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

Durban, South Africa
Saturday 1 September 2001

Madame Chairperson
Your Excellency
Distinguished guests

I am honoured to have the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience both as a representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office and of the Romanian Government. My speech will be brief, since Romania associated itself with the position expressed in the declaration made before by the Presidency of the European Union Council.

First, I would like to express, on behalf of the Romanian Government, our gratitude to the Government and people of South Africa for their marvellous hospitality and for providing such good conditions for our work. Let me pay a special tribute to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, HE Ms. Mary Robinson, whose advice and encouragement during the entire preparatory process inspired us to reconcile differences, reach agreement accede to flexibility and identify the areas of common ground. I also wish to express appreciation to the Secretariat for the efficient organisation of our work.

Racism is a pressing challenge of our times. A huge amount of work has been done during the preparatory process of this Conference. Different approaches still exist on some very sensitive issues: the past, the categories of victims and the language on the situation in the Middle East. In overcoming these difficulties, we should concentrate on global issues of racism and intolerance, as decided by the General Assembly in its Resolution 52/111. This Conference should forcefully resist being overcame by political disputes, our proceedings should avoid singling put and laying bitter judgements on individual peoples or communities

Durban is a challenge, as well as a great opportunity, to address, in a constructive way, the issues of the past. There has never been a United Nations Conference presented with a such a strong quest for the acknowledgement of historical injustices. Slavery, slave trade and some effects of colonialism have contributed their share to a certain extent to the existence of contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination, to poverty, underdevelopment, economic disparities and instability. The international community has therefore to encourage sustainable development, support the integration of developing countries into global economy and the implementation of policies to consolidate democracy, the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights.

If we really wish this Conference to be a breakthrough in combating racism and fostering tolerance and acceptation of diversity in the twenty first century, we should focus on reaching consensus on a Declaration and a Programme of Action which should be forward-looking and oriented towards action.

Speaking now as a representative of the Romanian Government, I would like to reaffirm my country's commitment to fight against racial discrimination. Racism has a changing nature, is an enemy that never dies or rests .It will always find new and complex ways to show itself, even in the most democratic societies, and all of us need continuously to look for new solutions. In Romania we are focussing on promoting a multicultural society built on tolerance, respect for diversity and shared values in which conditions are created for the development of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of persons belonging to national minorities living in Romania. Recently, our country is facing new challenges associated with the increasing number of refugees, asylum-seekers, immigrants and victims of trafficking.

Romania is one of the few countries of Central and Eastern Europe, to have passed comprehensive legislation on the prevention and sanctioning of all forms of discrimination. The legislative framework, however important, cannot and must not remain an isolated element. The Government is accordingly working to implement practical measures in the field of education, media, administration, institution building, participation in public and political life.

Given the immense influence which education plays, as a key remedy, against prejudice and intolerance the Government has placed special emphasis on Roma education. We succeeded in training teachers of the Romany language in our schools, we have Romany textbooks and we have introduced affirmative action: a quota system for Roma students in universities and colleges. A department of Romany language has been created within the Faculty of Philology at Bucharest University.

Fostering awareness on the Holocaust by the inclusion of appropriate teaching material in the school curricula (since 1998), the extension of the institutes and centres of Hebrew studies and the development of international co-operation in drawing textbooks, exchange programmes for high school students are only a few of the many initiatives and programmes focussed on preventing and combating manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Romania's aspiration to join the European Union roughly half a decade from now depends very much apart from compliance with the stated criteria on the extent to which we are able to build societal compatibility. From this perspective we look forward to joining a Union that is confident with its enriching diversity and promotes tolerance in forging new communities of shared values for the Third Millenium. My country went at great lengths to protect its minorities and promote their specific identity. There is no reason why we should not pride ourselves on a series of best practices set in this field. There are all the reasons in the world for us to engage now in experience-sharing on the widest possible scale. We therefore look forward trustfully to join the future enlarged European Union I mentioned above as a beacon of tolerance and diversity.

Now, speaking as CIO representative, I would like to emphasize the particular importance which the Romanian CIO attaches to combating racism and intolerance in the OSCE area. Combating racism and intolerance, is a key element in efforts to preventing conflicts, scaling down racial and ethnic tensions and promoting respect for diversity. OSCE has an important place in the European security architecture. It has a unique role in monitoring and promoting respect for human rights. Given OSCE's unique features and assets the Romanian CiO involved itself extensively in making them work at the profit of a meaningful preparatory and follow-up process of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Representative for the Freedom of the Media, together with the organisation's field missions act every day to ensure full respect for human rights and to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as integral components of their mandates.

The second Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting of the OSCE, held in Vienna, on 18-19 June, this year, was dedicated to promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. This genuine forum of dialogue provided a good opportunity to assess the extent to which member states have transposed the existing rules, as established in the OSCE documents, into their national policies, programs and legislation.

One of the priorities of our Chairmanship is to improve the situation of the Roma and Sinti communities across the OSCE area. We are hosting an OSCE Conference, on 10-13 September, in Bucharest, on the theme: "Equal opportunities for Roma and Sinti: Translating words into facts". The main objective of this Conference is to assess those programs and projects implemented during the last years with the aim of eliminating discrimination and promoting integration of the Roma in their respective societies. The Conference is also expected to develop recommendations for further concrete steps. We expect the Conference in Bucharest to be an appropriate framework for developing ways to implement the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. We would like to consider it the first step in the follow-up to this Conference.

The OSCE and in particular, the OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media undertook notable efforts to involve the media in awareness raising and the fight against racism and intolerance, especially in the context of the advent of information and communication technologies which come together with unexpected opportunities for a potentially extended discriminatory propaganda.

Finally, I should like to express Romania's belief in the crucial importance that guidance from regional and international co-operation has in directing domestic undertakings. This Conference should be able to lay down the blueprint for a global strategy to combat racism with the aim of increasing international co-operation in this field, building on the foundations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The words of High Commissioner Mrs. Mary Robinson should inspire us in our work and they seemed perfectly fit for concluding my statement "The aim is clear: to identify innovative ways to shape the spirit of this new century in recognition of the inescapable fact that all of us, whatever our differences, belong to one human family…where diversity is regarded as a strength and not a problem."