by Gustavo Capdevila
(IPS) GENEVA --
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, expressed concern March 21 about the resurgence in Europe of an extremist right-wing that feeds nostalgia for the Nazi past, and she condemned attacks against Moroccan immigrants in southern Spain.
Robinson's statements on the occasion of the International Day on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination targeted electoral advances of the extreme right in Switzerland and the inclusion of Joerg Haider's right-wing Freedom Party into Austria's governing coalition.
The High Commissioner's comments reflect the attitude of the European Union's highest officials, who reduced their formal contacts with Austria, one of the bloc's 15 members, shortly after Haider's party took office.
Robinson, a former Irish president, also mentioned the xenophobic attitudes manifest in several African countries, and criticized the institutional racism of certain police forces and prison systems.
"This incomplete list of sad and horrible incidents is a clear warning that fanaticism and prejudice are alive and well," said the UN official.
In Geneva, Robinson led ceremonies for the Day on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a yearly event established by the UN to remember the killing of 69 unarmed protesters in Sharpeville by forces of South Africa's apartheid regime.
Africa must still win the battle against racism, said Sipho George Nene, Pretoria's representative before international agencies in Geneva, at a roundtable meeting in preparation for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to be held in South Africa in September 2001.
African continent, overwhelmed by the numerous problems it faces on the road to development, has frequently ignored the issues of racism and racial discrimination, said Nene.
This is apparent in the ethnic and tribal wars that have devastated the economies of many African countries and which continue to unravel the region's social fabric, explained the South African delegate.
A new report also takes newspapers to task for rampant and dangerous xenophobia aimed at African immigrants.
This treatment of African nationals, from as far afield as Morocco to nearby Mozambique, might be labelled a new racism and the critical report suggests that the media plays no small role in perpetuating the myths and stereotypes that fuel xenophobia.
"Coverage of international migration by the South African press has been largely anti-immigrant and unanalytical," says Ransford Danso and David A. McDonald in the report published by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP).
Their survey analyzes English-language coverage of migration in all major newspapers between 1994 and 1998.
The authors say that coverage is classified in two camps xenophobic and sympathetic -- but find that negative reporting of migration issues dominates.
The findings come as a Human Rights Commission inquiry into racism in the media gets underway in Johannesburg, where reporters and editors are debating the media's role in fighting racism. The SAMP report shows that editors must add the coverage of migration issues to the long list of challenges they face in presenting a more accurate picture of South African society.
Content research shows that South African newspapers resort to "mob metaphors" to describe migrants, reflect stereotypes and myths and do not question official statistics that can fuel xenophobia.
The xenophobia is hardly ever trained at European nationals, but is most severely felt by African communities that have settled here.
At the Johannesburg central police station, there is a patrol whose only task is to go out in search of illegal immigrants.
Every afternoon, the boys in blue jump into their yellow Casspir and stop anybody whose nationality looks "suspicious."
Reports suggest their suspicion could be fueled by a person's accent, their walk, complexion, or a thousand other prejudices. Often they arrest local black South Africans. Such forays are used to beef up police crime-fighting statistics -- a fact hardly ever criticised by the media.
Crime, already racialized, becomes "Africanized," says the report. It adds that "a large proportion of the articles reproduce racial and national stereotypes about migrants from other African countries, depicting Mozambicans as inveterate car thieves and Nigerians as drug smugglers."
Reports also regurgitate official statistics on the numbers of migrants living illegally in South Africa.
"South Africa is a good example of the need for a more critical assessment of where these numbers come from, how they were obtained, how realistic they are, and what their implications are for how people think about cross-border migration," says the SAMP report.
The extent to which the media merely reflects xenophobia or actually fuels it is unclear.
But what is certain is that more sympathetic, questioning and analytical reporting can help to stem the problem. The authors suggest that reporters be trained on reporting migration issues.
"Permanent residents, contract miners, tourists, refugees and undocumented migrants are very different categories of migrants and should be recognized as such," it says.
They would also like the media to ban the use of terms like "illegals" and "aliens" and to make such words as socially unacceptable as the derogatory "kaffir."
The SAMP report is part of the Human Rights Commission's Roll Back Xenophobia campaign.
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