Dr. Albert Rohan
Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria
World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Ladies and Gentlemen!
More than fifty years ago Member States of the United Nations gathered to proclaim the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the very same year, a new government in the country hosting this Conference began implementing a national policy of apartheid, leading to a long period of brutal and systematic denial of fundamental human rights.
Only a few years ago, it would have been impossible for such a meeting to take place here. However, the Republic of South Africa has overcome a regime based on racist ideology and theories of racial superiority and we take this opportunity to express to the people of South Africa our deeply felt sympathy for their past suffering and our respect for their proud achievement. Today, the crime of apartheid is recognised as a crime against humanity.
We meet in South Africa to reaffirm our commitment to respect one of the core principles of human rights and to put this commitment fully and effectively into practice: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Since 1948, various international instruments have been adopted enshrining this principle, above all the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination recognising racism as the very denial of human dignity. However, manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance can still be observed in all regions of the world. No State can fully escape the occurrence of these phenomena. Many dramatic developments in the history of mankind had their origin in the most appalling manifestations of hatred and discrimination with regard to colour, descent, ethnic or national origin.
All countries must recognise the shadows of the past and the wrongs committed in order to master the future. We are convinced that a constructive dialogue on sensitive issues of the past will contribute to healing wounds and will provide an ever stronger foundation for mutual respect and true reconciliation. It will also facilitate the development of effective measures for the future, which is indeed the main challenge for this Conference.
My delegation fully subscribes to the statement made today by the Presidency of the European Union, detailing the Union's policies to fight racism. In addition, I should like to point out a few specific elements of the comprehensive engagement of the Austrian Government in this important field.
Austria is committed to a self-critical scrutiny of her recent past. The Government has clearly expressed and indeed already implemented its determination to assume moral responsibility for and recognize the suffering of all victims of the National Socialist regime. We reject any attempts of trivialising the Holocaust and the unique tragedy of its victims. Austria has taken a broad range of measures aimed at the resolution of all outstanding claims of victims of that dark era of our history. We are aiming at ensuring unreserved clarification, exposure of the structures of injustice, and the transmission of this knowledge to coming generations as a warning for the future. This has been enshrined in the programmatic declaration of the current government. It is in fact part of a comprehensive awareness raising and education programme designed for creating an environment in which racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia have no place.
Two aspects of the combat against racism should, in our view, receive special attention: human rights education and the protection and promotion of minorities. Mindful of the lessons learned from our past we are deeply convinced that comprehensive education in human rights is the best investment for a peaceful future. Children and young people throughout the world must be prepared for life in a pluralist society founded on human rights and tolerance. As human rights education is a life long process, it has necessarily to be conceived as a long term strategy and must also include adults. Racism manifests itself in a great variety of forms. We must therefore involve all generations and all parts of society. Austria encourages an intensified direct dialogue with civil society, which we need to fully activate as well as to learn from, in order to multiply the spread of the human rights message.
In Austria, special programmes are undertaken, in particular for school children, students, teachers, the police and the judiciary. We have established close working relationships with a number of experienced NGOs active in combating racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance, such as the US-based Anti-Defamation League. Moreover, a special "Service Centre for Human Rights Education" has been set up in Vienna.
On the international level Austria also actively promotes the issue of human rights education. Let me mention in this connection Austria's engagement in the Human Security Network, where we have placed the subject as a priority topic on the Network's agendas. In practical terms we have developed concrete projects in particular in the framework of the "Stability Pact" for South-Eastern Europe and - more generally - in our development cooperation programme.
Cultural diversity is one the most precious aspects of every society. Nevertheless, ethnic or religious minorities still remain among the primary targets of racism. As ethnic tensions remain one of the main sources of conflict, the protection of minorities is particularly high on the agenda of Austria's domestic and foreign policy. We are convinced that minorities enrich the life of nations and societies and need special protection to allow them to preserve their own identity, language and culture. Consequently, Advisory Boards have been established in Austria for each individual national minority which are consulted by the government on a regular basis.
In addition, Austria has a broad and detailed body of laws ensuring not only nondiscrimination, but also the criminalisation of insults and incitement to racial hatred. In order to strengthen further the existing legal measures, Austria intends in the near future to make the declaration under Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination giving the Committee competence to consider communications from individuals.
The combat against racism has to continue beyond this Conference. It will remain one of the major challenges for all governments and the United Nations in the years to come. Let us be inspired by what the Former President of this country, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela stated when addressing the session of the General Assembly in 1994: "However hard the battle will be, we will not surrender. Whatever the time it will take, we will not tire. The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim commands that, if we are true to protect human dignity, we fight on until victory is achieved."
Guided by President Mandela's wisdom, we should all take advantage of the unique opportunity offered by this Conference and together elaborate action-oriented and forward-looking recommendations which can make a real difference.