The Honourable Margaret Wilson

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

Durban, South Africa
Saturday 1 September 2001

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa!

Madam President, Secretary General, High Commissioner for Human Rights, distinguished delegates.

It is a great honour for me to speak here today and to contribute to the historic debate now under way. I should like first to express New Zealand’s appreciation to the Government of South Africa for hosting the World Conference, and the thanks of the New Zealand delegation for the warm welcome extended to us.

In the traditional way of my country I wish also to acknowledge the people of this land who have gone before us in particular Govan Mbeki.

I sense their presence, and especially his presence with us today and hope their spirits will guide our deliberations.

The importance of this conference cannot be overstated.Its significance will resonate in years ahead and will be seen as marking a new era that sees the aspirations of the human rights declarations become a reality for ordinary people. And while the words of the declaration are important because they give legitimacy and authority to the aspirations of the conference, the lasting value of the conference will also lie in the energy and goodwill generated by the dialogue taking place amongst those attending the conference. Meeting face to face is very much part of the South Pacific traditional way of resolving differences and reaching new understandings.

Racism has been, and remains, one of the major threats to the realisation of human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

New forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance are manifesting themselves in most societies.The challenge for this Conference is to forge a new pathway to redress the grievances of the past while firmly looking to the future. Guidance along this new path may be found in the Declaration on Tolerance and Diversity initiated by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

Madam President

Acknowledgment and acceptance of diversity requires tolerance from each and every one of us. It also requires us to confront our own histories from the perspectives of all those affected. This requires considerable courage because there is a tendency to live in the present as though it was unformed by the past. We cannot move forward however unless we confront our pasts. The way we handle this process will determine the future well-being of us all.

We in New Zealand are in the painful process of doing that. New Zealand was founded in 1840 on a Treaty between two peoples – the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and the majority of Maori chiefs. The Treaty was not honoured by the Crown in the spirit in which it was signed.

In 1986 the New Zealand Government decided that we could only move forward and develop as a nation if the wrongs of the past were acknowledged and a process put in place to redress these wrongs. That is the process in which we are now engaged.

Our comments at this conference are therefore founded upon direct experience. That experience also tells us there is no single way to redress the consequences of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.Each country must find its own way of achieving the goals of the conference.

Madam President

What New Zealand seeks from this Conference is a framework to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at national, regional and international levels. Nationally we seek ideas from this conference to achieve a society that has been described by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, in these terms. She said “our dream, our vision, our aspiration and our goal is to see our country develop as a kinder, fairer, more prosperous, innovative, tolerant, progressive and advanced nation”

Clearly, in such a nation there is no room for racism and discrimination.That is why we must engage the whole of our community in understanding the destructiveness of intolerance. Non-governmental groups have an especially important role to play in making change happen.

We recognise and acknowledge that racism, discrimination and intolerance affect different sectors of society in different ways.This can also be compounded by other forms of discrimination, particularly in the case of women, young people, children, migrants and refugees.This recognition has lead to a review of human rights legislation and policy in New Zealand.An important outcome of this review is to strengthen the involvement of the Race Relations Commissioner in addressing multiple discrimination.

New Zealand believes this World Conference should acknowledge and condemn injustices of the past. It is equally important to deal with pernicious contemporary forms of racism, particularly through preventative action such as education. It is only through development and implementation of such forward-looking strategies that we will truly become one human family whose richness lies in diversity. It is a goal that deserves all our energies.

Thank you Madam President.