the Honourable Tonio Borg, LL.D. M.P.,
Minister for Home Affairs of Malta to the
World Conference Against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.
Durban, South Africa
31st August-7th September, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Draft Declaration which is being presented to this Forum for its approval has been the fruit of pain-staking discussions, proposals and counter-proposals. Presumably the hard work that has gone in this document was due to the fact that different states and their representatives would like to stress on particular aspects rather than others, would like to give different nuances to matters close to their heart; for whatever our religious, or political beliefs, and irrespective of whether we accept a faith-based, atheistic or merely a humanitarian concept of the rights of man, the fact that we are gathered today in this country whose past is one single story of heroic struggle against all demeaning forms of discrimination, underlines our commitment towards an international condemnation of all aspects of racism, and also of other forms of intolerance and discrimination.
Throughout this Conference I hope that the reasons and causes giving rise to different forms of racism will be examined. One reason is ignorance ; some people don't know what they don't know. In other words racism is grounded in false ideas and assumptions that cause prejudice. One may also add that most people tend to fear or distrust those whom they do not know; another reason is the confusion in most people's minds of poverty and lack of education, with lack of intelligence. But perhaps the most powerful reason is that it is convenient to think so; thus preserving privileges and control of power of one group of people over another.
Politicians and political parties can play a key role in combating racial discrimination and intolerance; they can do so not only to ensure that steps are taken to supervise, control and combat fringe political groups which expound racist policies; but also to fight against the creeping subtle racism which is sometimes ingrained in people's thinking, which never manifests.
A matter which is given due consideration in the Declaration is the plight of refugees, and the link of such tragedy with racist attitudes. The confusion in the public mind between refugees who are victims of unbridled persecution, and illegal immigrants simply seeking a better future, lingers on. I am pleased to inform the Assembly that Malta will have its first refugee law which will come into force on the first of October this year; fully aligned with the European Union 'acquis'; work permits are being issued to recognised refugees and most of the reservations to the 1951 UN Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees will be lifted, in the coming weeks.
Negotiations relating to Malta's application to join the European Union have reached an advanced stage; our adherence to the Union will enable us to participate in an active partnership with other Member states in dealing with racism and religious hatred. Article 29 of the Treaty on European Union provides that the Union's objective shall be "to provide citizens with a high level of safety within an area of freedom, security and justice by developing common action among the Member states in the fields of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and by preventing and combating racism and xenophobia. " In this context, we shall participate in the common European action to prohibit by legal sanction the incitement or pressure to racial or religious discrimination; the establishment or operation of any organization which promotes such end and its financing; and the financing, defence or support by any public authority or public institution of racial or religious discrimination by any person group or organization.
Malta has closed the only remaining loophole in its legislation by extending a criminal prohibition against written racist material to general racist behaviour; such prohibition implemented the general non-discrimination clause in our Constitution in the criminal law field, creating a new specific criminal offence of racist behaviour.
Today the world is already smaller than it was yesterday. It will even be smaller tomorrow. Our lives on this globe will be even more intertwined in a net wor of interdepencence of a l sorts. - If have to any measure of peace and prosperity, we will all have to adjust to living and sharing with, and learning from, people who may not resemble ourselves. This is not itself in exterior acts, but which lingers in people's mind; what Gitta Sereny last January, at the Stockholm Conference, called most appropriately the inner racism which remains passive in most of us, 'a discomfiting awareness of difference as she described it.
The Draft Declaration proclaims that ' the obstacles to equality lie in weak legislation, lack of political will, concrete action and racist attitudes.' As regards the first reason it is the application of such laws which leaves much to be desired even in those countries which pride themselves in being liberal-minded in matters relating to racial discrimination; for the attitudes of all public servants applying the law, law enforcement agencies and indeed the general public, are not automatically reformed or altered by changes in legislation. And again violations are not only the crude ones which are rare; but the slight subtle differences in treatment; the placing of requirements shrouded in rules of official bureaucracy or hastily invented rules of differentiation for admission to public places even if privately owned. This micro-racism is pernicious and dangerous as the macro one; indeed even more, for it does not necessarily attract media attention as in instances of violence and blatant ill-treatment inspired by racist behaviour.
As regards lack of political will and concrete actions, this is a charge to which all of us are, perhaps, partly guilty. Not because racial hatred and discrimination is in any way encouraged or dissipated; but perhaps it does not always constitute a priority item in our daily political agenda; we seem to content ourselves with high sounding, even if enforceable constitutional provisions against racial discrimination; the occurrence of deplorable incidents even in European countries whose anti-discrimination traditions are without blemish, has underlined the importance of being forever vigilant against creeping racial ideas and attitudes which demand a response in the form of concrete measures.
The incompatibility between democracy and racism is emphasized in paragraph 83 of the Draft Declaration. Disturbing tendencies have emerged in Europe whereby political parties have espoused racist attitudes- if not policies- and have gained considerable popular support; the modern demands of regional inter-dependence particularly in Europe, and the network, regional or otherwise, of human rights commitments and obligations in particular, should serve as a proper guard against any extremist policies being transmitted into national policies.
necessarily easy; as Martin Luther King once said: History is the long and tragic story of the fact that. privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. But apart from the moral thrust which should inspire all struggles against racism, it is also in everybody's interest to uproot the causes of racism, in order to avoid trouble, warfare, and violence in the future which will destroy economic well-being and peaceful co-existence.