Distinguished Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen

We have all heard the sad news about the passing of the great South African patriot, Mr Govan Mbeki. On behalf of my delegation, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to President Thabo Mbeki, his family and the people of South Africa on their sad loss.

It is most appropriate that this Conference is being held in South Africa, a country that has walked the long and hard journey in ending institutionalised racism. However as we all know, the worldwide fight against racial intolerance continues. In the next few days, the international community will attempt to agree on a common position and plan of action to combat all forms of racism. This Conference marks the end of nearly 3 decades of global efforts to deal with racism. Complementing these efforts are several conventions enshrining the fundamental human rights of the individual, which have existed since the establishment of the UN. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is widely regarded as the bedrock of all international human rights conventions. Since its establishment, we have witnessed the evolution of human rights conventions towards greater sophistication and precision. Let me briefly elaborate on this evolution.

2 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights gave greater definition and focus to human rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) served to reaffirm the fundamental rights of individuals in relation to their racial origin. The Convention requires State Parties to submit biennial reports to the ICERD Committee on actions that they have taken to combat racism within their own borders. In the process, such Conventions laid down a certain set of norms for states to adhere to.

3 Nevertheless, history has shown that repeated breaches and non-
observance of these norms continue to occur, both within societies, as well as in times of conflict.

4 This suggests that the problem of racism lies not in the absence of norms, but in the inability of states to adhere to these norms.

5 While this is true, states should not be entirely blamed. It is plausible that something deeply embedded in human nature prevents racism from disappearing entirely. Take the example of Kosovo. While the Kosovo conflict was sparked off by separatist tendencies, its roots originated from deep-seated, religious and ethnic animosities stretching back to many centuries.

6 The flaws of human nature aside, there are still ways, both at the international and national level, to deal with the problem of racism and racial discrimination.

7 The international community must continue to work in concert to eradicate this scourge and exert pressures on states that continue to flout these norms with impunity. Present-day South Africa is one example of how sustained international pressure influenced the downfall of apartheid.

8 At the national level, governments themselves must be committed to observing these international norms against racism. They should put in place a legal framework, together with educational and enforcement programmes in schools as part of a wider effort to combat racism. Governments must however be allowed the flexibility to decide on the exact measures to be taken to eliminate racial discrimination. Such measures would factor in the unique confluence of social, historical, political and economic conditions faced by different societies.

9 Let me illustrate this point in the context of Singapore society. We are a young country still in the process of nation-building. Since independence, meritocracy and non-discrimination on the basis of race have been the cornerstones of our nation-building effort. The multi-racial and multi-religious composition of our society requires that policy formulation and implementation also considers the inherent sensitivities of each community. Our past experiences of racial riots have influenced our treatment of the various races, which is grounded on 3 broad principles; equal treatment for all; tolerance and mutual respect for other races; and the creation of a common national identity. These principles are reinforced by Constitutional safeguards and laws. This approach has worked for us. Let me touch on two of examples of such safeguards.

10 The Presidential Council for Minority Rights, chaired by the Chief
Justice, oversees the rights of minority groups by scrutinising subsidiary legislation and Bills passed by Parliament before they are presented to the President for assent. The Council guards against the implementation of any legislation deemed to be prejudicial to a particular race. In the political arena, we have the Group Representation Constituency Scheme. This Scheme requires certain constituencies to be represented by 4 members of Parliament, of which at least one Member must come from the minority races. This scheme guarantees a form of minority representation in parliament and ensures that minority concerns are considered at the highest legislative level.

11 We share the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson's vision of a forward-looking Conference and the sentiments expressed by the UNSG Kofi Annan when he said that "the conference must help heal old wounds without reopening them; it must confront the past, but most important, it must help set a new course against racism in the future."

12 In the same vein, we should be careful not to revive certain issues at this Conference, which have already been settled by the international community. Resurrecting them would only result in more harm than good, and will represent a significant step backward in our work. One such example is the 1975 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with Racism, which was later repealed in 1991. Apart from being detrimental to the Middle East cause, the 1975 resolution undermined the UN's own credibility. We understand that there are many who feel strongly that this Conference should discuss the Middle East issue. We are also dismayed by the current escalation of violence in the Middle East but we believe that this issue is best dealt with in other more appropriate forum. The UN Security Council, of which Singapore is a non-permanent member, has been seized with the issue. We have urged the Security Council to help the parties to implement the Mitchell Report, which both sides have accepted, and support and bolster the ongoing diplomatic efforts by key parties in the Middle East peace process such as the US and regional countries, so as to advance the prospects of just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East within the framework of the various relevant UNSC resolutions and the Oslo Peace Accord.

13 Discussions on racism are often emotional. All states should demonstrate consideration and empathy towards the feelings of affected parties. While no "grand solution" to racism exists, it is our belief that there is much we can do, both at the international and national level to work towards its eventual elimination. We hope that all delegates will make
substantive progress in the next few days ahead. We wish this Conference every success.

Thank You.