Internet racism under spotlight at UN conference

Switzerland is proposing a raft of measures to combat racism on the Internet Keystone Archive

An international conference against racism, currently underway in Geneva, is focusing on how to tackle the growing problem of racist websites.

This content was published on May 25, 2001

Jean-Daniel Vigny, head of the Swiss delegation to the conference, has said that Switzerland would be tabling 20 proposals to fight against cyber racism, but insisted the full support of the international community would be needed for the conference to achieve its aims.

The purpose of the Geneva meeting is to come up with a draft framework of proposals to be submitted to another global United Nations conference against racism, due to take place in Durban, South Africa, in September.

Analysts predict a major stumbling block at both conferences is likely to be the lack of international coordination on legal measures to prevent the spread of Internet-based racism.

Boël Sambuc, vice president of the Swiss Commission Against Racism and a member of the Swiss delegation, told swissinfo that a global, legally binding convention against racism was unlikely to be achieved at the conference.

"Even among democracies and in Western countries there remain very different ways of handling the problem of racism," Sambuc said in an interview with swissinfo.

Sambuc cites the particular problem of convincing the United States to sign up to a multilateral agreement to fight web-based racism.

"The United States has its First Amendment which guarantees absolute freedom of expression, even in racist matters," she said. "And it's true to say that most of the racist sites are sending their undemocratic ideologies from the US to Europe.

"We here in Europe are very sensitive to racism and seek to repress it with penal measures, but Anglo-Saxon countries seem to prefer discussion over and above repression."

With or without American support, Switzerland is keen to press for a plan of action at the conference to coordinate legal systems already in place in individual countries.

Since the Internet is bound by no international frontier, argues Sambuc, the task is to mobilise support for a voluntary legal framework against racism to be adopted by the international community.

"Today, it's more a question of coordinating the judiciary and administrative systems already in place in a number of countries.

"We are pushing for the adoption of a new ethical code, but on a voluntary basis."

swissinfo with agencies

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