World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Durban, South Africa
31 August 7 September 2001
1 September 2001

Plenary RD/D/19
2nd Meeting (AM)


Several heads of State and other top government officials from countries around the world this morning spoke on the scourge of racial hatred and the need to broaden practices of tolerance, as the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance opened its general debate.

Opening the meeting was a videotaped speech by former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said racism was an ailment of the mind and soul, which killed many more people than some diseases, and dehumanized all those it touched. Fighting racism entailed administering a treatment both holistic and comprehensive. Efforts needed to be extended to find a cure for the problem, which reached the world over.

At this morning's session, a number of African heads of State, in addressing the issues of racism and continued discrimination, raised the need to recognize the legacy of slavery and colonialism, as well as pointing to the links with the poverty and economic imbalances that exist in the world today. On the question of reparations, a number referred to the need for increased economic assistance to the continent.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the President of Algeria, said that economic imbalances lay at the root of the frustrations that cause racism and xenophobia. Stressing the need for reparations for slavery and colonization, he said that racism would not be eradicated as long as there were huge ghettos of poverty.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria said it was essential to recognize that the legacies of slavery and colonialism had deep and fundamental consequences, such as poverty, underdevelopment and marginalization.

Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal, said that the issue of reparations had been poorly posed. Support for the African Initiative, the plan to build Africa, was one means of addressing that issue, but there should also be massive support for the populations of the African diaspora, he suggested.

President Fidel Castro of Cuba said that his country supported reparations for slavery and colonization. Precedent had been set, he said, when victims of the Holocaust were compensated for their suffering. Tens of
millions of Africans were captured and sent across the Atlantic Ocean, at the same time as 70 million indigenous people died as a result of European conquest and colonization. The industrialized world, he said, possessed the technical and financial resources to pay what was due mankind.

Several speakers noted the progress that had been achieved by the Conference's host country -- South Africa -- since the end of the apartheid regime in the 1990s. Opening the debate, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia, noted the "remarkably similar turns" taken by her country and South Africa. Following its peaceful "Singing Revolution" and the collapse of Soviet rule, Latvia had experienced a rapid transition to a full-fledged democracy.

Yasser Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Authority, said Palestinians had been waging a struggle for liberation and independence for decades, and that they were suffering under the most severe policies of oppression and racial discrimination resulting from the Israeli occupation of their land and holy places. The world has to recognize that helping the Palestinian people to achieve independence and sovereignty would guarantee peace in the whole region.

The Conference, which opened Friday and continues through 7 September, has a goal of adopting a Declaration and Programme of Action that would serve as a blueprint for all nations to promote tolerance and protect all of their citizens from racial discrimination.

The Conference elected Marc Bossuyt, Belgium, as Chairman of Working Group I, and Antonio Claudio Moreno, Italy, as Chairman of the Main Committee.

Also participating in the debate were: Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, President of Cape Verde; Gnassingbe Eyadema, President of Togo; Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo; Yoweti Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda; Pascoal Mocumbi, Prime Minister of Mozambique; and Didjob Divungui Di-Ndinge, Vice President of Gabon.

The Conference will resume with the general debate when it returns to session at 3 p.m.


The President of the Conference, NKOSAZANA DLAMINI ZUMA, Foreign Minister of the Host Country, South Africa, informed the Conference that Palestine will participate in the deliberations of this Conference in accordance with General Assembly resolution 3237 of the twenty-ninth session of 22 November 1974, resolution 43/177 (1988) and resolution 52/250 (1998). At the same time, following agreement of the General Committee, Chairman Yasser Arafat would be accorded the same treatment that was accorded to him at the Millennium Summit of September 2000.

The Conference then adopted its provisional programme of work as contained in document A/CONF.189/3.


VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA, President of Latvia: Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance stem in part from our heritage, for suspicion and mistrust arise out of the same arousal mechanisms as the wariness and alertness that allow the detection of danger. Yet, nature can be shaped and modified by nurture. Through training and upbringing, the human child acquires not just a consciousness but also a conscience. Discrimination based on ethnicity, caste, class or military conquest has been a prevalent phenomenon worldwide, including Europe. Latvia has suffered from various forms of it under foreign rule throughout the centuries. Under Soviet rule in Latvia, Latvians became a minority in many parts of their own country.

The fates of such distant and distinct countries as Latvia and South Africa have taken remarkably similar turns. Following its peaceful "Singing Revolution" and the collapse of Soviet rule, Latvia has experienced a rapid transition to a full-fledged democracy. Many of the countries participating in this Conference have suffered greatly as a result of past injustices. It is our duty to learn from the heavy legacy of our history, but our past must not overshadow our willingness to act with a view to the future. It would not be productive to single out specific countries and ideologies for criticism. What we must all agree upon are the principles on which the global fight against racism, discrimination and intolerance must be founded. The first and fundamental principle is that of the sanctity of human life. Without it, there is little hope of maintaining civilization.

The only way to eradicate prejudice and animosity is to cultivate their contraries: the positive emotions of empathy, sympathy, compassion, tolerance and understanding. The challenge is to accept diversity and difference without being threatened by it. Diversity can be a source of mutual enrichment, rather than oppression. Difference can be the basis of complementarity rather than confrontation. It is only by accepting the dignity of every other human being that we develop the true humanity within ourselves. Then we can say: you are my brother, as I am you sister, for we are all children of the same primordial Mother, we are all members of the one human race.

ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFLIKA, President of Algeria: There is no better place for this Conference than South Africa. A decade ago, apartheid raged. This Conference is drawing up a framework of a new humanism. The text of the Conference is an admirable effort to put an end to prejudice. In 1974, in the General Assembly, South Africa was excluded from some actions of the United Nations because of apartheid. That was not done for revenge -- it was aimed at reaching a time when there would no longer be apartheid. This remains to be achieved worldwide. The effects of the slave trade and colonialism still affect the living conditions of hundreds of millions of human beings. This Conference will hopefully increase this awareness worldwide. These painful pages should be turned as soon as possible.

A fresh reading of history is needed that would allow the damage to be assessed, and allow the future to be considered. There is also a need to go beyond certain responses, and rise above selfishness and self-interest. A week ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) remembered the effects of the slave trade. The victims of colonialism and apartheid are also remembered, as are those who live in occupied lands. The plight of the Palestinian people is a daily reminder of the actions in which people have tried to de-personalize other people.

Algeria fought for its liberation and to regain its homeland. The people demanded dignity and respect, and these people should be recognized and respected. Their example should be followed. The painful lessons of the past should also convince everyone that economic imbalances lay at the root of the frustrations. They are the root cause of xenophobia and of the frustrations of so many people. Safety is the front line of liberty. Extreme forms of poverty are deadly, and the ills that affect whole populations should not be accepted. The time has come for reparations for the injustices of the past. Racism will not be eradicated as long as there are huge ghettos of poverty.

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, President of Nigeria: Only a decade ago, an attempt to hold a Conference such as this in South Africa would have been thought of as illusory. That was because this beautiful land was the theatre for the most horrendous form of racial discrimination the world has ever known. But thanks to the heroic struggles of the men and women of this country, combined with the efforts of the international community, the evils of apartheid have been banished. But while apartheid may be gone, the larger threat of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance continue to manifest themselves in ways that were unimagined years before. The very fact that we are holding this Conference suggests that something is amiss among nations.

Apart from apartheid, no other forms of racism have ever been identified or classified as crimes against humanity. No other individuals or no groups of States have been categorically identified as perpetrators of racism. And there has hardly been any attempt to identify a list of victims. Thus previous attempts to deal with the racism have tended to focus on the effects, ignoring the root causes. Therefore, the wider international community has consistently failed to appreciate the reality that is particularly painful for us Africans: that we are the only race to have been victims of racial discrimination solely on the basis of the colour our skin. It is essential to recognize that the legacies of several centuries of racial exploitation, through slavery or slave trade or colonialism, have had deep and fundamental consequences, such as poverty, underdevelopment and marginalizaion. Durban provides an opportunity to redress some of these unique evils.

We have the chance to confront the past and take the first steps towards healing and universal reconciliation based on justice, equality and solidarity. Apology must be extended by States which practised and benefited from slavery, the slave trade and colonialism. I must, however, disabuse the minds of those who believe that every apology must be followed by monetary compensation. For us in Africa, an apology is a deep feeling of remorse, expressed with the commitment that never again will such acts be practised. The issue of reparations then ceases to be a rational option. We must not forget that monetary compensation, as it is being proposed, may further hurt the dignity of Africa and exacerbate the division between Africans on the continent and Africans in the diaspora. We must commit ourselves to educational programmes that identify the sources of racism and enable the successor generations to grow in a more tolerant atmosphere. We have a duty to people all over the world to make the Conference a ground-breaking event, capable of halting bigotry, hatred segregation and discrimination.

ABDOULAYE WADE, President of Senegal: As there are several forms of racism, I have devoted myself to combat one form, intellectual racism, which seeks to prove scientifically the inferiority of blacks. I wrote about slavery and colonialism in my book "Un destin pour l'Afrique". Africa has never given up resisting slavery practices throughout the continent, with many black leaders who fought against slavery. In the plantations of the Caribbean and the United States, many slaves rose up. Africa fought everywhere against colonialism as well. The resistance of African peoples is continuing today in several fields, such as that of human rights. Professor Bernard Lugan has written that Africans were basically outsiders, and that the African did not contribute to any skills such as agriculture, ceramics and writing. However, some of those skills did exist in Africa. There are also the racist works such as that of Hernstein and Murray, who use statistics to prove that Africans would always be in the lower income range.

Africa has suffered from three centuries of slavery, Africans became free black labour, which became a major force in the economy. That was followed by colonialism. The black slave trade should be declared a crime against mankind. I don't know if an apology is the right way to go about it. I would prefer repentance by peoples who benefit from slavery. They must recognize the material and psychological damage slavery did. The fact that Africans cannot recover now and are enmeshed in a cycle of debt are the consequences of racism. Today, the world is not distinguished along a black-white line of demarcation. Throughout history, white peoples have assisted blacks in their fight. We need to look at people that way. Rather than say that countries are white, Arab or black, we have to recognize that racism is everywhere.

The question of reparations has been poorly posed. The consequences of slavery are not the same in different regions. The problem of reparations has been raised in generic terms and we cannot have worldwide consensus on this. We must not be split by this. We now have the new African Initiative, the plan to build Africa. But there should also be massive assistance for the populations of the African diaspora. I propose that the matter of reparations should not be completely set aside, but addressed case-by-case. Ultimately, a plan should be developed to address the question of the African diaspora. Intellectual communication between Africa and the African diaspora should be stimulated. The African people have suffered the greatest aggression of history -- slavery, colonialism, exploitation and debt -- but they are still on their feet. That kind of genius, that has protected it so far, will let it survive. This is the profound conviction that has inspired the founders of the new African Initiative.

PEDRO VERONA RODRIGUES PIRES, President of Cape Verde: It is appropriate to call to mind the experience of South Africa, and its recent evolution. This deserves careful reflection from all delegations here. The struggle against institutionalized racism was a victory, not only for the people of South Africa, who were the primary victims -- but also for humankind. Apartheid was a regime of exclusion and terror, and it generated a whole train of solidarity. That is a good lesson in globalization -- the globalization of solidarity. The contribution of South Africa is that it has shown the unacceptability of racism. Its abolition came through negotiation and dialogue. Historic enemies became partners, and together they are building a future. That is extraordinary. This is a clear demonstration of the importance of political commitment in building multiracial societies.

But there is still, around the world, an unacceptable gap between the anti-racist rhetoric and the reality of everyday life. Cape Verde was known as a slave society. Further, drought ruined the economic infrastructure of the island and exacerbated the drastic living conditions. The racist aftermath stands present in many post-slave societies. Cape Verdean immigrants face discrimination every day in their lives -- racial discrimination, social discrimination and economic discrimination.

It is regrettable that not all Members of the United Nations have endorsed the text of this Conference before this meeting. Slavery and the slave trade constituted a crime against humanity. Reparation is not an easy issue. Who could assess the alienation or psychological wounds that are still latent in the unconscious of those who still suffer from the practice of slavery? Human beings can find solutions to the problems of today. Martin Luther King said he had a dream, of building a future without distinction on gender, race or religion. It was the job of the international community today to realize that dream.

GNASSINGBE EYADEMA, President of Togo: Racism is a crime against mankind, of which black people have been the overwhelming victims. The international community must be made aware that reparations need to be made in the name of Africa and of those millions of our ancestors that were brutally ripped from their homes and shipped to the new world. We must mobilize to combat racism so that the notion of racial superiority can be erased from global memory. Indeed, that idea has existed for far too long as a pretext to justify the practice of slavery, colonialism and related forms of discrimination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundation for United Nations efforts to address the evils of racism and racial discrimination. We must remain vigilant and identify the pernicious forms racism has assumed in modern times, such as forced labour and trafficking of women and children. Further, the high debt burden faced by some nations is no different from imposed servitude during the days of slavery.

The cancellation of African debt should be considered a part of any reparations schemes. We must work to ensure that the deliberations and negotiations undertaken at this Conference result in a comprehensive and coherent Plan of Action. We should strive to ensure that all people of all races, religions and colours live together in a new, harmonious world. In this new world, we will not fight among ourselves, but will combat hatred, scorn and the rejection of all people. In this world of restored peace and security we will easily achieve solidarity and a restored sense of human dignity for all.

FIDEL CASTRO, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba: Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are not naturally instinctive reactions, but are rather social, cultural and political phenomena born of war, military conquest, slavery and the exploitation of the weak. No one has the right to boycott this Conference, which is attempting to bring some sort of relief to the overwhelming majority of mankind afflicted by the unbearable suffering and enormous injustice caused by racism. Neither has anyone the right to set preconditions on the Conference or on the way we will decide to categorize the dreadful genocide being perpetrated at this very moment against our Palestinian brothers by extreme-right leaders.

Cuba supports the notion of reparations as an unavoidable moral duty to the victims of racism. Our conviction is based on the precedent set by the indemnification being paid to the descendents of the Hebrew people who have suffered the loathsome evils of the Holocaust. We support these practices, however, not with the intent to undertake an impossible search for the direct descendents or specific countries of victims of actions which occurred centuries in the past. The irrefutable truth is that tens of millions of Africans were captured, sold like a commodity and sent beyond the Atlantic to work in slavery. At that same time, 70 million indigenous people in that hemisphere perished as a result of European conquest and colonization. The inhuman exploitation imposed on these peoples and others has forever marked the lives of over 4.5 billion people living in the third world today, where poverty, unemployment and illiteracy and infant mortality rates are indeed harrowing.

The rich, free-spending industrialized world certainly possesses the technical and financial resources necessary to pay what is due mankind. The hegemonic super-Power must also pay back its special debt to African-Americans, Native Americans living on reservations, and the tens of millions of Latin Americans and Caribbean immigrants and other victims of vicious discrimination and scorn. There are enough funds to save the world from tragedy. Let a good portion of the nearly $1 trillion spent yearly on the commercial advertising that creates false illusions and promotes rampant consumerism be used for development. Let the modest 0.7 per cent of official development assistance (ODA) finally be delivered. May the basic right to life of all people be fully protected.

DENIS SASSOU NGUESSO, President of Republic of Congo: The twentieth century has been marked by major actions against racism and racial discrimination. The victory over nazism, racial integration in the United States and the collapse of apartheid are illustrations of this. But these results are unfortunately insufficient to rid us of the scourge of racism. In several parts of the world, the resurrection of racism and xenophobia is magnified on the Internet, thousands of people are persecuted because of their skin or origin.

We should act with faith and determination to set a firm ethical course for the twenty-first century. The new century must embody values which the last one insufficiently promoted. The struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are part of those essential values and human rights.

There is no worse scorn than racism. The feeling of disdain and indifference has always been a source of injustice, of conflict and of violence. The best defence against this comes from the priority the international community must give to the establishment of a new morality and a new humanity which must have the weight of a new social contract for the twenty-first century. The eradication of racism, racial discrimination and intolerance also comes through the building of a true democratic society and establishment of a state of law. But there is no real democracy when the colour of the skin or origin determines the basis of civil rights. Democracy must also respond to ideas such as justice, equality, solidarity and love. For those principles to take root, we must also equitably distribute wealth worldwide and within nations.

The Conference was preceded by a sterile debate on recognizing the slave trade in Negroes and slavery as crimes against humanity. We all agree that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are a flagrant violation of human rights. We also agree that the slave trade and slavery are the most ignoble violation of human rights ever committed. Many voices have been raised that Africa must forgive. But for the forgiveness of Africa to be sincere, there must also be recognition of the damage caused. There must be repentance. During the Millennium Summit in September 2000, I suggested that that serious attack on human dignity be recognized as a crime against humanity. Today, I express the same wish in asking, as the only reparation, for that recognition and repentance from the wealthy countries. Given the scope of the damage caused by these acts, it is essential that the final declaration demands that its authors bear responsibility for them.

YOWETI KAGUTA MUSEVENI, President of Uganda: Racism, sectarianism and intolerance are due to ignorance, greed and fear, and narrow, under-developed economies. Where wealth and power are delineated along racial lines, with the minority race usually holding the wealth and the majority race holding the political power -- or the potential political power -- fear and jealousy reign and pose grave dangers to the peace and stability of nations. Where both wealth and political power belong to one race, oppression normally reigns and begets suffering and degradation.

Due to injustices, discrimination and intolerances of the past and of the present, an estimated 150 million people -- 3 per cent of the world's population -- the majority of them children and women, live outside their countries as refugees and migrants where they, more often than not, face discrimination and xenophobia. If there is a problem of crime where they seek refuge, accusing fingers will be pointed at them rather than at nationals; if there is unemployment, they will be accused of causing it; and even where they make significant contributions to the welfare of the people they settle among, these contributions go largely unrecognized.

Slavery is a crime against humanity. If what Milosevic did in the Balkans was a crime against humanity, of course slavery is also. The document from the Conference has to say this. On reparations, Germany had to pay reparations to the Allies after the First World War. African-Americans need reparations. They were uprooted.

PASCOAL MOCUMBI, Prime Minister of Mozambique: As we come close to the end of the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, it is time to think of practical and bold steps to eradicate racism. To this end, our goal should be to adopt positive action at the national, regional and international levels in order to protect the present and future generations from the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerance. This endeavour requires the adoption of new methods of social engagement and a renewed commitment in our action. The ratification and implementation of the agreed international instruments to combat racism and racial discrimination in all its forms by all countries could give an additional impetus to our common enterprise.

This debate should also take into account the traditional and contemporary forms of racial discrimination, including a description and characterization of social segments that are particularly affected by different forms of discrimination. It is necessary to pay attention to the fate of immigrant workers, refugees, women, children and the elderly, who are the victims of discriminatory harassment on a daily basis. The hideous practices of the past, such as slavery, colonialism, apartheid and other forms of social exclusion must be recognized as immoral in all their forms. Our task today is to build bridges of friendship and solidarity between the oppressed and the oppressors of yesterday, with a view to finding viable solutions for the serious challenges abating the majority of our people in the unprivileged world. Today, all the necessary technical means to achieve this noble goal are available.

It is important to stress that colonialism, apartheid and foreign interventions have greatly contributed to the economic and social hardships facing the African continent. We must address vigorously the issue of the continued marginalization of African and other developing countries from their right to global participation in world affairs. Thus, globalization must become a driving force for the development of the entire community of nations in the world. The external debt burden is unbearable and renders null and void the capacity of our economies to take off towards a sound economic and social development of our countries. An outright debt cancellation, associated with political and economic reforms under way in our countries, will become a strong tool for prevention of the conflicts, which lead to discrimination and exclusion.

DIDJOB DIVUNGUI DI-NDINGE, Vice-President of Gabon: The importance of the Conference is irrefutable in that it marks the first stages of international attempts to forge a future that will give every human being his rightful due. As we come here to this beautiful country we cannot help but recall the evils of apartheid, the emblematic outgrowth of the white racist notion of superiority that had also no doubt served as the basis for the same notions of slavery and colonialism of earlier times. The years since apartheid have taught us that laws are not the only way to redress discriminatory practices. Indeed, discrimination has now taken on many new forms and is often perpetuated by negative and stereotypical advertising, movies and other consumerist activities. This pervasiveness requires that our efforts be redoubled and undertaken with determination in order to ensure that all mankind is treated with dignity and respect.

The involvement of governments is still one of our greatest assets in the fight against racism. At the same time, we must pay tribute to the non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations and specialized agencies that work tirelessly to break down the barriers that continue to separate us. Indeed, mobilization of the entire international community is required to combat discrimination, racism and bigotry. Here we wish to place on record our regret at the absence at this Conference of certain larger States whose presence would have been one more affirmation of the international solidarity that tackling the issues before us requires. Racism is a grave threat to international peace and security. We also believe it is wrong to deny the relationship of colonialism, slavery and the slave trade to the pervasive poverty, marginalization and degradation our countries now face.

Intellectual recognition of discrimination as a crime against humanity would also send a strong signal that mankind has undertaken without rancour to continue to work towards harmony within our great human family. I would also note that other groups have received apologies and reparations for the harms done to them. Africa also deserves justice. What Africa is asking for is not compassion, pity or charity. We are asking for recognition, once and for all, of the dignity of its sons and daughters. Racism can, must and shall be overcome.

YASSER ARAFAT, President of the Palestine Authority: The victory of the South African peoples and others over the inhuman and immoral evils of racial discrimination is a victory for those peoples still grievously suffering from discrimination and racist policies. Among such struggling peoples are the Palestinians, who are fighting for liberation from the grasp of Israeli occupation and of all the ugliest forms of racial discrimination that occupation so flagrantly embodies. The convening of this Conference and the issues to be discussed here represent a firm conviction and common desire to identify the appropriate way to deal with the ramifications of the policy of racial discrimination and its attendant harmful and egregious effects.

As you know, our Palestinian people have been subjected to a painful and grave historical injustice as a result of the rivalries and conspiracies of the colonialist forces in the region at that time. For decades, our people have been waging a struggle for liberation and independence; they are
and have been suffering under the most severe policies of oppression and racial discrimination resulting from Israeli occupation of their land and holy places. This ongoing occupation, which is the last colonialist military occupation in the world, has practised all sorts of oppression against our people over the years, including torture, assassinations and evictions in order to force our people into submission.

In spite of all the grave and painful historical injustice inflicted on our people, we have chosen, out of our deep-rooted belief in justice and equality, to try and find a just and permanent solution based on resolutions of international legitimacy and the principle of land for peace. The war waged against our people by Israel makes it incumbent on the international community to bear its responsibilities. It is unacceptable that international consensus on this issue remains paralysed. It is necessary to find the appropriate international mechanism that will force Israel to stop its war against our people and to provide them with international protection. The explosive situation in the Palestinian territories cannot wait. Only peace will provide all the people of the region with security and stability and protect the interests of our children. The world has to recognize that enabling and helping the Palestinian people to achieve the sacred and legitimate right of independence and sovereignty will not be at anyone else's expense. Indeed, it would guarantee a just and permanent peace in the whole region.

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