theme of "Migrant Workers and Trafficking of Persons, with Particular Reference to Women and Children"

Africa, in Addis Ababa
27-29 September 2000, on the theme "Preventing Ethnic and Racial Conflict"

Latin America, in Santiago
25-27 October 2000, on the theme "Economic, Social and Legal Measures to Combat Racial Discrimination, with Particular Reference to Vulnerable Groups"

Regional NGO Meetings:
The Conference Secretariat is planning four regional NGO meetings intended to feed into the NGO Forum. While the dates and venues have not yet been confirmed, the following are being planned:
  • For Africa, a meeting in southern Africa
  • For Asia, a meeting possibly in Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • For Latin America, a meeting in Quito, Ecuador
  • For Eastern and Central Europe, still to be determined.
  • NGO Participation and Coordination

    NGO representatives who attended the first PrepCom meeting established a three-tiered coordination process: "NGO Coordination - WCR". The Contact person is: Deborah Robinson:, Tel. (1-202) 723-5622, Washington DC, USA.

    The three tiers are:
    (a) NGO Planning Committee - This is a body open to any NGO that wants to participate. It communicates by e-mail.

    (b) An NGO Coordination Committee comprised of:
    12 NGO representatives from Africa
    12 from Asia/Pacific and Middle East
    12 from America
    7 from Europe
    7 from international NGOs.

    A total of 50 plus some ex-officio representatives: 3 from South Africa, 2 from Senegal, 2 from Iran, 2 from France, and 2 from the Americas.

    (c) A Facilitating Team of 12 members, to undertake specific tasks:
    2 each for Africa, Asia/Pacific, Americas, Europe and Indigenous Peoples and 1 each for international NGOs, youth and Dalits.

    An NGO secretariat will be established in South Africa. (The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights already has an office in Pretoria.)

    (For matters related to Rules of Procedure and Accreditation of NGOs, link to the Conference Website http//, with links to many other sites dealing with racism).

    Roger Wareham, of the International Association Against Torture and December 12th Movement, and a member of the NGO Planning Committee (New York, USA), has shared with ECHOES his views on the First PrepCom meeting last May and the participation of NGOs:

    "It was good that there was attendance by some community-based NGOs. A good spread of Africans from the Americas - Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, US, Canada. Not enough from the Caribbean. There seemed to be a fairly good Indigenous representation. This is all relative. "Good" in this context is as compared to the usual representation of UN meetings. There still needs to be greater representation by NGOs from the African continent.

    It was very positive that the NGOs formed a Planning Committee, a Coordinating Committee (to formulate policy over the year) and a Facilitating Team to carry out the directives of the Coordination Committee. All members are temporary until the different groupings - regional, international NGOs and Indigenous - have regional meetings to secure permanent representation. November 1 is the deadline.

    It is also very positive that the PrepCom approved NGO presence and participation in the working group meetings, as well as in plenaries. It is also positive that assurances have been given for the participation of non-Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) NGOs in the World Conference and PrepComs. But negative in that requirements for non-ECOSOC NGO participation are still very bureaucratic and restricve (i.e. governed by ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31).

    A key issue for NGOs will be the degree of effective participation by grassroots NGOs from the South and from the "South in the North".

    The WCC contribution towards the WCR

    The context
    Racism has been a concern of the ecumenical movement for at least 70 years. However there has been a special focus on the issue since 1968 when the WCC Central Committee set up the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR). In 1998, during the VIIIth Assembly in Harare, The WCC celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Programme to Combat Racism.

    In 1995, the Central Committee of the WCC noted that: "Institutional racism and the ideology of racism, in their most pernicious forms, continue unabated in contemporary societies and still affect churches dramatically while ongoing social, political and economic trends are producing new forms of racism."

    In response to that challenge, the WCC’s work on racism aims to engage and accompany the churches to recognise, to understand and attempt to overcome racism wherever it exists in their midst. WCC continues the effort to combat racism as a central part of the churches’ life rather than something marginal. In this work, WCC tries to promote partnerships between Regional Ecumenical Organisations (such as the Christian Conference of Asia or the All Africa Conference of Churches) and national councils of churches which have programmes against racism, or which focus on racially/ethnically oppressed peoples, on Indigenous Peoples, Dalits, or women as victims of racism.

    The Ecumenical Study Process on Racism
    To understand and combat the old and new manifestations of racism in society and in the church, new analysis is needed. There is a need - and this is a difficult and challenging discussion - to identify oppressive, racist theologies. There is also an urgent need to understand the links, and distinctions, between racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, casteism and other "isms".

    The Ecumenical Study Process on Racism, mandated by the WCC Central Committee, is a response to these needs. The Study has been carried out by the Justice, Peace and Creation (JPC) team. It will present its findings to the Central Committee, in September 2002, in a document which has been so far entitled "Understanding Racism Today". Beyond that the main objective of the study is to analyse its global and regional trends, and redefine the focus for work on racism and its specific strategies.

    The Ecumencial Study on Racism is also WCC’s contribution to the preparatory process of the World Conference and its participation in the Conference itself. To that end, the WCC will facilitate churches and partners being involved in the WCR regional conferences. WCC will also select an ecumenical delegation to attend the World Conference.

    The JPC team, in cooperation with other church-related programmes against racism, as well as its partner organisations in civil society, expects to facilitate four regional/inter-regional activities as part of its own preparatory work for the World Conference. These processes will gather substantial information in terms of analysis and actions of churches and church-related organisations in response to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The inputs and analysis gathered in a regional/inter-regional preparatory process will be an important contribution to the final document of the WCC’s Ecumenical Study Process on Racism ("Understanding Racism Today").

    A full-time consultant will be employed to help coordinate and facilitate the organising of regional/inter-regional meetings and the activities of churches and partners.

    Table of Contents // Editorial // Environmental racism: old wine in a new bottle by Deborah M. Robinson // Racial Violence, by Mukami McCrum // Interview with M. Deenabandhu On the subject of casteism // Redefining understandings of racism, by N. Barney Pityana // Theological deconstruction and reconstruction in the fight against racism by Maria-Cristina Ventura // Ethnicity and racism by Steve Fenton // Inter-racial church Communities, by Rev. Marjorie Lewis-Cooper // Rio de Janeiro Declaration // The WCC Special Fund to Combat Racism // Two groups who received a Special Fund grant // The UN World Conference against Racism and the WCC Ecumenical Study Process on Racism // SISTERS in the struggle to Eliminate Racism and Sexism by Sammy Toineeta, Betty Ruth Lozana Lerma, Silvia Regina // Publications

    © 2000 world council of churches | remarks to webeditor