Speech by Roger van Boxtel

Netherlands Minister for Urban Policy and Integration of Ethnic Minorities

"A new beginning"

World Conference Against Racism

Durban, 2 September 2001


Madam President, Madam Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

First of all, I would like to express my deep appreciation to the government and the people of South Africa for hosting this important conference.

When I was young I learned in high school about the Dutch Empire, its colonies like the Dutch Indies, Surinam, Netherlands Antillies, Aruba. I also learned about Rembrandt, Van Gogh and other famous Dutchmen. But no more than five lines were written down in my history book about the Dutch slave trade. I never heard of Fort Elmina or the Castle of Good Hope. Little did we hear about the exploitation of black people on the plantations. Until 1863 Dutchmen were slave traders and owners of slaves.

Now I know better.

We have to fight racism with all legal means. Everyday. We owe that to our society, to the young generation. It is a democratic duty to stand for respect, justice, dignity and equality for all. Therefore I reject some expressions of racism and intolerance around this conference.

Racial discrimination victimizes groups and individuals even more when these persons are subjected to multiple grounds of discrimination. In particular it concerns race and gender, race and sexual orientation, race and mental or physical disability and several other grounds of entrenched discrimination. Such as the trafficking of women and girls and discrimination based on work and descent existing in many parts of the world. It is my firm wish that this conference addresses these issues. In the struggle against racism, our guiding light should be the universality of human rights.

This World Conference in Durban is in our view a necessary moment to state to all people that racism and discrimination must be eradicated. But we can only be credible if we recognize the great injustices of the past. We express deep remorse about the enslavement and slave trade that took place. But an expression of remorse as such is not enough and cannot be used as an excuse for not taking any action in the present. It is important to take structural measures that have effects for the descendents of former slaves and next generations.

In the Netherlands we have an active approach in fighting, discrimination and social exclusion. At this moment Dutch society is multicultural, a salad bowl of people who live together in relative peace and harmony.

Next year the Netherlands will unveil its national slavery monument, a symbol of national remembrance in Amsterdam, our capital city. This monument is created in close co-operation with the descendants of former slaves. The monument as a whole will represent the past, present and future

Madam, Excellencies,

Besides the unveiling of a monument we will also create a center of expertise on slave history, as a dynamic slavery monument. Together with better education these centers form a path for the youth to more understanding and tolerance.
I urge other countries to do the same so that we can realize an international network of knowledge and expertise. This can only be done in involving all relevant groups.

In this way history will be looked at and described from all relevant perspectives. My hope is that then and only then we can address the young generations with better, honestly rewritten history books. Better books that I had as a youngster.