Council of Europe
Dr Walter Schwimmer
Secretary General of The Council of Europe
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban, South Africa
31 August - 7 September 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The holding of this Conference is a reminder that, even in a world where globalisation and exchanges between our countries and regions are becoming the norm, the problems of racism, discrimination and intolerance have by no means been eradicated. They are in many cases resurfacing, worsening and finding their expression in new forms and manifestations.
The Council of Europe was established in the wake of the Second World War. The fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is therefore one of the primary raisons d'être of our Organisation.
For this reason, the Council of Europe declared itself ready and eager to participate as an active partner in the preparatory process of this World Conference.
In close co-operation with the European Union, we thus co-ordinated the contribution of the European region to the World Conference in the form of a European Conference entitled "All different, all equal: from principle to practice", in Strasbourg in October 2000.
We may of course have some differences in approach, but I am firmly convinced that what brings us together here should be stronger than anything which might separate us.
For what unites us is the deep conviction that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. This is the first principle laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and when this principle is attacked, nothing less than world peace is threatened.
We are also united by our past. For many of the roots of present-day racism can be traced back to our shared history in which - let us not avoid the issue - the human rights of whole populations were massively violated. To cite the conclusions of the European Conference against Racism, we believe that all States must acknowledge the suffering caused by slavery and colonialism.
Yet it is equally vital to be united in our vision of the future. The European contribution to the World Conference had as its objective to be forward-looking, action-oriented and to address all forms of racism and racial discrimination. The Ministers of our member States adopted a Political Declaration in which they took a number of commitments in the field of combating racism.
But here today, the message of the Council of Europe is not one of self-satisfaction. It is one which recognises our problems.
Recognition of the problems which exist and the Council of Europe's response
Today, the phenomena of racism and intolerance take different forms, stretching from the horrific concept of "ethnic cleansing" to daily manifestations of discrimination.
Aggressive nationalism, ethnocentrism, and religious intolerance also persist, and lead, today as in the past, to massive violations of human rights in Europe and across the world.
International legal instruments
Regrettably, there is still a lack of really effective antidiscriminatory legislation to combat such forms of discrimination. We must reinforce international human rights law wherever we can.
I am therefore very happy that the prime human rights instrument of the Council of Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights, was recently strengthened by the adoption of Protocol No 12. It introduces a general prohibition of discrimination, including racial discrimination. Compliance with this standard will be subject to judicial control by the Court of Human Rights and one may expect that it will also have important effects in terms of adoption of legislation at national level. No less than 27 member States have already signed or even ratified this new Protocol, thereby demonstrating their strong commitment to the fight against racism.
Another recent legal instrument, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, is also an important tool in the fight against racism and discrimination.
In order to combat the growing problem of the use of new mass communication technologies, in particular the Internet, by individuals and racist groups, it was recently decided within the Council of Europe to complement our draft Convention on cyber-crime by an additional protocol making it a crime to spread racist and xenophobic propaganda through computer networks.
Monitoring and responding to the various manifestations of racism and related intolerance
We are worried about the rise in xenophobia, discrimination, and racism, including acts of violence, against immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers; about the Roma/Gypsies and Travellers - the largest ethnic minority of Europe - being subject to racism, rejection, discrimination (both direct and indirect), acts of violence, and social exclusion; and about the use of racist and xenophobic arguments in political discourse.
Threads of antisemitism also remain in political discourse. It is alarming to see the development throughout Europe of extremist groups threatening individuals and propagating antisemitic views and material including through the use of the Internet: we are profoundly convinced in the Council of Europe that combating antisemitism is an integral and intrinsic part of opposing all forms of racism.
We will also fight any "undercover" kind of antisemitism, such as anti-zionism. Unfortunately, I have good reason to mention this, after representatives of a European NGO were intimidated in the NGO Forum and the Youth Summit of this Conference. For what reason? Just because they are Jews, European Jewish students. I also regret the distribution of antisemitic propaganda at these events.
There are also worrying signs of an increase in intolerance towards Islam and Muslim communities in those countries where this religion is not that of the majority.
One of the ways in which racism manifests itself in Europe today is in sport, and in particular in football. The Council of Europe has issued last July a Recommendation listing a comprehensive series of measures to be taken by governments, sports organisations and other NGOs active in this field.
A key role in the Council of Europe's fight against racism is reserved for ECRI, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Set up at the highest level, by our Heads of State and of Government, this mechanism is composed of independent members and monitors racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in the member States of the Council of Europe. ECRI, as an independent "watchdog body" with high moral authority and recognised expertise, serves as a bridge between the governments of our member States and civil society.
The Council of Europe places particular importance on prevention, focusing on education and awareness-raising initiatives which provide an alternative to the facile and spurious doctrines of racial hatred and discrimination. Our youth work focuses on empowering young people to participate actively in civil society.
Lastly, the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe, which is our "window to the world", creates an interface between Europe and the South to generate new ideas and proposals for constructive relations, strengthened policies of global solidarity, and increased awareness in Europe of global issues, including the global dimensions of racism.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I join with all of you in striving for positive results from this World Conference. On a world-wide level, I hope that the Conference will give governments an added impetus in adopting practical measures to combat these problems. On a regional level, the Council of Europe is ready to participate further in the collective efforts which will follow this World Conference, to ensure that the recommendations of the Durban Conference find a rapid and effective implementation on a pan-European level.
I thank you for your attention.