On 27 April 2009 the Commission welcomed the Outcome Document (PDF) which was adopted at the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva.
The Commission re-iterated the UN’s view that:
'Cultural diversity is a cherished asset for the advancement and welfare of humanity at large and should be valued, enjoyed, genuinely accepted and embraced as a permanent feature which enriches our societies.'
As the accredited National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) and equalities regulator for Britain, the Equality and Human Right Commission joined NHRIs from around the world to back calls for a renewed effort to combat all forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance at the United Nations Durban Review Conference (DRC) in Geneva that week.
Kamal Ahmed's speech to the conference
The Commission's Group Director, Communications, Kamal Ahmed, spoke on the opening day of the conference, outlining progress in the field of race equality which has been made in the UK since the last UN anti-racism conference in 2001 – including the setting up of the EHRC in 2007 with a remit to promote human rights and equality across seven strands including race.
At a session organised by the NHRI network, Kamal spoke on a panel alongside senior figures from the South African, Costa Rican, Australian and Indonesian human rights commissions.
In his presentation, Kamal Ahmed outlined:
- Demographic developments in Britain and a picture of a new generation more comfortable with social diversity than ever before
- Our cross strand approach to tackling discrimination, using the notions of fairness, equality and human rights
- How we have used the provisions of the public sector duties to tackle discrimination in the provision of public services, particularly in the police and prisons service and in the provision of services for black and ethnic minority women who have suffered violence
- The role that socio-economic factors play in exacerbating inequalities
- New ways of making the case for equality and anti-discrimination around race, drawing out the concrete gains for society
- awareness and promotion of diversity can open up new markets for business and lead to better service delivery for the public and private sectors;
- studies show that more equal societies can be more productive, happier and healthier, and experience lower social unrest;
- there are both profit and productivity gains to be made by having a more diverse workforce, and by extension customer base.
National Human Rights Institution statement
The NHRIs adopted a joint statement which they presented at the conference. The NHRI statement recognises the importance of ensuring that racism is dealt with within a human rights and equality framework. It also outlined some of the new challenges we face in the fight against racism, such as issues surrounding religion, migrant workers, refugees, trafficking and cyber racism.
The NHRIs called on governments to ensure they are provided with sufficient resources to carry out their work, highlighting that inequalities become more pronounced at a time of the global economic crisis.
A delegation from the Commission played an active role throughout the conference, attending:
- the daily UK government briefing where it had the opportunity to discuss developments with the UK delegation and the other UK stakeholders present;
- the daily NHRI meeting where the NHRIs discussed how they could contribute to the plenary sessions, how to develop plans to monitor compliance by governments to the commitments made at Durban;
- daily conference plenary sessions, where accredited NHRIs had designated seating to demonstrate their independence from governments;
- fringe events on a range of topical issues including freedom of expression, tackling incitement to racial or religious hatred and multiple discrimination;
- ad hoc meetings on the sidelines of the conference with NGOs, the UK mission, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN treaty bodies and committee members.
Also speaking in Geneva was the Commission's Programme Head for Diversity in the Workplace Sukhvinder Singh. Sukhvinder spoke at a fringe event on tackling discrimination and promoting diversity in the workplace, on a panel which included representatives from the International Labour Organisation and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
In his presentation Sukvinder Singh noted:
- In the period 2005 - 2009, ethnic minorities accounted for 50 percent of the growth in the working age population
- By 2010 -
80 percent of the growth of the workforce is predicted to be women
40 percent of the total workforce is predicted to be over the age of 45
20 percent of the working age population is predicted to have a disability
- Although ethnic minorities are a growing part of the working population, they continue to suffer from labour market discrimination – as do women, older people and disabled people
- A cross strand approach to tackling discrimination is therefore imperative and promoting the benefits to business of measures which encourage greater diversity
- The important role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in using its powers of persuasion, empowerment and enforcement to help overcome these challenges
- The Commission looks forward to working with our partner NHRIs to ensure the effective implementation of the recommendations from this conference.