The World Bank Group



Peter Woicke
Managing Director

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

Durban, South Africa
1 September 2001


Madame President;
[President Mbeki];
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government;
Secretary-General Kofi Annan;
High Commissioner Mary Robinson;
Ladies and gentlemen.

The World Bank Group is honored to be part of the mission of this conference. We would like to express our profound appreciation to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and High Commissioner Mary Robinson for their leadership in convening this diverse, thoughtful, and committed assembly.

And, of course, we would like to thank South Africa and the city of Durban for their generosity and hospitality as hosts.

One of the most enduring equations of history has been the tragic interplay among poverty and racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Rarely in history have these elements been found in isolation. And where they coincide, the result has been injustice and indignity: cancers that consume both the lives of their victims and the souls of those who hate.

The World Bank Group was born in the shadow of the Second World War with an overarching premise. It is the premise that poverty is at the heart of the inhumanity that becomes war. So our mission is not legal, although we rely upon laws. Our mission is not political, although we rely upon nations. Our mission is not theological, although we rely upon faith.

Our mission is developmental. It is not to enforce rights, but to engage and invest in such a way that they can be achieved. It is to use capital, knowledge, and partnerships to end poverty - regardless of whether that poverty is the cause or the result of hatred, discrimination, and intolerance.

Our mission is to help create values - in every sense of that word - that can withstand and vanquish those forces that diminish, demean, and destroy. And we do so in practical ways that reflect the hard-won wisdom of trial and error, not the false promise of perfect models.

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Culture, for example, was once thought to be little more than the novel endowment that history gave to each people - their language, art, and traditions. We now know better. We know that culture is the fertile field necessary for both individual inspiration and common ventures. It is a precondition of productivity and progress. For no person will work beyond mere sustenance without a reason, a larger cause, or a dream. Culture supplies those. A carpenter can build a house, but it takes culture to make a home.

That is why we have put strong safeguards in our policies to protect indigenous cultures. We recognize that each culture is a priceless tapestry of history that cannot be replaced. It must be preserved and respected, especially in this era of globalization.

Experience has taught us that global economic integration is an engine of prosperity. But integration must allow room for choice. Each country -indeed, each community - must be allowed to strike its own balance between these forces. And we, as partners in development, need to respect those decisions. The voices of all members of society must be heard and made a part of development strategy. People can be empowered, but only if they are informed and consulted. People can be empowered, but only if their leadership is both engaged and held accountable.

Our aim is very clear. We want to help the people of developing nations withstand the homogenizing forces of modernity when they so choose, and embrace the benefits of scientific and technological progress when they so choose. No culture should be put in a glass case forever. A culture should be vital, so that it can rise, advance, and evolve.

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The challenge, of course, is to ensure that ethnic identity is not expressed as a claim of entitlement or innate superiority. Nor should it be expressed as hatred or the verdict of history. It was once thought that time heals everything. We now know better. We know that resentment, anger, and the desire for retribution can fester generation after generation. Bitterness over an ancient transgression can turn into a living prejudice against collective identity. Minds poisoned in this way come to view skin color, language, and cultural expression not as treasures of diverse legacies but as brands of collective sin.

Such hatred and bias, armed with the power of today's weaponry - even for one day - can destroy centuries of progress and goodwill. That is why the World Bank Group has worked with the United Nations and others in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, and Sierra Leone to help post-conflict societies repair the fabric of trust, mutual respect, and social capital necessary for lives of peace. That is why the Bank, through policy work, partnerships, and investment in key sectors, supports initiatives to reduce discrimination against the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe and improve their standard of living. That is why we have worked on judicial reform in nations such as El Salvador and Guatemala.

Far too many times in the past, nations have tried reconstruction while ignoring reconciliation. Far too many times, nations have tried to rebuild cities while ignoring civil society. We now recognize that we can and should do better. That is why we are investing in hearing the voices, alleviating the grief, and empowering the communities of the defeated, dispossessed, and victimized. True tolerance and peace, of course, can never be purchased, but they should be given every chance to thrive.

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It was once thought that ownership was nothing more than a legal right to possession, that every legitimate claim on time, capital, and value had to be formal or codified. We now know better. We know that communities of all sizes are interdependent webs of informal ties and indirect consequences. We recognize broader obligations to our fellow men and women.

That is why the World Bank Group has worked - in places ranging from India and Egypt to Morocco and Mexico - to enlarge the group of stakeholders who participate in our plans and projects. We have sought out and heard the "voices of the poor," the voices of women, the voices of villagers, the voices of advocates. And we will continue to do so.

One of the worst forms of discrimination is the patronizing deafness of the aloof and the indifferent. And it makes no difference whether that deafness is caused by an ideology or an institution. Silence can wound as much as words. We now recognize that true "ownership" comes through a participatory process. True ownership comes through empowering people. True ownership is not a one-sided claim; it is a conversation.

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All the forms of intolerance addressed at this conference have one thing in common. They seek to deny the full dignity to which every human being is entitled. Dignity is a birthright that is indivisible. Dignity requires hope. Hope requires imagination. And imagination requires opportunity.

So we, as partners in development, need to help create opportunity. Opportunity for women as well as for men. Opportunity for all people of all colors. Opportunity for the young and the elderly. Opportunity for rural and urban communities.

And whether that means working with governments on health, education, and HIV/AIDS; or working with the private sector on manufacturing, infrastructure, and information technology; or working with civil society on tolerance, participation, and social capital; we recognize that the way in which we pursue our mission is as important as our results. We cannot hope to be moral, tolerant, and humane in performance, if we do not uphold those values in policy and in practice.

This is the "challenge of inclusion." And it requires a personal commitment of each and every person in our institutions. It is very easy to draw lines that exclude and divide people. It is very hard to draw lines that embrace and encompass people. That is our challenge: to keep our hearts open; to keep our minds open; to offer our hand in a meaningful way.

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We note what we have learned, what we are doing, and what we have planned not out of pride. To the contrary, we do so with humility, steeped in the recognition that the World Bank Group has not always chosen the course that was ultimately right. We are an institution of rules and regulations, of checks and balances. But we are also an institution made up of human beings from more than 170 nations. We have known failure. We have made mistakes. And we regret any action of ours, however well intentioned, that may have worsened the plight of those suffering from discrimination and dispossession.

It would be naive to claim that we will not make mistakes in the future. But institutions are capable of learning. They are capable of building upon the insights of experience. That is why we have come to this conference with optimism. We know that each of us in this room can draw on the wisdom and will of each other. And the people of our nations - through international institutions like the United Nations and World Bank Group, which they ultimately own - can combine their strengths, evolve and learn. In that way, the tragic equation of race and poverty will gradually be replaced by the vibrant equation of prosperity, peace, and compassion.

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