Statement by H.E. Mona Sahlin

Minister of Industry, Employment and


World Conference against

Racism, Racial Discrimination,

Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

[Durban 31 August – 7 September]


Mr President,

Your Excellencies,
Heads of State and Government,

Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Ambassadors,

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

My Government is very grateful to the Government of South Africa for hosting this important Conference. It is appropriate and perhaps no coincidence that we are meeting here today to discuss racism. The tragedy of discrimination on the basis of colour has nowhere been more clearly shown than in apartheid South Africa. And indeed, apartheid was a system that could not be reformed. It had to be abolished. In his last foreign policy speech, the former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme stated this, and added "If the rest of the world decides, if people all over the world decide that apartheid is to be abolished, the system will disappear".

Sweden worked for the isolation of the apartheid regime. We supported the struggle against apartheid. We supported the unique Truth and Reconciliation effort made in South Africa, we are partners with the new democratic government of South Africa in reform and development. We think it is appropriate that we learn from the South African experience as we continue to guard against all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

These are serious threats to the future of all humanity. Unfortunately, no country in the world is free of these scourges. Governments have the primary responsibility for fighting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. But the shared responsibility of the international community must also be emphasised. If we cannot create a world in which everyone is respected and treated equally, we will endanger the future of every individual.

This conference is perhaps the greatest manifestation ever of the international community's determination to act against these four evils. What we say and decide here in Durban will inspire people all over the world to make greater efforts to achieve more just societies. The world conference will be a strong mobilising factor to this end.

But what we do not say and decide here in Durban is equally important. We must not allow differences of opinion to hinder us in our task of giving concrete direction for continued efforts throughout the world to counteract different forms of intolerance. We must not fail to grasp this historic opportunity.

The point of departure must be our joint ambition to create societies where all individuals have the same rights and are treated equally regardless of race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation or any other status.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express our regrets that this conference has been overshadowed by current conflict situations. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed in her statement of yesterday, I believe that this conference is not the right forum to sort out the different problems on the international agenda.

This Conference is about combating contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In doing this we must also deal with history and, however difficult and painful, confront our past. This is important to all of us, not only for reconciliation but also for healing and for building bridges to the future. The grave consequences of past injustices emanating from slavery, slave trade and colonialism are still felt and there are many unhealed wounds.

Regrettably, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in Sweden, as in many other countries, have found more and more aggressive expression. In recent years we have witnessed an increase in violence and harassment against immigrants, homosexuals, Jews and Roma. We have seen journalists, policemen and politicians attacked. We are extremely concerned about this development, which is an attack not only on these individuals but also on our democratic society and our fundamental belief in the concept of the equal worth of all people.

Governments have the primary responsibility for working to oppose and combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The Swedish Government regards this task as one of its most important duties. Efforts to strengthen commitment have been vigorously pursued for many years.

In this context I would like to stress that it is utterly important that all anti-racist policies must be gender-sensitive, since racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance affect women and men in different ways.

One way of achieving this commitment is through the adoption of national action plans ensuring that concerted efforts become more effective, more long-term and more structured. In February 2001, the Swedish Government adopted such a national action plan against racism, xenophobia, homophobia and discrimination. The purpose of the plan is to mobilise the whole of society at all levels - government agencies, local and county council authorities, trade union and employer organisations, companies and business associations, NGOs and the general public - in order to fight for a Swede n where each individual is respected, regardless of colour, ethnic or national origin, religious belief or sexual orientation.

Education and a raising of awareness are essential tools in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In this regard, I would like to mention the Living History project, initiated by the Swedish Prime Minister. The project aims at increasing awareness of history and of how the past, the present and the future are intimately related. It aims at making sure that younger generations do not forget about the past. A book informing about the horrors of the Holocaust has been offered to every schoolchild. Building on this project, the Swedish Government plans to set up a "centre of excellence" in order to support the promotion of democracy, tolerance and human rights. As examples of the Swedish Government's contribution to international cooperation in this area, let me also mention the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, held in January 2000, and the Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance, held in January, 2001.

Our common efforts, based on international solidarity and partnership, are important tools for combating poverty and promoting a sustainable development. They will ensure that all countries are integrated into the world economy. This will contribute towards preventing the vicious circle of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Mr/Madam Chair

Individuals may suffer from discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. Finally, let me draw your attention to individuals whose situation is aggravated by the fact that they suffer discrimination on other grounds also, such as their sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation represents an important part of a person's identity, as does gender or ethnic background. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. For the Swedish Government it is self-evident that all human beings must be treated equally, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Sexual relations between people of the same gender are criminal offences in more than 70 countries and in some of these, the death penalty is imposed. Violence by the police and other representatives of the state is common. Violations by "ordinary people" at school, in the workplace or on the street are also often reported.

Mr/Madam Chair

I would like to quote from a recent Amnesty International report: "In the case of gays, history and experience teach us that the scarring comes not from poverty or powerlessness, but from invisibility. It is the tainting of desire, it is the attribution of perversity and shame to spontaneous bodily affection, it is the prohibition of the expression of love, it is the denial of full moral citizenship in society because you are what you are, that impinges on the dignity and self-worth of a group."

Hatred and contempt against people because of their sexual orientation is common among extreme right wing and racist groups. Constantly homosexuals and people with foreign background are both target groups for hate crime among many racists. Protection and the rights of these people must be strengthened.

I am convinced that some time in the future, people will be respected for what they are, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Mr/Madam Chairman

On behalf of the Swedish Government, I would like to extend our sincere appreciation and congratulations to the Government of South Africa for its role in preparing and hosting this conference.

We are confident that it will prove to be a landmark in global efforts to promote a better world for all people. But we must also remember that the conference, and what we decide here, is only the beginning of our work. The long-term success of this conference will depend on ourselves. ,It is up to all of us, when we return home, to do all that we can to realise the promises made in Durban. We owe this to ourselves, to our children and to the generations to come.

Thank you very much.