Statement by

Anne Kristin Sydnes
Minister of International Development

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

(Durban 31 August - 7 September 2001)

Madame President,
Your Excellencies,
Representatives of NGOs and civil society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In principle, the international community has taken a clear stand against racism. In resolutions, the United Nations has demonstrated great resolve.
In rhetoric, world leaders have excelled.

But in real life, racism remains an assault on human dignity. Racism is global; it plagues all countries, including my own. And, as underlined by Secretary General Kofi Annan in his statement to the NGO Forum on Thursday, racism tends to aggravate every other form of oppression and discrimination.

I am very pleased that this World Conference - under your able guidance, Madame President - is taking place in South Africa. South Africa, more than any other country, symbolizes hope and courage in the fight against racism. South Africa - home of Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Desmond Tutu and Miriam Makeba.

I am also worried. - Worried, because the preparatory process leading up to this conference has been particularly difficult. Many apparently unreconcilable proposals have been put forward. If each of us insists on maintaining our own proposed language, and nothing else, this conference will fail. This must not happen.

This World Conference must mobilize the world community.
We must add new energy to the fight against all forms of racism.
We must be forward-looking.
We must be action-oriented.
We must set out concrete and measurable objectives, to be implemented by all states.
Ten years from now, we must be able to say that Durban made a difference!

Norway emphasizes the importance of education, awareness raising and strengthening of national legal frameworks for combating racism. Governments should be further encouraged to elaborate national strategies or plans of action. In so doing, they should all work together
with civil society. And the resulting plans should aim at mainstreaming the fight against racism in national policies and programs.

My Government is now in the process of elaborating a new national plan of action to combat racism and discrimination.

Madame President,

It is extremely difficult to ensure respect for human dignity in a world where almost three billion people live on less than two dollars a day. Therefore, we must combat poverty, in all its forms and facets. And we must significantly increase our efforts.

Factors such as gender, disability, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and descent cause added vulnerability in the cycle of poverty, discrimination and deprivation. The debate on social exclusion due to ethnicity and race has to be about this complex interplay, this added vulnerability - often inherited and perpetuated. Many are victims of multiple forms of discrimination. They deserve our special attention - and special remedies.

This applies, not least, to those hit by the hiv/aids pandemic, one of the greatest challenges we are faced with today. And to combat hiv/aids we have to focus on the rights of the most vulnerable groups. This includes men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and prostitutes. To fight aids, we must empower girls and women.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance affect men and women in different ways. It is therefore imperative that all anti-racist policies be gender sensitive.

The initiative to establish closer cooperation between youth in the combat against racism is most promising.

Young people can change attitudes.
Young people can change behavior.
Young people can change the world.
During the upcoming General Assembly Special Session on Children, we will further encourage international cooperation between members of the coming generation.

Rights have no borders. We should demonstrate this by making a special commitment to assuring the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons.

I would like to state for the record: The treatment of these people in distress - whether on land or at sea, and regardless of their ethnic or racial origin - is subject to international rules and regulations. Abiding by these rules and their intentions is the very least we can do.

The rights of indigenous peoples should be an important part of the final document. We must help create conditions that enable indigenous peoples to safeguard and develop their languages, cultures and ways of life. And we must emphasize states' responsibility to that end.

Madame President,

The sources and causes of racism are manifold. Slavery and colonialism have not only caused intolerable human suffering, but have also contributed to the racism and discrimination we see today.

We must be willing to honestly face the truth. Only through repentance and repair of broken relationships and violated dignity, can true reconciliation come about. Whether oppressor or oppressed, we all have a history to come to terms with.

Lack of democracy and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms are important sources of discrimination and intolerance. Racism and racial discrimination represent serious violations of human rights. We must address all the manifestations of this evil - in a truly global effort.

During this conference, our attention has been drawn to the suffering in the Middle East. We call for the implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee and the swift resumption of negotiations, thus allowing the Israeli and Palestinian people to develop and prosper in security and freedom.

As I speak to you today, we all wonder if this conference will succeed. The world community would neither understand, nor accept, a breakdown. Therefore, we must be more open, more forward-looking, more constructive. We must seek compromise, not conflict.

Former UN Secretary General U Thant once said: "The war we have to wage today has only one goal - and that is to make the world safe for diversity"

That very challenge remains with us today, perhaps more acutely than ever, in a world gone global. We simply cannot divide the world into 'us' and `them'; there is no 'them' left.

And - we all know -- the challenge begins at home.

Thank you, Madame President.