TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
the Head of Delegation
His Excellency Mr. Patrick Edwards,
High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to Nigeria
UN World Conference Against Racism
Durban, South Africa, August 31-September 7, 2001
Madame President, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen
I wish to congratulate you, Madam President for your election to the Presidency of this historic conference. Let me also express my appreciation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her dedicated staff for their outstanding contribution to the organisation of this Conference.
I also join the previous speakers in conveying our gratitude to our South African host for the warm reception and continuing hospitality we have received since our arrival in this beautiful country.
My delegation wishes to underscore the symbolic and political importance of the hosting of this World Conference in South Africa, where the struggle and sacrifice to eradicate apartheid engendered international solidarity, culminating in the triumph over one of the most evil manifestations of racism.
This Conference serves as a powerful impetus for positive and determined action by governments and the international community in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Madam President, it was in the fifteenth century that European explorers visited the Caribbean region country and claimed our country as their own. Since that fateful encounter our twin island state has had the experience of changing hands among various European countries. This early influx of colonisers and settlers resulted in the annihilation of the indigenous people and their culture. It set in train the wholesale transportation of people from Africa to our country and the region in what is now recorded in history as the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery.
The end of slavery was followed by the importation and exploitation of people from Asia under the indentureship system.
These events set the stage for the inevitable clash of cultures between peoples of Africa, Europe and Asia, and gave birth to racism and racial exploitation in Trinidad and Tobago.
Madam President, colonialism was more than just a political manifestation of external conquest. It meant re-acculturation in its diverse forms. It involved forced religious conversion, loss of language, destruction of the family unit, and the severing of ties with the lands of our ancestors. But most important of all it was a system based on the most barbarous exploitation of the human being for selfish economic ends.
This dark chapter of our history, spanning almost five hundred years, provided the setting for the diverse ethnic composition of our society, which today consists of peoples from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Despite this tragic past, since independence we have been able to transform our country into a tolerant, harmonious, multiethnic and multicultural society in which every creed and race finds an equal place.
Our success in the management of ethnic diversity can be largely attributed to successive Governments' unwavering commitment to the principles of equality and nondiscrimination. These are fundamental principles of international human rights law which are embodied in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Preamble to our Constitution refers to the "equal and inalienable rights with which all members of the human family are endowed". The Constitution expressly prohibits the practice of discrimination by the State on the basis of an individual's race, origin, colour, religion or sex. These constitutional rights are fully respected and are safeguarded by an independent judiciary.
The Government has implemented several pieces of legislation to buttress these rights enshrined in the Constitution. One outstanding example is the enactment of equal opportunity legislation to prohibit discrimination in both the public and private sectors in the fields inter alia of employment and education, on the grounds of race, ethnicity, and religion among others. The legislation also provides for the appointment of an Equal Opportunity Commission and a Tribunal to investigate allegations of discrimination.
The Government's adherence to the principle of equality of treatment for all ethnic groups is also reflected in the enactment of legislation to give legal recognition to marriages contracted under Hindu, Muslim and Orisha rites. Under the colonial government, Madam President, these marriages were not considered legal, thereby curtailing their civic rights.
Our Government's efforts to preserve and protect diversity are also reflected in its policies towards our few remaining descendants of the indigenous people. For example, the Government provided assistance to the indigenous community for the hosting in our country of the Second Gathering of First Nations' People of the Caribbean region.
In order to educate and increase awareness of the history and contributions of different ethnic groups, our Government has taken the initiative to preserve and protect artefacts and historical sites of the African, Indian and Amerindian communities. One such project involves the restoration of Nelson Island which lies off the coast of Trinidad and which was used as a depot for the transportation of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers.
The Government has publicly recognised the ethnic diversity of our country by declaring national holidays to commemorate days which hold particular religious or cultural significance for the various ethnic groups. These include Emancipation Day, Indian Arrival Day, Eid Ul Fitr, Divali, and Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Liberation Day. This is in addition to the customary observance of Christian religious holidays.
It is significant to note that Trinidad and Tobago has an active Inter Religious Organisation which brings together the diverse religious groups in the country under one body with a view to promoting inter religious harmony.
Madam President, Trinidad and Tobago considers itself to be the quintessential example of the successful management of ethnic and cultural diversity. It can serve as a model for other countries to emulate and I accordingly invite other countries experiencing difficulties in the management of ethnic diversity to visit our country to study the Trinidad and Tobago model.
On the international level however, we firmly believe that racism and racial discrimination cannot be fully eradicated without taking into account the deep wounds which have been inflicted by the slave trade, slavery and indentureship. Indeed, it is only by confronting the atrocities of the past with objectivity that we can prevent their reoccurrence and begin the process of healing and reconciliation.
For these reasons Madame President, we in Trinidad and Tobago share the view expressed by previous speakers that the transatlantic slave trade, slavery, and colonialism must be declared crimes against humanity.
We also call for an apology from those countries which practiced colonialism and slavery.
We endorse the call for reparations and hold the view that there should be an in-depth discussion of this issue by the international community.
We express support for the establishment of an International Centre for Multiracial and Multicultural Studies and Policy Development and the establishment of a programme to restore art objects, historical artefacts and documents to the countries of their origin.
Madame President, racism and racial discrimination have their origins in ignorance and a misconceived notion of racial superiority. It exists where people are ill informed and unaware of the beauty and benefits of diversity.
We firmly believe that education is a powerful tool for eradicating racism and racial discrimination and fostering an appreciation of ethnic diversity. We need to educate present and future generations about the atrocities of the past, for while in a spirit of reconciliation we can forgive, we must never forget.
In closing, Madam President, I wish to reiterate Trinidad and Tobago's commitment to the global fight for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all its forms. This is the only way we can overcome our differences and work together for the advancement of mankind.
Madam President, I thank you.