SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE,
MR ZAINUL ABIDIN RASHEED
THE WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED INTOLERANCE
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA
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.