World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Declaration of the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination condemned apartheid and racial policies of governments and suggested economic and political boycotts of regimes with these policies.

Summary of Event

The World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination met in Geneva, Switzerland, from August 14 to August 25, 1978. Representatives of 125 states attended, and a number of United Nations agencies and several intergovernmental organizations also sent observers. The conference marked the halfway point in the United Nations’ first Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1973-1983) (DACRRD, 1973-1983). Declaration of the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1978) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1978) United Nations;human rights Racial and ethnic discrimination;United Nations [kw]World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination (Aug.-Dec., 1978) [kw]Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination, World (Aug.-Dec., 1978) [kw]Racial Discrimination, World Conference Condemns (Aug.-Dec., 1978) [kw]Discrimination, World Conference Condemns Racial (Aug.-Dec., 1978) Declaration of the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1978) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1978) United Nations;human rights Racial and ethnic discrimination;United Nations [g]Europe;Aug.-Dec., 1978: World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination[03320] [g]Switzerland;Aug.-Dec., 1978: World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination[03320] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug.-Dec., 1978: World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination[03320] [c]Human rights;Aug.-Dec., 1978: World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination[03320] [c]United Nations;Aug.-Dec., 1978: World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination[03320] Molapo, Mooki V. Narasimhan, C. V. Valdez, R. Petree, Richard Waldheim, Kurt

The United Nations convened the world conference in 1978 to promote the goals of the DACRRD of preserving rights and freedoms for all persons without any distinction of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin; of opposing and eliminating any policies and practices of racist regimes; and of pursuing a vigorous worldwide campaign of information to dispel racial prejudice. The conference held fifteen plenary meetings. It adopted a declaration and a program of action, which were later endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly. The draft resolutions (Resolutions 33/99 and 33/100) were considered on December 16, 1978. The first was adopted by a roll-call vote of 107 to 18, with 11 abstentions, and the second by a roll-call vote of 101 to 19, with 15 abstentions.

The Declaration of the World Conference reaffirmed faith in promoting human rights against apartheid, genocide, and discrimination in employment and education on the basis of race and ethnicity. It endorsed the program of action against the practice of apartheid in South Africa and extended support for the people of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia in their struggle for liberation. It declared that “any doctrine of racial superiority was scientifically false, morally condemnable and socially unjust,” and that “apartheid was a crime against humanity and a threat to peace and security in the world.” Racial discrimination and racial tensions were held to be exemplified in the world by human rights violations, denial of the right of self-determination, foreign occupation, alien domination, economic and political oppression, social injustice, and cultural contempt.

The declaration condemned the practice of apartheid Apartheid;U.N. conventions and declarations in South Africa South Africa;human rights abuses and its policy of creating “Bantustans” to dispossess the African people of their land and to consolidate white settler domination, the increasing relations between the Zionist state of Israel and the racist regime of South Africa, and Israel’s refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions and its continuation of racial discrimination in the occupied Arab territories. The declaration proclaimed solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for a right of self-determination. It also condemned South Africa’s aggressive policy vis-à-vis its neighbors, particularly Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zambia. The declaration affirmed the need for the national protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, women, children, immigrants, and migrant workers. In protecting the rights of such groups, however, the declaration emphasized the need for strict respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of countries.

Specific measures were proposed by the conference to achieve the aims of the declaration. These measures were to be implemented at the national, international, and regional levels. National governments were asked to take affirmative steps toward dispelling racial attitudes through the dissemination of U.N. decisions and through modification of school curricula to expose the myths, fallacies, and injustices of racism.

The declaration urged the termination of all economic collaboration with the racist regimes of Southern Africa, with a goal of cutting off the supply of funds, loans, foreign exchange, trade, credits, and other financial support. It called for an immediate cessation of nuclear collaboration, prohibition of technological and manufacturing assistance for arms and military supplies, suspension of loans and investments, and an embargo on petroleum products and other strategic commodities. The U.N. Security Council was requested to consider as an urgent measure the imposition of comprehensive and mandatory sanctions, under chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, against states practicing Bantustan policy, apartheid, segregation, or any other form of systematic racial discrimination.

A recommendation was made to the General Assembly to hold another world conference at the end of the DACRRD to review and evaluate the progress and to chart new measures. Although the declaration was adopted by the majority of participating states at the conference, two provisions of the declaration were considered by some members to be “objectionable” and “extraneous” to the purposes of the DACRRD and the conference. The first of these issues related to the equation of Zionist Israel with the racist South African government, and the second pertained to Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland and interference with Palestinians’ right to self-determination. The prominent members opposed to the declaration were the members of the European Economic Community (EEC), Australia, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand. In the absence of a general consensus on the draft, parts of the declaration were adopted by consensus and others by vote.

Individual EEC members also expressed reservations on references to apartheid as a crime against humanity. Some of them, along with Japan, did not agree with some of the measures proposed by the program of action because of the limitations imposed by their constitutional systems in implementing such measures. Again, in the absence of a general consensus, parts of the draft text were adopted by consensus and others by vote.

The United States had boycotted the world conference and later did not participate in voting on the declaration, either in the committee or in the plenary. The United States had isolated itself from activities of the United Nations that were related to the DACRRD on the grounds that a U.N. resolution adopted in 1975 had equated Zionism with racism. Throughout the proceedings of the conference, however, the American representatives at the United Nations remained in close touch with the members of the EEC.

It is noteworthy that the United States, along with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), the United Kingdom, and Japan, happened to be among the largest trading partners of South Africa. In the presence of a disagreement by these countries, any economic boycott of South Africa by the international community would be ineffective.

Significance

The World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination focused world attention on the issue of racial justice and the practice of apartheid. International economic and military sanctions against South Africa and other Southern African countries, mandated by the declaration, were unsuccessful. The richest industrial nations were not in favor of such an embargo, and many other states took advantage of economic boycotts by some countries to create new trade opportunities for themselves with South Africa. More often than not, components and spare parts for many embargoed items reached South Africa through third countries.

The United Nations declared 1982 the International Year of Mobilization of Sanctions Against South Africa. International Year of Mobilization of Sanctions Against South Africa, U.N. (1982) In 1979, the United Nations decided to convene a second World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, which was held in Geneva from August 1 to August 13, 1983. The second conference reported that despite the efforts of the international community throughout the DACRRD, racial discrimination and apartheid showed no signs of diminishing. The United Nations also launched a Second International Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, to begin at the end of the first decade on December 10, 1983.

Although parts of the declaration were opposed by the industrially rich countries of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, the international publicity of events in Southern Africa in the 1980’s, rioting, violence, and international strife led to growing public awareness and some political protest within these countries. Activists and interest groups began to demand from their governments political boycotts, economic divestment, and other pressure techniques against South Africa. The protests and demonstrations, coupled with the split of opinion among politicians, resulted in voluntary modification of economic policies by some business corporations and imposition of a series of limited economic sanctions and indirect political pressure against South Africa by the United States, members of the EEC (with the exception of the United Kingdom), and Scandinavian countries.

Between September, 1979, when Pieter W. Botha Botha, Pieter W. came into power as the prime minister (later president) in South Africa, and the election of F. W. de Klerk De Klerk, F. W. in September, 1989, a number of radical measures of constitutional reform were adopted. Several laws based on the principle of apartheid were repealed. New legislation was introduced lifting bans on political opposition parties and legalizing African trade unions. Political integration of Indian and “Coloured” peoples was allowed on a small scale. The freeing of political prisoners, including the release in 1990 of Nelson Mandela, Mandela, Nelson the president of the African National Congress, was another important step in this direction, and his election as president of South Africa in 1994 brought to a close the apartheid era, which had prompted so much international diplomatic activity that contributed to the monumental and largely peaceful transition to black majority rule. Declaration of the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1978) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1978) United Nations;human rights Racial and ethnic discrimination;United Nations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berridge, Geoff R., and Anthony Jennings, eds. Diplomacy at the UN. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. The main purpose of this volume is to clarify the nature of diplomatic work at the United Nations in terms of bilateral, third-party, and multilateral diplomacy. It includes sections on United Nations diplomacy toward South Africa and Israel.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Diehl, Paul F., ed. The Politics of International Organizations: Patterns and Insights. Chicago: Dorsey Press, 1989. This anthology contains articles on the theoretical frameworks and practices of the United Nations related to such activities as international trade, development, human rights, relief services, and security affairs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.N. Department of Public Information. Basic Facts About the United Nations. New York: United Nations, 2004. An introductory text that acquaints the general reader with the structure, background, and functioning of the United Nations. Accomplishments of the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, economic cooperation, and human rights are covered.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.N. Department of Public Information. Yearbook of the United Nations, 1978. New York: United Nations, 1981. A good documentary source for the texts of treaties, declarations, and documents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ziring, Lawrence, Robert E. Riggs, and Jack C. Plano. The United Nations: International Organization and World Politics. 4th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2005. Deals extensively with the political considerations involved in decision making at the United Nations. Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of this organization over its entire history.

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