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Conference News: Racism and Public Policy, Report of the UNRISD International Conference, Durban, South Africa

10 Jul 2002



The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) released the report of its conference on Racism and Public Policy, held from 3 to 5 September 2001, in Durban, South Africa.

Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Thandika Mkandawire, UNRISD Director, opened the UNRISD conference. More than 500 individuals representing governments, international agencies, NGOs, academia and the media participated in the event and 30 high-level scholars from various countries led the discussions. Research findings, insights and policy debates on some of today’s core issues of racism, xenophobia and intolerance affecting different groups, countries and regions were provided. Opportunities, problems and challenges of public policies devised for overcoming racist and xenophobic practices in different settings were discussed.

The conference focused on four broad themes: the social construction of race and citizenship; the social dynamics of racism and inequalities; organized responses to cultural diversity; and the impact of public policies on race relations.

Mr. Mkandawire and Ms. Robinson stressed the importance of the event as a neutral platform for reflection and discussion on issues of identities, inequalities and justice. A disturbing feature of the current world order, Ms. Robinson noted, is the rise of inequality between as well as within nations.

Two important public policy issues were highlighted during throughout the three days of discussions. The first is the complex ways racial cleavages have influenced the evolution of citizenship, especially in countries with deep ethno-racial divisions. The second is the promotion of social justice and equitable governance, which is seen as a fundamental requirement for achieving stability and consolidating the values of citizenship. These issues were discussed in 10 panels and covered a wide range of countries and regions: the Afro-Arab borderlands, Australia and New Zealand, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, the United States, and Western Europe.

The UNRISD conference on Racism and Public Policy was held in connection with the third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took place in Durban from 31 August to 7 September 2001.