Statement by

Mr. Morten Kjaerum,

The Danish Centre for Human Rights
Chairman of the European Coordination Group for National Institutions for the
Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Durban,

September 2001



Madam President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to address this prominent audience on the occasion of the World Conference Against Racism.

I am speaking to you in my capacity both as Director of the Danish Centre for Human Rights and as Chairman of the European coordinating group of National Human Right Institutions.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to the World Conference for inviting National Institutions in our own capacity.

Madam President, racism in Europe is not only an evil of the past but also a harsh reality for millions of citizens and inhabitants of our continent. Whereas the predominant paradigm of racism in earlier decades was demarcated along colour-lines, today colour by itself can no longer fully explain racist behaviour. Other categories like culture, religion and language now form an integral part of racial discrimination. This is highly relevant in Europe, where refugees and immigrants are a prime target of discrimination and xenophobia, alongside indigenous and minority groups, among which must be mentioned Roma, Sinti and Travellers.

In this perspective, I wish to take the opportunity to highlight certain areas in which we, as national institutions, have a special role to play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

We sincerely hope that an outcome of this conference will be a strengthening of the CERD. This can happen by making adequate resources available to the work of the Committee and by States actively considering the Committee's recommendations and conclusions.

National Institutions have an important role to play in acting as interface between the CERD and local communities. National Institutions can provide CERD and other international treaty bodies with well-documented information on racial discrimination, both in relation to The Danish Centre for Human Rights was established by a parliamentary decision on May 5th 1987. The work of the Centre includes research, Information, education, documentation and capacity building projects. Individual cases and to systemic violations. By the same token, National Institutions are uniquely positioned to monitor that the recommendations and interpretations of the CERD are applied in domestic legislation and practise and communicated to the public.

During the past decade we have on several occasions witnessed how situations of racial discrimination have led to armed conflicts, ethnic cleansing, and massive human suffering. National Institutions are, due to their close cooperation with civil society and with organs of the state, in a unique position to detect developments which threaten to escalate into mass violence. They are therefore under an obligation to report to governments and international institutions when incidents occur that could escalate into an armed conflict. Lessons from the most recent history of Europe have taught us that key warning signs include gross and systemic discrimination and the erosion of the judiciary and democratic institutions. As a concrete suggestion to this conference, procedures for such early warning reporting should be developed and refined by international bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In order to hinder that racial discrimination and intolerance leads to entrenched social divisions, I wish to underscore the importance of fostering a culture of human rights. In this connection, human rights education plays a key role - a fact which is clearly recognised in the Draft Declaration and Programme of Action. What could be more strongly emphasized is the role of National Institutions in this regard. The expert knowledge in these institutions is essential to the development of curricula at all levels of the education system. A particularly important target is the training of law enforcement personnel, where in Europe we see racist or xenophobic attitudes. We would also call upon the media, as a key actor, to develop a clearer awareness of its responsibility in combating racism and promoting a culture of human rights. National Institutions offer cooperation and partnership in this endeavour.

Madam President, let me assure you that the National Institutions will make the follow-up to this World Conference a central priority at their upcoming sixth international conference in Copenhagen, April 2002. Indeed, prior to this meeting, the question of effective follow-up will be addressed by European National Institutions in Dublin in February 2002.

The overall aim at this World Conference and beyond is not only to prevent racist and discriminatory attitudes and patterns of behaviour; it is also to actively foster environments of openness and toleration, respect for diversity, and freedom of religion and thought.

Thank you Madam President