Secretary-General of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, Secretary of State, Head of the Swiss Delegation
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban, South Africa
31 August - 7 September 2001
Secretary General of the United Nations
President of the Republic of South Africa
Madam President of the World Conference
President of the General Assembly of the United Nations
Madam High Commissioner of Human Rights and Secretary General of the World Conference
Head of Delegations
Representatives from countries all over the world are meeting in South Africa to face up to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The Swiss Delegation would like to thank the President of the Republic of South Africa and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for inviting us to attend this landmark conference and for the huge amount of preparatory work they have done.
In Durban we are in a symbolic place, as South Africa has suffered under a particularly severe form of racism, the state-sponsored separation of the races known as apartheid. South Africa has smashed this inhuman system and is now treading the path of equal treatment and democracy. This fills us with respect and with humility as there is probably no country where racism, discrimination and xenophobia have been completely overcome.
Racism is an attack on the rule of law and on all of us. This means looking in the mirror and facing our prejudices and our dark sides, individually and in society as a whole. It means facing the fact that the state can become the perpetrator and that victims can be subjected to painful forms of discrimination even in a democratic country. The victims of violence and social exclusion want to be heard and recognised. Only after this mutual recognition will perpetrators and victims be able to rid themselves of their roles and go forward together into the future. A shining example of this has been provided in South Africa by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
This world conference is an opportunity to take stock, but above all it represents an obligation for us all. Countries will be measured by the strength of their commitment, after Durban, to seriously combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Future generations will cast a critical eye on the credibility and coherence of our actions today and in the future.
This ambitious, but justified expectation of the conference requires many things from us, the conference participants: We must not weaken in our commitment until final documents have been adopted that contain binding policy statements that oblige us to implement sustainable measures. Thus, discussing these documents, we must constantly bear in mind the challenge involved in implementing the measures in our own countries.
In doing so, we must always take due account of the three levels - government, society and the individual - and of the interplay between these three levels. The alertness and courage of the individual provides just as much protection from racism as specific measures by government. In terms of private law, the challenge to society comes in areas such as access to employment and property rentals. Only when the three levels are interlinked will we be able to overcome racism and discrimination.
A particular concern of ours is to work in partnership with non-governmental organisations. They keep an eye on us, the government representatives. This is good because it is their role to do so. They have an excellent knowledge in their field of activity which supplements ours and often produces imaginative solutions. But however desirable it may be to cooperate closely with the NGOs, we must not instrumentalise them and still less burden them with solving problems that are for governments to tackle.
So what does this mean in practice? A few examples should illustrate our view.
- We want to ensure that victims are protected from racism. In order to achieve this, it is not enough to ratify international instruments; they must be implemented through internal legislation. Consulting bodies and help lines open to the public must be set up and maintained, funds provided for them and consultants trained. Switzerland's experience of prosecuting racist acts as an ex officio offence has been positive so far, as it enables witnesses and interested organisations to report an incident to the authorities, who are then obliged to take action. The Swiss government has therefore recently decided to adopt Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which guarantees that individuals can petition the UN Committee, thereby strengthening the rights of those concerned to institute proceedings.
- Offences by judicial authorities and enforcement agencies against people of different ethnicity, origin, religion or colour must be prevented. This calls for clear codes of conduct for front-line personnel in the police and in the penal system, but also that such offences be outlawed by their political superiors. This calls furthermore for intensive, long-term educational work to be carried out in the training programmes of these agencies.
- We want to stop the spread of racist attitudes. To do so politicians must be joined by the media and both bear a great deal of responsibility. Freedom of speech and the media must not be abused at the expense of other human rights. Effective remedies can be developed in cooperation with professional bodies and non-governmental organisations. In our country, for example, the Swiss Press Complaints Authority has issued recommendations for refusing to publish racist and anti-Semitic letters to the editor.
- We commit ourselves to protect women more effectively from multiple discrimination. As a first step, this means giving women themselves a voice and ensuring that government agencies hear and consider such voice. It means being more watchful of racist exclusions and acts that also discriminate against women.
- All age groups should have equal access to education and training. We must fight against the tendency to see immigrants as a burden on the educational system and, moreover, must grant them equal opportunity in terms of education and employment. By doing so and by promoting individual skills, we can build a more cohesive community.
- Only those who repeatedly examine their past and do not simply push aside the critical aspects can face the future anew. This can be a painful process, but it is a necessary one - as we in Switzerland have recently learned by coming to terms with our past in the World War Two era. We have learned how important it is to remember the Holocaust/Shoa and its victims: the Jews, the Sinti, the Roma and all the other groups branded as not deserving to live by the Nazi regime. And remembering means bearing responsibility. In this spirit, we must also look critically at the injustice of colonialism and slavery.
- Referring to yet another area, we witness that the Internet is a new challenge for all of us. How can we stop the spread of racist sites on the Internet with international cooperation and agreements? Cyberspace should not be allowed to be lawless territory where racist acts can be committed with impunity.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished Delegates, many tasks lie ahead of us. This conference is of key importance. The struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance concerns our most precious values and assets: humanity and human dignity. What we make of this conference - our conference - is therefore of huge significance!
I would like to end by recalling what Mary Robinson said in Strasbourg in October 2000: "I would like everyone to face up to the origins of racism and discrimination, to come to terms with the legacy of history, including slavery, pogroms, the brutalities of colonialism, genocide. I hope there will be a particular focus on issues of gender and racism. And I would like it to strengthen our resolve to reshape our identity in the modern world as inclusive, multicultural, multiracial communities where everyone is treated on an equal footing."
The expectations have been clearly stated. Let us act as one, and do all in our power to live up to them.