Dr Iftikahar Ahmad Ayaz O.B.E
Head of Delegation Tuvalu
World Conference Against Racism , Racial Discrimination , Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban , South Africa, September 2001
Madam President, Excellencies Distinguished Delegates Ladies and Gentlemen
I bring greetings to you and the delegations to this world conference from the government and people of Tuvalu , a small sovereign Island State in the Central Pacific.
I congratulate you on your election as the President of this conference and through you I would like to congratulate the government and the people of South Africa for hosting this conference and giving everyone a most enjoyable and memorable experience of traditional African hospitality. Indeed, there could be no better choice for a World Conference Against Racism , Racial Discrimination , Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
The convergence of the World Conference here is symbolic in honoring your people who gallantly fought Racism and won a glorious victory against apartheid and pay tribute to those who steadfastly went through a long period of painful suffering , humiliation ,and sacrifices and especially those who laid their lives for this great cause to revive the dignity and destiny of not only Africa , but the entire world.
I wish there was a special monument dedicated to commemorate all those valiant daughters and sons of your land who laid their lives in the fight against Racism for the inspiration of our and future generations.
Today , South Africa stands out as a beacon of hope , inspiration and encouragement for those who are still striving to free themselves from the shackles of this monstrous evil.
While we have entered this new century with a passionate hope of further strengthening our bonds of humanity in a world of equality justice ,peace ,harmony and sustainable living for all , our hope will remain hope until we have successfully cleansed our societies of racism.
It is therefore vital for the world community to stem the
horrific damage racism is causing to our societies and the serious threat it
is imposing upon the realization of peace.
We need unity and solidarity at all levels for the achievement of peace and racism is the most lethal divisive device. As long as racism exists , we can never have the conditions required for the nurturing and flourishing of peace.
In this respect , it would be pertinent to remind ourselves of the very first article of the UN Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice which states : " All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity."
The Secretary General of the LJN had perhaps this in mind when in his opening address to the conference , he said : " Let us remember that no one is born a racist. Children learn racism as they grow up from the society around them."
That brings to my mind the young soldier in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical play , "South Pacific", who has fallen in love with a Polynesian girl , makes the point in lamenting their forced separation for racial reasons. He tearfully tells her in song that:
"you've got to be carefully taught before it's too late before you are six or seven or eight
to hate all the people your relatives hate you've got to be carefully taught "
No doubt , human nature in its purity is a fountain of love for all and hatred for none. Children are taught racism as they grow up. Racism and Xenophobia are diametrically opposed to everything that the UN stands for in terms of human dignity , mutual respect , and understanding and citizenship in the broadest sense. Societies today are mufti-cultural and mufti-ethnic , and their diversity , as reflected by the range of different cultures and traditions is a positive and enriching factor.
The fight against racism and xenophobia goes hand in hand with the promotion of a society for all , which actively encourages integration and full participation.
The Commonwealth endeavors and successes in this respect are impressive. While the prime responsibility for combating racism lies with Member States , the transnational dimension of the problem justifies collective action. The right of equal treatment and freedom from discrimination is one of the core principles and common values underlying the process of world integration. However , in our world of today , the problems of race and racism loom large ; men and women still are deprived of basic human rights and dignity because of their race. It is a cause of profound concern that in many societies , large categories of people still are the victims of deeply rooted and persistent discrimination ; are deemed inferior and thus excluded for reasons related to race , birth ,ethnic origin ,social structures , culture and religion. Racism and Xenophobia continue to present a major challenge to our societies.
This is borne out by continuing high levels of racist incidents and discrimination. More worrying is the growing number of organizations and people who openly describe themselves as `racist'. Dissatisfaction with their life circumstances ,fear of unemployment , insecurity about the future and low confidence in the way public authorities and the political establishment work in their country are the main characteristics of those who put themselves at the top of the racist scale.
We must do whatever needs to be done to alleviate this situation and if we are serious about racism we should not allow legal registration of any racist groups or organizations in our countries. In the name of democracy and freedom of expression we should not let the racists degenerate and disintegrate our societies.
Societies that are driven along racial or ethnic lines rarely stand a chance of succeeding . There is also the need to address and to foster economic development to reduce poverty , which lies at the heart of racism.
Poverty is not only an issue of economics , it impacts upon
the overall quality and morale of a society and can easily become an instrument
for the victimization of disadvantaged groups. Included in these disadvantaged
groups are the indigenous people. Failure to recognize the indigenous people
and to accord them with the appropriate rights , make it impossible for them
to maintain their way of life . There is a moral duty to repair massive , gross
or systematic violations of basic human rights and to restore the respect and
harmony between people for the sake of justice and integrity.
We also have the responsibility towards ensuring that our children are educated and brought up in an environment free from racism.
Racism , racial discrimination , xenophobia and related intolerance can have profound and lasting impact on the lives of children. As much as we should reflect on the role of education in fighting discrimination against children , in particular children belonging to vulnerable groups and to set up a program of action that helps to fight all forms of discrimination against children.
There is a need to focus on the victims of racism and strengthen the role of the civil society. There is a need for the mobilization of public opinion to discuss the issues which give rise to racism and create an awareness of how it can be combated.
In this regard there is need to look inward and identify and condemn and act on practices where our own people discriminate against our own people - even bully and brutalize each other. Let's accept the realities under our own eyes and our own feet and deal with them effectively. In this age and time , media resources have a profound impact upon societies. It is therefore vital that where media is promoting racial prejudices , authorities should correct erroneous information disseminated by newspapers , Internet or television.
For this conference to be a success , governments must commit to concrete national and global programmes to stamp out racism.
For that , UN must assign additional budgetary resources to the Commission for Human Rights to be able to strengthen its infrastructures to provide an effective servicing and monitoring unit to ensure the implementation of the Action Plan at all levels.
The defeat of racism is going to be no less than a revolution transforming our world into the peaceful harmonious abode we aspire for. We must rise to the demands of this challenge and cast the last blow to racism.
In the past , acting together in solidarity , we moved mountains. We defeated colonialism. We defeated slavery and subjugation. We have now to be on our way to defeat racism. But there is still much to be accomplished. That is why we mustn't rest on our laurels but move on and act with unprecedented force against racism.
Madam President, I thank you.