H.E. Mr. Renato Ruggiero
Minister of Foreign Affairs

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

Durban, South Africa
Saturday 1 September 2001

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Mr. Secretary-General of the United Nations, Madam High Commissioner, Distinguished Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all I would like to congratulate very warmly Dr. Dlamini Zuma on her appointment to the prestigious Chairmanship of this Conference. This is certainly a good omen for the final success of our meetings.

I have listened with interest to the address given by my colleague and friend Louis Michel, speaking as the President of the Council of the Ministers of the European Union, and fully agree with his analysis. The message he has given you represents a very clear sign of the strong commitment of the European Union to a positive outcome of this historical Conference. I am fully committed to help the process in the same direction.

When we adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, we were convenced that the atrocities and aberrations that had characterised the period of the Second World War would never be able to occur again, and that the world had leamt lessons from, and been warned against any repetition of the such racial crimes as those which constituted the Shoa of the Jewish people.

The Holocaust, a horrendous sacrifice of human lives, is an enormous burden on the conscience of Europe and the world. It should never be forgotten because it is a continuous reminder of the racist folly as are all other human tragedies created by racism, xenophobia and intolerance.

And yet, here we are, after more than fifty years of technological progress, of amazing scientific achievements, the conquest of space, and economic and social development, having to address the persistence and the resurgence, domestically and internationally, of violations of all kinds of the dignity of men and women, and of the most elementary principles of harmonious social life.

The fact that Durban has been chosen as the venue of this Conference is both a tribute and an act of gratitude to the South African Nation and to its President H.E. Thabo Mbeki whom we had the privilege of hosting in Italy in July this year, at a major event attended by other African, Latin American and Asian Heads of State.

The world's historical experience of apartheid with its repugnant philosophy that one race may subjugate others, has sent out an important warning to the world, and taught us a valuable lesson. We would like to pay sincere tribute to the South African people for their relentless struggle and the many who sacrificed their lives for it, and to the living symbol of this historic victory against racism: Nelson Mandela.

This Conference offers us an historic opportunity to take stock of the past and make practical proposals for the future. Only by a fair balancing of these needs shall we be able to complete that cathartic process and demonstrate that political will necessary to lay down the new rules of mutual respect and solidarity with our fellow human beings. These are indispensable if we are to root out of our societies and the intemational community, the viciousness and injustice of racism.

This conference has not, of course, been convened to address any specific situations or geopolitical conflicts. Neither does its remit require it to produce solutions to problems generated by political tension. It cannot, however, ignore the fact that as long as ethnic conflict continues to cause bloodshed throughout the planet from the Middle East to Kosovo, from Sierra Leone to the Congo, from the Indonesian Archipelago to the Caucasus, the peace and security of the whole world will remain in jeopardy. It is in the name of a new and loftier form of human brotherhood that we wish to launch an appeal, as the European Union has constantly advocated, to strive to make negotiation prevail over violence and chaos.

We are not here to point a finger at any one country or another, but to heighten awareness of the grave and inexcusable nature of such conduct which, today, would count as crimes against humanity. There are, unfortunately, no excuses and no justification that could possibly reduce the magnitude of the moral debt we have contracted with those peoples and those generations. But one thing that we can certainly do is to lay the foundations for a new partnership based on solidarity, and the assumption of responsibility by th.e international community.

The international community recently adopted two vitally important documents in New York: the "Millennium Declaration" and the "Visionary Declaration" on racism. The substance of those documents shed light on the cocarse that we must follow in this new millennium. The first one bears the signature of over 160 Heads of State and Covemment, while second has been signed by over 80. They must guide us in this arduous quest to create a more just society, enjoying greater freedom, free from discrimination and harassment.

Achieving a successful outcome to this World Conference will provide the linkage needed to complement this endeavour to establish peace and fratemity. VW'e cannot therefore allow it to end with only partial agreement, or,worse still, with no agreement at all.

Our goal is far too important at this particular moment in time, when geographic distances are tending to disappear and physical barriers between our peoples are becoming increasingly meaningless. What we need today is a thrust of strong political will and wisdom to overcome our present difficulties.

What our world needs are new principies, grounded on a universal consensus. The rejection of racism xenophobia and all forms of intolerance is one of the most important principles of the new global society.

1f each of us has to back-step a. little, in order to attain that consensus,I earnestly urge us to take that step. For we are all of one mind in our uncompromising rejection of racism.

Let us not allow that words, only words, prevent us from finding an agreement which I know to be present in the consciences and in the faith of us all.

Thank you.