H.E. Dr. Toufiq All,
Leader of the Bangladesh Delegation & Permanent
Representative of Bangladesh to the UN Offices in Geneva
World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban, 2nd September 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to join the preceding speakers in congratulating you on your election to the Chair. Under your enlightened and able leadership, the success of the Conference is assured. We commend Mrs. Mary Robinson, Secretary General of the Conference, for her personal commitment towards making this Conference a success. We also felicitate the Government of South Africa, and her warm and friendly people, for the excellent arrangements for this Conference and for their generous hospitality.
Racism is a socio-political construct, with no biological basis. Yet, this concept has been used, even in the country we are meeting in, to justify socalled `superiority'. The notion of inequality breeds injustice. Our past is replete with acts that reinforced inequalities. People were exploited and enslaved, their rights violated, massacres and genocides committed, and colonies were made in the name of racial 'superiority'. Such acts led to impoverishment of the victims, to destruction of their social heritage, culture and institutions. Apartheid, a true nadir for human civilization, has been the most despicable manifestation of the notion of inequality.
Despite a half century since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, racial prejudice, xenophobia, ethnic cleansing and intolerance still exist. Their presence and expression perpetuate political, economic and social injustice. Many societies, instead of being inclusive, often practice a policy of exclusion. The particularly vulnerable groups are migrant workers, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are in an alien environment and are unable to exercise their rights.
National governments have a responsibility towards weeding out advocacy of hatred and intolerance, and of protecting citizens from discrimination. Special efforts must be made in areas, or for groups, that are particularly vulnerable. Fundamental human rights must be guaranteed in practice.
The Constitution of Bangladesh expressly forbids discrimination on grounds of race, religion, caste, sex or birthplace. It guarantees equality before law, and equality of opportunity for all citizens while providing for affirmative action for particularly disadvantaged groups. Our conviction in these fundamental values and norms emerged out of our long struggle for independence from occupying powers.
Internationally, we have supported the fight against racist practices and racial intolerance. We are parties to all the major human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Despite all our limitations, we are endeavoring to implement them and fulfilling our state responsibilities.
Based on these principled positions, we have lent support to the persecuted communities around the globe in their defense of their legitimate rights. Our Middle East policy is unequivocal in our rejection of policies and practices of the occupying power that are precisely the subject of this Conference. Even as we speak, our Palestinian brethren are being deprived of their fundamental rights, and are facing persecution. Eviction from land, complete blockade, indiscriminate and excessive use of force against civilians, state-sponsored assassination in the name of security are clear violations of international law, and universally recognized human rights. These acts remind us how relevant the Conference is to the contemporary world. We reject and denounce racism and racist practices wherever and whenever they are perpetrated.
A fundamental objective of this Conference is to re-establish the primacy of human rights and fundamental human values. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance deny the individual these very rights. They affect all our countries, in one form or another. Fundamentally, we must take a three pronged approach: (i) First, listen to the voice of the victims, and understand what their problems are; (ii) Second, ensure that the policies and practices of States do not create such victims, and (ii) Third, work together, both nationally and internationally, to stamp out this curse and correct past mistakes.
In the not-too-distant past, colonialism and other forms of subjugation have hurt many societies. Some are still struggling to recover. Humankind needs to look inward, understand what has happened and, where possible, mitigate the adverse effects. This is not easy. It is vital that the State itself be at the forefront of this effort to revisit the past and draw lessons from the mistakes of the past. Only if the State is convinced of the injustices, can it work with the rest of the society to draw up national strategies based on international norms. It is also imperative that the international community work in unison, and exert their combined will in countries where the State practices a form of racism or racial intolerance. When we referred to the problems in the Middle East, we had precisely this approach in mind.
Only if we have a clear understanding of the past, and what is occurring today, can we chalk out a plan for the future. Each nation, and its people, must decide what is required within the country to address such problems. Yet, internationally, there are some fundamental norms that we may agree to. For instance, our educational curricula should address these issues so that from a very young age people are aware of the dangers, know how to recognize them and what action to take should they find such problems in their midst. At the same time, we must be courageous to admit the mistakes of our earlier generations, so that we may now redress them.
We all want a future free from discrimination. We know that wherever there is discrimination, there is probably also poverty. To attack one, we must also have a plan to combat the other as well. If we want our fight against racism and racial discrimination to succeed, we must attack poverty. We must internalize equality of treatment while ensuring equality of access and equality of opportunity. This Conference provides us yet another opportunity to reaffirm our commitment and conviction in these lofty ideals. Let us build a coalition for the future of humankind.
I thank you.