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

Durban, South Africa
1 September 2001

Madame President, Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me, first of all, congratulate South Africa and the City of Durban for hosting this landmark conference. I could hardly think of a more suitable venue. The example shown by the people of South Africa, who stood up in defence of their human rights and brought down the institutionally racist system of apartheid, remain a unique source of inspiration for the present and coming generations of humankind. Let me also take this opportunity to express my appreciation and thanks to Ms. Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to her staff, as well as to all those who have contributed towards the successful outcome of the conference.

At the outset I would like to fully associate myself with the statement made by Minister Louis Michel on behalf of the European Union.

Madame President,

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Racism is an affront to human rights. No distinction shall be made on the basis of ethnic origin, descent, language, religion or belief nor on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or other status. There is only one race, the human race.

In the contemporary world racial discrimination commonly violates the rights of minorities. The promotion of minority rights is a crucial tool to enhance the status of minorities and reduce their vulnerability to racism. In order to combat racism and to make equality effective specific measures at all levels are needed. These should always be carried out in a concerted effort with the targeted groups and with the civil society at large. Participation of minorities in decision-making processes must be secured at all levels.

Particular attention must be paid to persons or groups subject to multiple discrimination. Women and girls belonging to minorities face double discrimination based on ethnic origin combined with gender. While recognizing the responsibility of Governments to respect, protect and promote their human rights, it must be emphasised that also minorities themselves must respect human rights.

Madame President,

We need systematic awareness raising efforts regarding the history and the contributions of different minorities, indigenous peoples and other ethnic groups to the development of our contemporary societies. Human rights education provided by schools and work places forms a basis for mutual understanding and respect between different ethnic groups.

Indigenous peoples have often been and continue to be victims of discrimination. Governments must ensure respect for all their human rights. Indigenous peoples must be entitled to use and develop their own language and culture.

An example of racial discrimination, targeting an ethnic group present on all continents of the world, is that of the Roma minority. The Roma minorities have since ages been subject to discrimination and exclusion, including in some cases violence and persecution. States have an obligation to ensure respect for their human rights and enhance their participation in society in general and in decision-making processes in particular. Since the Roma are a multi-national minority Governments should join efforts to that effect especially in regional cooperation.

Throughout times slavery and racism have been interrelated. This conference should focus on contemporary slavery-like practises. Discrimination and other violations of human rights, including economic and social rights of minorities, may force especially children and women into bonded labour, often into the national or trans-national sex industry. Trafficking in human beings is a serious human rights violation. Governments should use all available measures to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings.

Madame President,

As an example of a national level mechanism to combat against racism I would like to mention that in Finland the Office of Ombudsman for Minorities will be established as of today. The Ombudsman will act as an independent body and shall be responsible for the prevention of ethnic discrimination as well as for the promotion of good ethnic relations and monitoring of the implementation of the principle of non-discrimination on ethnic grounds.

Madame President,

The words of the famous European writer Milan Kundera who once said: "It is fight on behalf of memory against the lapse of memory" best describe my feelings of the actions needed. To build something new we must be reconciled with the past. We must never forget the injustices of the past, but rather study them, learn from them, and raise awareness about them. Let this conference express that we acknowledge these injustices and deeply regret what happened. But we should not let the history prevent us from combating all contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance together, in renewed partnership for solidarity.

Madame President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am confident that all of us have arrived in Durban determined to make this conference a success. To the victims, who today all over the world suffer from racial discrimination, we owe our firm commitment to act for equality, human rights and multiculturalism.

Thank you.