By: Kenneth Deer, The Eastern Door 

I had the opportunity to attend part of Prep-Com 3, the last preparatory committee meeting before the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to be held in Durban, South Africa in two weeks. 

There was never supposed to be a Prep-Com 3.  Prep-Com 1 was held in February and all the work to develop the agenda, Declaration on Racism and Plan of Action should have been decided then. But governments could not come to an agreement on these issues. Governments had problems with the wording of every paragraph. It seems all governments have skeletons in their closets and they don't want their problems of racism and discrimination brought out in public so they are trying to water down the outcome of the conference as much as possible. 

Prep-Com 2 in June was a failure so now we are at Prep-Com 3, less than a month before the conference. And the first order of business? Not racism but whether a particular organization representing gay and lesbians should be allowed to attend the World Conference. The Arab countries were against their participation and the European countries supported their inclusion. No compromise could be reached so a roll call vote was insisted upon by the Arab States; a time consuming process, with the Chairman calling out each country in alphabetical order. Arab countries and some others voted against the participation of the gay and lesbian organization and European and many western countries, including Canada, voted yes. A number of governments abstained and others were absent. One key country, Sweden, was absent for the vote when its name was called and was noted by everyone there at the time. 

It was a close vote and when the votes were tabulated it was a draw at 43 votes each. Under UN rules of procedure, in case of a tie, the motion is carried so the gay and lesbian organization will not be allowed to participate in the World Conference. A single vote could have turned the tide the other way. Where was Sweden? The Swedish government had only one young delegate in attendance who had to leave the room to make a phone call and missed the whole voting process. An embarrassing development that did not please their European neighbours. 

Being out of the room at the wrong time can have grave consequences. The meeting broke into two rooms, one to deal with the Declaration on Racism and the other to finalize the Plan of Action. The issue of Indigenous Peoples in the two documents left a lot to be desired and we wanted it strengthened. We agreed to meet with governments outside the meeting to hammer-out some better wording. The Chairman of the Plan of Action meeting agreed to wait until we could come to some common position before dealing with Indigenous issues. So many of us left that meeting to go two floors down to our computer room and prepare for our meeting with governments. Suddenly, a non-Indigenous lawyer bursts in and says that the discussion on Indigenous issues is being debated in the other meeting room on the Declaration on Racism. No one, government or Indigenous, had notified him that we wanted a delay on this topic. We all zoomed up two floors to stop the debate. On my way I noticed the representative of the government of Ecuador who I knew for some years. I told him of our problem and asked him for his help. 

When we entered the room, three governments had already spoken. In particular the United Kingdom which was very negative. We were observers and could not take the floor. My Ecuadorian friend immediately went to talk to his South American colleagues and they gathered in a knot to discuss the problem. Frank Guevera, an Aborigine and co-chairman of the Indigenous caucus, walked down to see the Canadian government representatives to seek their help. At the first opportunity, Canada asked for the floor and requested the chairman to delay the process until governments could consult with the Indigenous representatives. The South American governments, led by Mexico, supported Canada and the debate was stopped. 

A narrow escape. Had the debate not been delayed, there was no telling how the rewording of the Declaration would turn out in a free-for-all discussion on the floor. At least now we could meet with concerned governments and lobby for changes that we want, get an agreement on wording with a majority of governments and re-enter the room with a better chance of getting an improved text on Indigenous Peoples. 

The plan worked to some degree. We did get a better text but there was some damage done by the United Kingdom. Silent for years, they all of a sudden have become concerned about the rights of Indigenous Peoples. They are afraid that if Indigenous Peoples obtain a right to self-determination, that the Scots or other groups in the UK will claim to be Indigenous and demand their own country. Together with the United States, they insisted on text which continues the position that the term Peoples, when applied to Indigenous Peoples, do not implicate rights under International Law as it does for other Peoples. Again, Indigenous Peoples are treated as being less than other Peoples. 

The United Nations Declaration on Racism is itself racist and discriminatory against Indigenous Peoples. This is a despicable, hypocritical and unacceptable position coming from a conference that is supposed to eliminate racism, discrimination and intolerance. There can be no excuse for the behaviour of these governments and the world must be told about the ongoing racism against the Indigenous Peoples of the world. 

Kenneth Deer will be attending the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance as an invited Indigenous journalist by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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