The world conference against racism and the right to reparation

October 10, 2005 - nr.22
Summary

Introduction

 

The Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) was asked on 27 April 2001 to advise on the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination, which is to be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September 2001.

The request for advice (see Annexe I) indicates, among other things, that the objective of the World Conference is to devise measures and policy at national, regional and international level to combat contemporary forms of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In the period leading up to the World Conference, States and regions have tended to focus mainly on their own problems during the regional conferences. The World Conference is intended to produce ‘action-oriented’ and ‘forward-looking’ results, which will be combined in a Declaration and Action Programme.

The request also addresses with developments during the preparation of the Conference and indicates that on the basis of the discussions held hitherto acceptable compromises would seem possible on many points, but that a number of problem areas will continue to exist. One of these areas is the subject of compensatory measures for victims of slavery and colonialism; a subject that has been strongly pushed by the African States in particular. This concerns the question of whether States with a colonial past or a history of slavery or both owe compensation to certain individuals, groups or States that are still disadvantaged today as a result of slavery or colonialism in the past.

Reference is also made to the fact that the European Union (EU) solemnly acknowledged at the European Conference in Strasbourg that suffering caused by slavery or arising from colonialism should be remembered. In recent months the EU has adopted the following position on reparation and compensation. It recognises that awareness of slavery and colonialism, which must be viewed in their historical context, is necessary and must be widely promoted, particularly among young people, so that the damage caused is not repeated in the future. In addition, the EU considers that the aims of the World Conference would not be served by a debate on financial compensation for the events of the past. Such a debate would distract the Conference from its main objective, namely achieving results aimed at the present and future, and not settling scores from the past. Nor would such a debate be in keeping with a number of legal principles on reparation. Moreover, the EU considers that a debate about financial compensation during the conference would be more likely to be a hindrance than a help in the battle against racism and discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.

Against this background, advice was requested on the following questions:

  1. Building on the EU position outlined above, the Netherlands wants to make a positive contribution to the discussion on how to put into practical effect the acknowledgement of the suffering caused to victims of slavery and colonialism and the possible consequences for their descendants. What possibilities exist for such a contribution?
  2. How would any positive measures for the descendants of victims of slavery and colonialism fit into a broader anti-racism policy that also takes account of other groups who suffer racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance?

In reply to the request for advice the AIV deals in the first place with more general aspects of the subject in the form of a description of racism and racial discrimination past and present (section II). Section III considers various aspects of the right to reparation of victims of racism and racial discrimination. Among the subjects discussed in this connection are the existing legal framework and the various forms of reparation. Section IV examines the results of the regional meetings on this subject and the positions adopted at them. Finally, Section V contains conclusions and recommendations. As the World Conference is due to start very shortly, the AIV has been obliged to confine itself in this report to a consideration of the broad issues.

The advisory report was drawn up by a sub-committee of the Human Rights Committee (CMR) of the AIV. This Committee consists of the following persons: Professor P.R. Baehr*, Professor C.E. von Benda-Beckmann-Droogleever Fortuijn (vice-chair), Professor T.C. van Boven* (chair of the sub-committee), Dr M.C. Castermans-Holleman*, Professor C.P.M. Cleiren, Professor P. Cliteur, T. Etty*, Professor C. Flinterman* (chair), Professor W.J.M. van Genugten*, Ms L.Y. Gonçalves-Ho Kang You*, Ms C. Hak*, Ms M. Koers-van der Linden, F. Kuitenbrouwer, Ms A.L.E.C. van der Stoel, J. G. van der Tas and Ms H.M. Verrijn Stuart. Members whose name is marked by an asterisk sat on the sub-committee which prepared this draft report. Professor Cliteur and Mr Kuitenbrouwer participated as corresponding members.

Professor I. Wolffers of the Development Cooperation Committee (COS) also assisted in the preparation of this report. Particular assistance in the drafting of the report was provided by Ms W.A. van Aardenne (DMV/MR), an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who acted as advisor to the Committee. The secretary was T.D.J. Oostenbrink (executive secretary to the Human Rights Committee), who was assisted by M.M.T. Keyte, M.F. De Lange and Ms W. Neeft (interns).

The AIV discussed the present report at its meeting of 1 June 2001, when it decided on the procedure that led to the adoption of the report on 18 June 2001.

Advice request

Advisory Council on International Affairs
Attn. Professor F.H.J.J. Andriessen, Acting Chair
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

Human Rights and Peacebuilding
Department
Human Rights Division
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
2594 AC The Hague

 

27 April 2001

Request for advisory report on possible measures to assist descendants of victims of slavery and colonialism


Dear Professor Andriessen,

The World Conference against Racism will be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September 2001. The aim of the Conference is to devise national, regional and inter-national measures and policies to combat contemporary forms of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance. In the runup to the World Conference, every state and region is expected to focus on its own particular problems in this area. This will be happening at a series of regional conferences. The World Conference itself is intended to be ‘action-oriented’ and ‘forward-looking’. The results will be laid down in a Declaration and Action Programme, which will form the basis for regional and national action plans to combat racism.

During the preparations for the World Conference there have been repeated references to the need to pay specific attention to disadvantaged and possibly vulnerable groups and to positive measures that might be taken to strengthen their position in society. The agenda is based on five main themes. The attention of Western countries is focused especially on preventive measures and protection mechanisms in legislation, policy and practice. This will require the creation of an infrastructure at both local and national level that protects individuals from racism.

The African group, in particular, has made a strong plea for compensatory measures for the descendants of victims of slavery and colonialism. The key question is whether states with a colonial past, or an involvement in slavery, should pay financial compensation to certain individuals, groups or states that are currently disadvantaged as a result of colonialism or slavery in the past.

At the European Conference in Strasbourg the EU solemnly acknowledged that the suffering caused by slavery or arising from colonialism must be commemorated. In recent months, the EU has adopted the following position on reparations and compensation. It acknowledges that awareness of slavery and colonialism, which must be viewed in their historical context, is necessary and must be widely promoted, particularly among young people, so that the damage caused is not repeated in the future. The EU is also of the opinion that the aims of the World Conference would not be served by a debate on financial compensation for the events of the past. Such a debate would distract the Conference from its main aim, namely to achieve results focused on the present and the future, not the settling of accounts from the past. Furthermore, such a debate would be incompatible with a number of legal principles regarding reparation.36 The EU is also of the opinion that a debate on financial compensation might render the outcome of the Conference entirely ineffective as regards the actual fight against racism and discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.

It is against this background that I hereby request advice regarding the following question:

  1. Building on the EU position outlined above, the Netherlands wants to make a positive contribution to the discussion on how to put into practical effect the acknowledgement of the suffering caused to victims of slavery and colonialism, and the possible consequences for their descendants. What possibilities exist for such a contribution?

I would also appreciate your advice on the following:

  1. How would any positive measures for the descendants of victims of slavery and colonialism fit into a broader anti-racism policy that also covered other groups who suffer racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance?

I look forward with interest to receiving your advisory report.


(signed)


J.J. van Aartsen
Minister of Foreign Affairs


36 The EU bases its actions regarding reparation for victims of racism mainly on the following instruments:

Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and additional protocols, particularly Article 13 of that Convention, and the European Convention on the compensation of victims of violent crimes.

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