The Sultanate of Oman

Statement by the Head of Delegation
His Excellency Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al bu Saidi, Undersecretary of
Oman's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

UN World Conference Against Racism
Durban - South Africa, August 31 - September 7 2001

Madam President,

I would like to begin by paying tribute, on behalf of the citizens and the government of Oman, to the extraordinary achievements of the Republic of South Africa. The manner in which the people of this country have worked to overcome the legacy of injustice and racism, and to build a multicultural society, founded on principles of equality, has been a source of inspiration to people around the world. All those who believe that justice and humanity can triumph over prejudice and oppression are strengthened in their beliefs when they look at what South Africa has achieved. We renew our support for the South African continued efforts to eradicate discrimination and inequality. Everyone who cherishes hope for a better future for those who still suffer the indignities of discrimination and deprivation feels their hope burn brighter when they think of the remarkable progress made by the people of South Africa.

There could be no more fitting venue for this conference, and we all hope, I am sure, that through our work together over the next few days, we can succeed in forever linking the name Durban with a historic international resolve to combat racial prejudice, discrimination and intolerance. I would like to thank our hosts, the government of the Republic of South Africa, for contributing to this inspiration, and for offering humanity the opportunity to develop this historic resolve.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express our support for all the African nations here. We join you in insisting that the gulf between the developing world and the developed world must be more effectively bridged. Racial discrimination is one of a complex set of economic and historical factors which contribute to the gulf between nations. The issue of race has to be seen in the context of economic and social justice, and until real and tangible progress is made towards redressing the unacceptable economic divide between the developed and the developing nations, we will continue to suffer, as a global society, from divisions and conflicts in which racism will invariably occur. We have a historic opportunity at this conference, to set out a vision for the future development of relations between nations and peoples on the basis of mutual interaction founded in equality and free from prejudice. In order to seize this opportunity we need to think creatively and act decisively to ensure that globalisation does not become a new mechanism for the exploitation and unfair domination of the weak by the strong.

The processes of globalisation must be allowed to benefit Africa. It is not enough to rely upon the easy and simplistic idea that globalisation will automatically allow economic benefits to trickle down from the summits of the global economy to the developing countries of Africa and elsewhere. Globalisation has to mean more than the opportunity to buy consumer goods. Africa deserves and demands better than this. Africa is a crucial producer, and a rich patchwork of cultures and traditions that need preserving, respecting and developing. Africa must be given the opportunity to contribute positively and distinctively to the processes of globalisation. Until African people enjoy the economic growth that comes from being an active participant in the global networks of trade and economic development, they will not benefit from these processes.

This means that a special effort has to be made to make sure that Africa, and the developing world more generally, has the tools it needs to play its part. This means technology transfer. This means an end to the iniquities of the debt burden. This means trade agreements that give small producers in remote regions the chance to win a place in the global marketplace.

So far we are not even half way there. We have not gone far enough, not by a long way. The global economy we seek must be a global economy to which everyone can contribute. Only this way will the fierce inequalities that divide the developed and the developing world be addressed and redressed.

We all know that racism and intolerance arise from specific economic and social circumstances. We can sign all the conventions in the world, and make mental and spiritual commitments to combat intolerance and racism, but without serious and practical efforts to redress these basic economic and social injustices, our long term aim of eradicating racism, xenophobia and intolerance will elude us.

It is clear that progress is being made in some areas. Of course we have the example of South Africa all around us. Also we must recognise that over the last five to ten years there has been a fundamental rethinking of how the issues of global economic inequality can best be addressed. There is now a widespread recognition that paternalistic models of development support are flawed in concept and in practice. There is also now an understanding that macro-economic intervention, the manipulations of financial aid in relation to structural adjustments are crude and wasteful instruments of policy, and do much to reinforce division, suspicion, hostility and poverty.

Instead of these discredited approaches of the past, today we welcome the evidence of a wealth of small scale projects and interventions, in which the values of the local and the specific are allowed to set the agenda and define the terms on which development takes place.

I would like to conclude my comments with some observations drawn from my Omani, Arab and Islamic background. Equality is a basic principle of Islam: our religion commits us to considering all our fellow human beings as equal in importance, and enjoins us to act accordingly. With this principle of equality comes a principle of tolerance. As Muslims we should not seek to impose our values on others. We do not demand that everyone should do as we do, but simply ask that in return for our respect for other cultures and values, others value ours. This tradition is one of many around the world from which the modern campaign to eradicate racism can draw strength. The principles on which anti racist conventions and campaigns are based are longstanding traditions, deeply embedded in a range of cultures.
This commitment to equality and tolerance shapes our response to current events. It has been a deeply held principle in Oman's foreign policy that we respond to what people do, not who they are. We can criticise what the American government chooses to do, for example. This does not mean that we are anti American. Similarly we would like to make it clear that we absolutely reject and fiercely condemn the illegal actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. Current Israeli government policy is in violation of international law, it flies in the face of our commitment to the rights of people to self-determination and equal treatment, and is clearly driven by intolerance which in many cases constitutes racism.

We seek peace, co-existence, justice and mutual respect. We condemn violence, injustice and oppression. Where Israel embraces peace, co-existence, justice and mutual respect, their action is not racist. Where Israel seeks to deny the Palestinian people their right to self-determination, their action is racist and illegal. The forcible removal of Palestinians from their homes in order to permit the building of Israeli settlements on illegally occupied territory can legitimately be described as a policy and an action underpinned by racism, and can be condemned on that basis.

We invite all of you present, to join us in calling for an end to the violent oppression of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, for a return to mutual respect, and an immediate resumption of the search for peace based on justice for the Palestinians, equality and full implementation of UN resolutions.

In closing I would like to convey my sincere thanks to you Madam President, for guiding this Plenary Session, and also to Mary Robinson and all her staff and the organisers, for their outstanding work in making this important conference a reality.