Statement by Dr. Frene Ginwala,

Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa,

on behalf of the Inter-Parliamentary Union'

- Durban, 4 September 2001 -


Madam President, Distinguished delegates,

I am pleased to deliver this address on behalf of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to the World Conference against Racism.

The IPU has welcomed this Conference as a timely opportunity to adopt new initiatives, which are both concrete and effective in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We believe that parliaments and their members have a crucial role to play in this Conference and in ensuring that its intentions and programmes are realised.

Last year, heeding the opening words of the United Nations Charter "We the peoples of the United Nations", 150 Presiding Officers committed their Parliaments to contribute more substantively to international co-operation and the work of the UN, and presented their Vision for International Co-operation at the Dawn of the third Millenium to the Millenium Summit.

Accordingly, the IPU has encouraged parliaments to take an active interest in this Conference and its preparations. Our appeal has been heard and around 300 members of parliament from more than 50 countries have travelled to Durban to participate in these deliberations.

On Sunday, they came together at. a meeting organized jointly by the IPU and the
Parliament of South Africa. In the course of the day's proceedings we debated the tension between freedom of speech and incitement to hatred. While freedom of speech is indispensable to enable us to fulfil our parliamentary mandate, we also have a responsibility to promote a society based on tolerance in which incitement and hate-speech has no place. The participants shared many experiences on how to address hate-speech through legislative and other means.

In our consideration of the protection of migrants, many underlined the need to build a broader consensus on international standards in this field, which should include ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers.

We also discussed special measures to ensure equality, including affirmative action. Many of the contributions to the debate focussed on legislative and other means to achieve gender equality and to facilitate full and equal participation by members of minorities in society.

Parliamentarians adopted a declaration which I do not intend to read to you as it is being made available to delegates. However I urge you to study it carefully as it complements the work you are currently engaged in.

As elected representatives, individually and collectively, parliamentarians are both the product and custodians of the democratic values, processes, and systems in our countries. Institutionalisation of racism begins when rights and resources acre unfairly allocated to particular groups while excluding others. It is in Parliaments that this happens through legislation and changes in the Constitution, and it is in Parliament that Executive action can be monitored.

This Conference will adopt a Declaration and Programme of Action, which Parliaments may have had little opportunity to influence. I would however submit that these will remain pieces of paper - mere declarations of intent -, unless we as Parliaments intervene to ensure their implementation.

It is Parliaments which have to ratify international conventions, treaties and other human rights instruments, and it is in Parliaments that reservations are expressed. It is in Parliaments that legislative provisions must be made for implementation of such international agreements, and to regularly monitor compliance and progress in implementation and outcome. Parliaments also have a key role to play in developing national strategies and plans of action.

Their responsibility is not limited to ensuring implementation of agreements reached at the international level. These should be seen as a minimum standard. Parliaments should lead in setting the national tone for tolerance, non-discrimination, inclusivity and equality, and thereby building political support for an expansion of Human Rights and an extension of international agreements.

That is why we pledge in our Declaration to make every effort in our parliaments to combat racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination and to work towards a society based on solidarity, tolerance and equality. We also urge parliaments to provide special mechanisms to monitor and ensure effective implementation by governments and to initiate activities to fight racism.

I would like to conclude my statement by conveying to you the commitment of Parliaments and their members as well as the IPU to take an active part in the process that starts here in Durban.

Thank you