RACE RELATIONS CONCILIATOR OF
Statement by Gregory Fortuin, Race Relations Conciliator
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related intolerance
Durban, Tuesday 4 September 2001
Tena Koutou, tena koutou,
tena koutou katoa!
As fellow members of the
human race we are all equal. I will thus dispose of the grand salutations to
reinforce this equality and save a few precious minutes in the process.
Thank you for the opportunity
to contribute to this important debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
and related intolerance. At the outset let me - both as a proud son of Africa
and in the way that is traditional in my adopted homeland of Aotearoa/New Zealand
- acknowledge the people of this land and those who have gone before - in particular,
Oom Gov Mbeki. A great man has fallen, but his legacy will live on.
I wish to record the support
of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Race Relations
Conciliator for the statement presented by Dr Pityana on behalf of the National
Institutions. This statement is both historic as the first unified voice of
National Institutions, and a valuable blue print for National Institutions in
our fight against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerance.
The statement by National
Institutions is particularly relevant for New Zealand at this point as the present
human rights structure is currently being reviewed to create a stronger human
rights body which will enhance the organization's ability to better promote
and protect human rights. A significant outcome will be to strengthen the role
of the Race Relations Commissioner and allow greater flexibility in dealing
with multiple discrimination. Although New Zealand has had an institutional
framework for dealing with racism and racial discrimination for over 30 years
it would be premature to be complacent about the present level of racial tolerance.
New Zealand is a treaty
based, Pacific nation. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the
Crown and the Maori chiefs but was largely abrogated until the 1980s when it
became obvious that New Zealand would only be able to move forward and develop
as a nation if an attempt was made to address the historic inequities that resulted.
As the Secretary General, Kofi Annan reminded us in his opening address, "there
must be accountability for past actions". However, this must be done with
an eye on the future and what we ultimately wish to achieve.
If, on the other hand,
you are going nowhere then any road will get you there. Whilst we can never
rewrite history, we can shape the future. If we fail to deal with our past it
will forever hang as an oppressive cloud over all our tomorrows.
In New Zealand, righting
the wrongs of the past was never going to be an easy task. There has been criticism
of unfairness and bias by Non-Maori, which makes it important to agree on an
approach that is acceptable to all New Zealanders. However, one must guard against
the tyranny of the majority and ensure that justice and equality are not compromised.
Informed debate and education initiatives promoting a tolerant and inclusive
approach will be fundamental in this. Productive public debate is integral to
the role of a National Institution and, properly used, one of the most effective,
as it can remind people of the importance of the principles of nondiscrimination
and allow them to negotiate a society that ensures equality, justice and human
dignity for everyone.
New Zealand's demographic
profile is changing rapidly as a consequence of immigration and resettlement
and the high birth rates of Maori and Pacific Island people, making it more
susceptible to racial tension. While New Zealand does not have the levels of
racial tension that some of the countries represented here today have, it would
be naive to assume that it never will. It may not, but one of the roles of a
National Institution is to try and ensure that it does not. More than ever before,
we must not only accept harmonized diversity and difference, but understand
and value the benefits they bring. Only by fully appreciating the positive aspects
of cultural belonging will people feel less threatened and more tolerant.
Over and above honoring
its agreement with its indigenous people and respecting harmonized diversity,
is the challenge of poverty and disadvantage exacerbated by ethnic clustering.
Poverty and socio-economic exclusion provide the sharp edge to race relations
in any country, particularly when poverty takes on an ethnic dimension. We must
reverse the presumption that a person is poor because they are Maori or a Pacific
Islander. Race relations is not just about grand slogans, but real economic
empowerment. In New Zealand this challenge is being addressed, albeit at a painstakingly
We can leave this conference
with the most grandiose statements and plans of action and still not achieve
anything. Ultimately what is necessary is visionary leadership - men and woman
with fortitude and belief in the dream of a society characterized by human dignity,
justice and equality. Each of us must keep this dream alive or else this gathering
will have simply been an expensive exercise in futility.
I conclude with the words
of Nelson Mandela as he looked Justice de Wet in the eye in 1964 expecting to
hear the death sentenced pronounced. These same words were repeated by Madiba
on his release in 1990:
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die"
I thank you.