31 August 2001


NEW YORK, 30 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a speech given by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Durban today, at the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum running parallel to the Racism Conference:

Thank you for that heart-warming welcome, and thank you all for being here. A special thank you to our South African hosts. I am sure we all agree that there could be nowhere more appropriate than the new South Africa for the world to be meeting to discuss racism and how to overcome it. This country has given the whole world a wonderful example.

We should never forget that it was civil society that took the lead in the struggle against apartheid. Nor should we forget that it was an international struggle, which mobilized people all over the world. You could almost say that it marked the beginning of global civil society.

So I think it is entirely appropriate that you, who represent global civil society today, have come here to give guidance and inspiration to the official delegates who will be meeting in the Conference tomorrow.

Indeed, no United Nations conference is complete without its NGO Forum. Gatherings like this are the best answer to our critics, and perhaps one of the best reasons for having UN conferences at all.

So often it is you, the civil society activists, who breathe life into these events. Sometimes it is also you who bring clarity, because you can discuss openly those awkward issues that governments have to avoid, or to blur, in the interests of reaching consensus.

Each conference helps to reveal the global dimension of a problem, and thereby creates new networks -- bringing new participants from many countries into a common debate, and sometimes leading to a worldwide campaign.

I believe that is happening here.

I see here in this hall representatives of new constituencies, which for the first time are discovering the United Nations as an arena where they can bring their concerns. I mean such groups as:

the Roma or Sinti from Europe;
the victims of discrimination based on work and descent, from South Asia, Japan and West Africa;
the people of African descent from the Americas;
and organizations of migrant workers.

I also see groups which up to now have focused on many different issues -– poverty, HIV/AIDS or other disabilities, youth, gender, trafficking and prostitution, religious intolerance, conflict, the environment, and, of course, human rights and the rights of minorities.

You are here because you have discovered that racism intersects with every one of those issues. It aggravates every other form of oppression and discrimination. As long as it persists, the disadvantaged have little hope of escape.

For over a year now, during the long run-up to this Conference, you have been interacting with each other, and some of you have found that you had more in common than you thought. At the Santiago meeting, for instance, the indigenous peoples of Latin America and those of African descent sat together at the same round table.

Many of you, I know, feel that your concerns are not properly represented in the Conference itself. And you fear that they will not be reflected adequately –- or perhaps at all -- in the Declaration and Programme of Action.

But your anger and frustration can be valuable in themselves, if you channel them into the creation of a worldwide anti-racist movement, in which all your different struggles will converge.

The important thing is not the degree of formal recognition you achieve in the conference hall, but what you do when you get back home.

Texts adopted in conference halls will not change anything, unless people like you work with governments to follow them up, and to ensure that they are implemented.

You must set benchmarks by which to measure whether governments are living up to their word.

You must speak out against stereotyping wherever it occurs.

And you must shine a spotlight into the dark corners where racism lurks, in every society.

Some of them are to be found in the world of employment and commerce, which is one of the most important fronts in the battle against discrimination. That is why tomorrow, under the aegis of the Global Compact on corporate citizenship that I launched two years ago, Mary Robinson and I will be holding a discussion on racism with employers and trade unions. We must make them aware of their responsibilities, and enlist them as allies in our struggle.

Perhaps you could also work together to produce an annual report on the struggle against racism, to which different groups in each country would contribute. I mean a report that highlights not only violations but also success stories, so that practices which have worked against racism and intolerance in one country can be tried in others too.

Our greatest hope of change lies in the rise of a new generation, free from the fears and prejudices of the old. So the biggest responsibility falls on parents and teachers, and on those who write textbooks, or plan school curricula.

They must see to it that children are taught to take pride and pleasure in diversity, and not to recoil whenever they see someone whose habits or appearance are different from their own.

And you young people yourselves must take the lead in forming the attitudes of your peers.

Yes, my friends -- it is people’s attitudes, and the way we treat each other, that needs to change, in every country. And whether that happens depends above all on you.

So it’s probably more important for me to hear what you have to say, than for you to go on listening to me. Ask me questions if you like, and I will do my best to answer. But please let me also hear what you expect from this Conference, and -– above all -- what you intend to do about it when you get home!

Thank you very much.

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