September 1, 2001

Madam President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,

We, the men, women and families of the United Nations Development Programme, comprising over 160 nationalities and people of every creed, colour and caste, live by a simple idea: Human Development. It is a vision that every individual everywhere, man or woman, girl or boy must have the opportunity to fulfill their potential; that they must have choices, and the power to make them, over how they live.

We consider that credo, which we measure each year in our Human Development Report, as the beating heart of development; it must be built on people and their empowerment.

Yet like any so-called simple idea that aspires to change the world it is less simple than it seems. And as we - and more important the countries we support - have cast ourselves at the barriers that keep the poor down and deny them Human Development, we have taken on everything from the absence of access to health and education, the burden of failing and indebted economies, a collapsing environment, failed states and the lack of effective and accountable institutions of democratic governance or affordable and accessible technologies.

But last year we broadened the discussion and took on an issue that is less a barrier than a floor: Human Rights. We asserted then, and we repeat today, that equality of rights for all is the indispensable foundation on which Human Development must be built.

Yet simply granting such rights in law - and UNDP, together with the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights supports several dozen national human rights institutions across this continent and the world and is committed to meeting the large and growing demand for more help in this area from developing countries - is not enough. Because in many cases a complex, often invisible combination of political, economic, social and cultural knots continue to tie down people of colour, Roma, indigenous peoples, refugees, castes such as Dalits, and other groups.

Our work as a development agency - as captured in a new UNDP policy paper on Indigenous Peoples - has taught us that legal changes are not enough. We must go beyond this to the fuller agenda of Human Development itself. Only when political and economic space can be seized and used by those who are discriminated against will racism end. Because it lies not just in minds but in systems and structures too.

That is the core message of Human Development, and indeed the message of civil society gathered here this week. Exposing Racism; even affirming that as a global society we must condemn it, is a beginning, not an end. We must now go the next step and confront that tangled web of political economy and culture that has for too long, in too many places, allowed discrimination of all kinds to take root, survive and grow. Those knots - some centuries old, others alarmingly new - must be cut. Only then can the excluded rise to their full potential.

Thank You.