H.E. Mme Elissavet Papazoi
Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban, South Africa
1 September 2001
Let me at the outset congratulate you as well as the other Officers of the Conference on your merited election and your substantial contribution to the success of this most important international conference, in the beginning of the new Millennium.
I should like to pay special tribute to Ms Mary Robinson, High Commissioner on Human Rights, Secretary-General of the Conference, for her admonition and encouragement all through the preparatory process.
It is highly symbolic that the Third Conference against Racism and Xenophobia and Related Intolerance takes place in South Africa; the country that has set an end in racism in its ugliest form of the Apartheid, and achieved a peaceful transition through national reconciliation.
South Africa has been blessed with charismatic leaders. We salute the vision and the insight of Nelson Mandela and the courage of F.W. de Klerk, who both dared to challenge a deep-rooted racist system and changed the course of history for Africa and the whole world. We shall also remember the utter devotion of Govan Mbeki to the cause of the oppressed and exploited human beings and we offer our sincere condolences to his son, President Mbeki, and his family.
The United Nations, with the two World Conferences and two decades of action, have played a key role in raising the awareness of the entire free world against apartheid and all forms of racism and discrimination.
This 3rd Conference is an important milestone in the universal condemnation of racism and discrimination, widening the scope of the fight against racism and manifesting the will of the international community to adopt and implement concrete forms of action.
While measures to be adopted should have a universal scope, they should also put emphasis in the specific nature of problems in different regions of the world. Without neglecting their punitive character, they should first and foremost prevent acts of racism.
Fight against racism cannot be complete, if it relies only on Governments' initiatives. It needs to include the widest possible number of social actors and their collective commitment, since it affects the lives of the whole society.
However, no fight against racism can be effective, unless we eradicate not only the ideological but also the tangible causes such as poverty and exploitation long-standing injustice and social inequalities. No fight against discriminations will be successful unless we improve the conditions of life such as health, education, housing and social care, in critical regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In this context, we believe that it is of primary importance for the international community to offer a generous support to the New African Initiative and other regional projects, which seek to improve the quality of life for millions of people by developing the resources and their rich human potential.
Ladies and gentlemen,
No country or region of the world is immune to old or new forms of discrimination. Greece looking at the wider Balkan region can trace examples of ultra nationalistic attitudes, ethnic and religious discriminations, that have undermined peace in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Ethnic or race-based violence against women, and organized crime including trafficking of human beings, drugs and weapons, are the inevitable phenomena, which follow these violent conflicts due to deep-seated ethnic hatred.
Balkans have no other choice, but to follow the example of the European Union. In the last 50 years, following many centuries of religious and ethnic wars and conflicts, Europe has succeeded in creating a community of peace and regional cooperation, on the basis of established values of democracy, rule of law and respect of human and minority rights.
Greece, a country of the Balkan peninsula and the Eastern Mediterranean and the only state in the region which is member of the European Union, has been a staunched supporter of peace, democratization, economic development and eradication of disparities in the area.
During the last century Greece, has endured a mass exodus of its people as economic immigrants to many parts of the world, including South Africa, where a large Greek community still plays a key role in the development of the country. In the last decade this trend has reversed and Greece receives thousands of economic immigrants originating mainly from Balkans and the Middle East.
My country systematically fulfills its international obligations and implements measures and policies reinforcing respect for human rights, human dignity and cultural diversity of all individuals living in Greece.
At this point, I would like to draw your attention to the case of Cyprus, where a neighbouring country using as pretext the so-called protection of the Turkish-Cypriot minority "against ethnic and religious discrimination", has occupied militarily the northern part of the island, since 1974.
Cyprus, an independent state since 1960, and a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, has been suffering for 27 years now from military occupation, which involves massive violations of human rights and forced displacement from their hometowns of its inhabitants, both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots.
The upcoming accession of Cyprus in the European Union will take away the deplorable excuses used by the occupying forces, and will pave the way for both communities to live in peace and prosperity on an equal footage with the other peoples of Europe.
We have also followed with great concern the recent tragic events and the bloodshed in the Middle East, destroying the hopes for peaceful coexistence of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and firing up deep-rooted sentiments of ethnic and religious hatred.
Greece, along with its European partners, is ready to assist to the implementation of the cease-fire in order to establish a mutually acceptable long-term solution in the Middle East.
Today, more than ever, the ideal of Olympic Truce successfully implemented during the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, is an imperative, which we aspire to revive with the active support of the United Nations, starting with the upcoming Olympic Games in 2004 in Athens.
The Olympic Games constitute an international event, where achievements are measured by athletic standards and not by discriminations due to race, ethnic origin or religion.
It is in that spirit that children from many countries, some originating from regions plagued by armed conflicts such as Israel and Palestine, or Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia, have participated last month to the Peace Olympia Festival for Children, an annual event and part of the build-up for the revival of the Olympic Truce.
We are particularly happy that young people from the KwaZulu - Natal also joined in this enriching and creative experience.
Our children are our future and it is only through the young generations that we can build a new world of peace, justice and equality.
Since racism, discrimination and xenophobia are not inherent qualities, but the outcome of social, cultural and political inequalities, my country advocates strongly proper education of our children, as the most effective tool to promote open, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Xenophobia, a greek word, means "fear of strangers". Its opposite "filoxenia", that is welcoming of strangers, was the highest virtue for the ancient greek citizen.
Xenos, the stranger, was considered sacred and protected by Zeus himself, called Xenios Zeus.
Today, 3000 years later, we face the ultimate challenge to replace xenophobia by filoxenia. Our Conference should aspire to mark a decisive step in this direction. Thank you.