Tolerance and Diversity: A Vision for the 21st Century

As a new century begins, we believe each society needs to ask itself certain questions. Is it sufficiently inclusive? Is it non-discriminatory? Are its norms of behaviour based on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all kinds of related intolerance have not gone away. We recognize that they persist in the new century and that their persistence is rooted in fear: fear of what is different, fear of the other, fear of the loss of personal security. And while we recognize that human fear is in itself ineradicable, we maintain that its consequences are not ineradicable.

We all constitute one human family. This truth has now become self-evident because of the first mapping of the human genome, an extraordinary achievement which not only reaffirms our common humanity but promises transformations in scientific thought and practice, as well as in the visions which our species can entertain for itself. It encourages us toward the full exercise of all its inventive, creative and moral capacities, enhanced by the equal participation of men and women. And it could make the twenty-first century an era of genuine fulfilment and peace.

We must strive to remind ourselves of this great possibility. Instead of allowing diversity of race and culture to become a limiting factor in human exchange and development, we must refocus our understanding, discern in such diversity the potential for mutual enrichment, and realize that it is the interchange between great traditions of human spirituality that offers the best prospect for the persistence of the human spirit itself. For too long such diversity has been treated as threat rather than gift. And too often that threat has been expressed in racial contempt and conflict, in exclusion, discrimination and intolerance.

Preparations for the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in South Africa in September 2001, offer an opportunity to consider how far the aspirations of the three UN Decades Against Racism have been realized. The horrors of racism - from slavery to holocaust to apartheid to ethnic cleansing - have deeply wounded the victim and debased the perpetrator. These horrors are still with us in various forms. It is now time to confront them and to take comprehensive measures against them.

The World Conference should adopt a declaration and plan of action which would provide the standards, the structures, the remedies -in essence, the culture - to ensure full recognition of the dignity and equality of all, and full respect for their human rights.

Over the coming year we pledge ourselves to seek that conversion of mind and heart. What we envisage for every man, woman and child is a life where the exercise of individual gifts and personal rights is affirmed by the dynamic solidarity of our membership of the one human family.

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