Durban, South Africa, 31August - 7 September 2001

September 2, 2001

Madame Chairperson,
Yours Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to represent UNESCO's DirectorGeneral at this first major human rights conference of the 21St century. The Director-General who is unable to attend the Conference asked me to convey to you his wishes of success and his hope that the Conference will mark a decisive step in ending racism and xenophobia.

Madame Chairperson,

As early as 1948, UNESCO initiated a programme which, through the dissemination of scientific facts, established the fallacious nature of racist theories. The results of the work of eminent experts convened by UNESCO were summarized in four statements on the question of race.' These statements elucidated the genesis of theories of racial superiority. They emphasized that the biological differentiation of races does not exist and that the obvious differences between populations living in different geographical areas of the world should be attributed to the interaction of historical, economic, political, social and cultural factors rather than biological ones.

Science - modern genetics in particular - has constantly affirmed the unity of the human species, and denied that the notion of `race' has any foundation. In the words of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, `the human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity'. This Declaration was adopted unanimously at the 29th session of UNESCO's General Conference on the 11th of November 1997, and then by the United Nations General Assembly on the 9t" of December 1998, as part of the celebration marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet racism and racial discrimination have hardly vanished; Indeed, they have not only survived the scientific deconstruction of the concept of `race' but even seem to be gaining ground in most parts of the world. In the age of globalisation, this situation may seem paradoxical
One of the major obstacle to the eradication of racism and xenophobia has been for too long the practice of DENIAL. Denial of responsibility over past deeds, denial of the plight of today's victims and denial regarding future threats.

It starts in the distant past with the denial of the inherent dignity and equal worth of all human beings. This led to the repeated pogroms against Jews throughout Europe culminating in the Nazi so-called final solution and the Holocaust. It was present in the conquest of the Americas, the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the destruction of their civilizations. Thereafter the search for new labour generated the abomination of the Atlantic slave trade, codified and enacted by European powers, leading to the enslavement of the African people, Statement on Race, 1950, Statement on the Nature of Race Differences, 1951 ; Statement on the Biological Aspects of Race, 1964 ; and Statement on Race and Racial Prejudice, 1967.

followed by colonisation and exploitation of the lands and peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia and to the creation of the Apartheid system.
This sombre period of history is fortunately behind us now. From its ashes arose the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with its promise of NEVER AGAIN and with its guarantee of universal and indivisible human rights for all irrespective of race, colour, sex, language, religion, opinion or economic status.

The past should not be buried, however, that is why UNESCO initiated in 1994 the Slave Route Project. The two main aims of the project are to study the ultimate causes and modalities of the slave trade and slavery and to measure its consequences. UNESCO aims to give a rigorous scientific character to a variety of programmes dealing with historical truth, peace, development, human rights, memory and intercultural dialogue. UNESCO's actions will also focus on education, from which the slave trade was long entirely left out. New research and teaching are needed to establish the universality of this event and familiarise the world with a major historical dimension of racism and the massive violation of human rights. Truth indeed is the surest first path to healing.

As to the second path, in a landmark resolution earlier this month, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights drew the "attention of the international community to the cases of massive and flagrant violations of human rights which should be considered as crimes against humanity and which have, to date, benefited from impunity, in spite of the tragic suffering which slavery, colonialism and wars of conquest have inflicted on numerous peoples of the world".

We look forward to this Conference to bring closure to the deep wounds of the past in order to allow us to deal firmly with contemporary forms of racism.

For more than fifty years, the international community - governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, human rights defenders - has been striving to affirm the principle of non-discrimination in daily practice.

Yet racism and xenophobia continue to infect all societies around the globe. Everywhere, the victims continue to endure the most; their plight and suffering are ignored, while the powerful behave as they please. From the 250 millions Dalits of South Asia to the African Americans and indigenous peoples of the Americas; From the Romas and migrant workers of Europe to the ethnic minorities of Africa; From the Black Africans in the Arab world to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the effect of discrimination is to lock them up into a vicious cycle of poverty.

In the globalized market economy where poverty is a sad reality for one third of the world population, the poor are deprived of equal access to education, jobs, housing, medical care, and much more. There is a vicious circle. The poor cannot afford quality education, which is becoming increasingly privatised and increasingly expensive. As a result, they only have access to low-paying jobs, they cannot afford better housing because of prohibitive prices... Members of certain ethnic or national groups are those who most frequently, if not systematically, suffer from poverty and its consequences.

In view of the persistence of discriminatory attitudes and practices, the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, Austria, June 1993) stipulated that the elimination of racism and racial discrimination - particularly in its institutionalised forms - is a primary objective for the international community2. It urged all governments to take immediate measures and to develop strong policies to prevent and combat all forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance where necessary by the enactment of appropriate legislation, including penal measures, and by the establishment of national institutions to combat such phenomena.

UNESCO takes an active part in these efforts. Inspired by the provisions of its Constitution, UNESCO - in all its fields of competence, namely education, sciences, culture, communication and information - has undertaken action which seeks to: "further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion".

Through renewed initiatives in the fields of education for all, the promotion of cultural diversity and pluralism, dialogue among civilizations and a new programme of research and action on poverty as a human rights violation, UNESCO is committed to the ideal of a world free from discrimination, free from fear and free from want. Vienna Programme of Action, paragraph 19 Vienna Programme of Action, paragraph 20. Still we need to be vigilant in the face of contemporary scientific progress.

The gene revolution, has raised great hopes but also frightening questions. Can life be reduced to a simple commodity? In the temptation to perfect our species, are we not seeing the return of eugenics, more specifically a commercial form of eugenics that threatens to crate a `twotrack humanity? Have the risks been properly understood concerning humanity's dream of taking control of itself - or should we say, of being controlled by those who master the new procedures? Does the progress in modern genetics not threaten to lead one day to that `brave new world' prophesied by Aldous Huxley, with a new species of genetically engineered `supermen' dominating the masses of `subhumans' who will either be excluded from the new `genetic paradise' or themselves be genetically manipulated for the purposes of social control or more complete exploitation?

More than ever, ethics need to keep step with scientific progress and technological applications, so that they do not lead to new forms of discrimination. It must be determined whether there is a risk in identifying characteristic gene sequences in populations living in a given geographic area: could this lead to the use of data for purposes of racial or ethnic discrimination? Is there not a risk that the new techniques of human reproduction will lead to the selection of embryos - and thereby to discrimination? Moreover, research on the human genetic heritage could increase the temptation to deny the existence of human liberty.

Safeguards must be established to prevent misapplications of the new genetics, which are now entirely possible, and to protect humanity from the spread of new techniques informed by genetic racism and discrimination. There is a danger that humanity's old demons will come back if groups are allowed to be stigmatised as genetically "less capable". The risk of eugenics and the manipulation of the human species is greater than ever. A bioethical framework must be established at the national and international level in order to deal with this gravest of dangers for human rights, and an international forum for monitoring and debate should be set up to protect the human species from the possible misuses of technological and scientific applications, and their economic and commercial exploitation, such is the task of the International Bioethics Committee established by UNESCO.


UNESCO's Constitution stipulates that "Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed". Similarly, respect for others and acceptance of the right to be different should be built in the minds of human beings to replace hostile, discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes. Combining legislative and political measures should make the principle of non-discrimination a daily reality in societies which are becoming increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

I can assure you that UNESCO will work actively to achieve this goal in close cooperation with other UN bodies and specialised agencies, other intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and with all interested partners.

It is our duty as international organizations set up to pursue justice, human rights and peace, to alert governments and civil societies in order to bring closure to the past, confront present ills and make the future better. The world can be a better place for all. It is not a matter of means, it is a matter of will.

Thank you.