Speech of His Excellency Amre Moussa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States

  at the World Conference Against Racism,

Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Durban, 31 August 7 September 2001


It gives me a great pleasure, as Secretary-General of the Arab League and in the name of our regional organization, to participate in this historic conference dedicated to addressing one of the most disturbing and detrimental phenomena to the entire process of evolution of international human relations. Discrimination, not on the basis of performance and contribution, but on the basis of colour, sex, ethnic origin or religion has and continues to constitute an insult to mankind, an affront to every culture and a mockery to all human accomplishments.

That South Africa, today, is hosting this International Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other Forms of Intolerance is highly significant. Your country, Madam President, was once the scene of one of the most hideous forms of discrimination, one that sanctioned the privilege of a particular group at the expense of violating the rights of an entire people. But today, your country is a free country, and is now taking part in the fight against racism in all its forms and wherever it might be.

It is therefore a source of great pleasure that you, Madam president, are presiding over this conference. We in the Arab world perceive this as a symbol that significant change is on the horizon. We also perceive it as a sign of our collective resolve to rid ourselves of a phenomenon that has wrecked havoc in the twentieth century and to press forward towards the realization of the aspirations of the twenty-first century.

Madam President, before relaying to you and the participating delegations the message from the Arab League, permit me first, on behalf of the Arab League, to extend my condolences to President Thabo Mbeki over the death of his father, Goven Mbeki. His death at the moment that the Conference against Racism was about to convene is a poignant reminder of his heroic fight alongside President Mandela and his compatriots to the struggle against racism and apartheid.

Madam President

We are assembled here today out of our belief that racial discrimination and xenophobia are a major cause of conflicts that we see in today’s world. The profound consequences of discrimination are still felt in many parts of our world despite numerous efforts and agreements that addressed this serious issue throughout the three decades that have been dedicated to the battle against racism.

Africa has been victimized by slavery and enslavement, and has every right to be compensated for those practices that, for centuries, brought great human misery and economic and social hardships to the African people. These hardships are yet to be eradicated.

We must recognize that colonialism, slavery, slave trade and other forms of enslavement were the major manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. We need to admit that they have been at the root of widespread poverty and economic, social and scientific underdevelopment and marginalization that is widespread in Africa and elsewhere.

But, it is not sufficient merely to acknowledge the errors of the past. We have to be committed to exert every effort to prevent such practices from ever happening again. At the same time, we have to address the consequences that these, and other similar practices, have inflicted and are still inflecting. We must document these practices as crimes against humanity and ensure that their perpetrators receive the appropriate punishment.

Theories and practices of xenophobia have also been the source of great tragedies and oppression that was exercised against immigrants, refugees and other victimized human beings on the sheer basis of ethnic identity. This sometimes took extreme forms of religious persecution, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

We must take a firm stance against such policies and we must continue to remind ourselves that the world’s collective memory should keep a living record of today’s tragedies just as it has kept the sad memories of the past alive.

The world’s collective conscience must remain one and undivided. It must not allow itself to discriminate between one atrocity and another on the basis of the dictates of the shifting centers of power from one era to the next. Racism is racism, whether practiced against Jews, Arabs, Africans, or Asians. This also applies to practices that aimed at exterminating the indigenous peoples of the American continent.

Exercising selectivity in how we approach or deal with these issues is in itself an act of racism that should be averted and should be condemned by this conference.

Madam president,

In the same spirit in which I addressed slavery and enslavement in Africa, I also address the issues of Israeli colonial settlement in Palestine and Arab territories. Practices which attempt to impose an alleged supremacy of one people over other peoples. Self-determination, a basic human right that is denied to the Palestinian people, is yet another issue that needs to be addressed here.

Moreover, I point to the overtly racist and insulting remarks and pronouncements that reveal hatred to one particular people, to which fact we have the testimony of many Israeli leaders and religious figures. They have said that Arabs are insects and snakes. Arabs, they also said, multiply like ants that must be exterminated. This is racism that should never be accepted or condoned.

Some religious figures that are part of the Israeli regime have also branded the entire Palestinian people as terrorists. Indeed, the current Israeli minister of transport has openly called for the genocide of the Palestinian people, proclaiming: “Let’s burn them all!”

Could there be a worse form of racism?

And, last but not least, last May when the preparatory meetings for this conference was entering its final stage, another Israeli official said, and I quote: “There is a huge gap between us (Jews) and our enemies, not just in ability, but in morality, culture, sanctity of life and conscience.”

Could anyone be more flagrant in their exercise of racism? And, then, the Arab delegates are asked to remain silent or to turn a blind eye to such racist statements.

Madam president,

We, the delegates of the Arab states, have come here united in our determination to work for the success of this conference, and to stand side by side with our fellow brothers and sisters in the fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. The success of the Durban conference will mark a victory for each and every one of us, and for all mankind, in the struggle against the forces of oppression.

We are here, not to prevent others from voicing their grievances or to prevent them from reminding us of the past in order to prevent the reoccurrence of past atrocities, but rather to lend our support to all peoples who have experienced such horrors and to their claims for reparation.

Some peoples have already been compensated for the sufferings they endured. Why should this be denied to others who have experienced tragedies no less horrific than the stories and practices that we have been told about for many years?

We are here to say that we, as Arabs, condemn what happened to the Jewish people and that we will stand by them in their determination that they should never be subjected to the racist experiences of the past again. However, should we then allow them to inflict similar sufferings on others, as indeed is occurring at present at the hands of some of them against the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians ?

Israeli government-issued assassination orders, the seizure of property and Palestinian land purely on the grounds that they are Arabs’, and the continued colonial settlement policy on Palestinian land are all racist policies and must be stopped.

Israel’s racist practices and statements must be stopped. The Durban conference has to be unequivocal and firm with regards to such serious practices and policies.

To fail to clearly and explicitly address such obvious acts of racism by this conference, would be an unfortunate acknowledgment of some forms of racism and intolerance and an unfortunate neglect of equally appalling forms of racism. Such selectivity would condemn this conference to failure.

Let us, therefore, reject all attempts of selectivity. We must be courageous enough to take a stand against all forms of intolerance, whether against Jews or Muslims, or against Africans, Arabs or any other people. As Mary Robinson said, “Let us be generous and open hearted. Let us be flexible in trying to understand the sufferings of others. Let us have a sense of vision for the future.”

And, I add, let us be objective – not selective or biased.

I conclude my speech in the words of the UN Secretary-General and the people of South Africa in saying:

The time has come!