Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, Dr N.C. Dlamini Zuma on behalf of the African Group, Durban Review Conference, Palais des Nations, Geneva, 20 April 2009 

Mr President,
Secretary-General of the United Nations,
High Commissioner for Human Rights, 
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the honour to make this statement on behalf of the African Group. We congratulate you, Mr President, on your election to preside over this important Conference.  Our appreciation also goes to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for her leadership in this process.

We Africans have first hand experience of the pernicious and the egregious impact of slavery, slave trade, colonialism, apartheid and genocide. Significantly, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) was adopted in a country which for decades struggled against the direct effects of discrimination and oppression on the basis of race and colour.

We viewed the DDPA as an inspiration that would define the 21st Century as the century that restored to all, their human dignity. It provided a solid and concrete basis for every country to develop its own measures to combat all forms of racism, and to strengthen the protection regime for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. As in 2001, we meet again still concerned with the scourge of racism. We recognise that racism demeans human dignity, is an affront to the self-worth of individuals and has far-reaching impact on its victims.

Mr President,

We are pleased with the steps taken by the various governments, international organisations and civil society in the implementation of the DDPA. We applaud those who have apologised, expressed remorse, restituted cultural artefacts and paid reparations for these violations. We commend those initiatives undertaken to restore the dignity of the victim and set in motion a process towards healing and reconciliation. We take pride in the decision by the Caribbean Community to construct at the United Nations Headquarters, a permanent memorial in acknowledgement of the tragedy and in consideration of the legacy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Whilst we recognize the progress made since 2001, it is clear that there are still major challenges facing us all in pursuit of the noble ideas that were agreed in the DDPA. Racism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This calls for continuous vigilance from all of us. We have observed in my own country, with the xenophobic incidents recently, that even with the best intentions racism and related intolerances continue to be a challenge. What is crucial is the political will and the steps taken to address these challenges.

Mr President,

Many commitments remain unfulfilled. Poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion and economic disparities continue to affect millions of people in many parts of the world. In our Continent, people still lack access to basic services such as water, energy, housing, health care facilities, sanitation and means of assuring food security. These challenges, now aggravated by the current global financial crisis, are real and immediate. The commitments made in Durban, in particular those that called upon developed states, the United Nations as well as the international financial institutions, to support amongst others, NEPAD programmes, debt relief and the internationally agreed development goals, should be fulfilled with greater urgency.

Immediately after the WCAR and even before we could commence with the implementation of the DDPA, terrorists struck in various parts of world including New York and Bali, which we all condemned. Unfortunately, we note that the fight against terrorism has led to the diminishing of civil liberties and an intensification of racial profiling. This has resulted in the erosion, in some parts of the world, of the established international legal frameworks, as well as other international commitments.

We believe strongly that it should be possible to wage the fight against terrorism and the fight against racism concurrently. It is not acceptable that the fight against terrorism should undermine the struggle against racism. Terrorists need to be seen for what they are, individuals or groups of individuals, rather than representing broad religious and cultural communities.

We remain concerned at the surge of incidents relating to the incitement to racial and religious hatred. In this regard, we should learn from the lessons of the past. Incitement by the Nazis contributed and led to the tragedy of the Holocaust. Similarly, in Rwanda in 1994, propaganda and incitement to hatred by Radio Mille Collines, other media and politicians led to the genocide where close to a million Rwandese, mostly Tutsis lost their lives in 3 months.

Mr President,

It is clear that we still need to work hard to ensure that there is no impunity for mass violations of human rights, in particular those declared crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, consistent with the DDPA. It is regrettable that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are still among the root causes of armed conflict in the world.

These various manifestations of racism and racial discrimination also find expression in the continued oppression of women and girls. History shows us that no society can fulfil its full potential without the emancipation and empowerment of women. Women are still the poor and the downtrodden of the world.

As we meet in Geneva, in this Durban Review Conference, we must reaffirm the need for political will and recommit ourselves to the goals and objectives of the DDPA.  We must acknowledge that people all over the world continue to suffer from the effects of racism and racial discrimination. It beholds all of us to fulfil our responsibility and obligation to safeguard and protect the rights of individuals against racism and racial discrimination.

The African Group continues to express grave concern about the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. It has inflicted untold suffering on the victims of the violence. We therefore call on all parties to exercise restraint and continue negotiations towards a peaceful settlement.

Mr President,

It is regrettable that some UN Member States chose not to participate in this Conference. This is despite the fact that they also face the same challenges in addressing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Events in the past few years indicate that no country is immune from incidents of racism. Attempts were made throughout the preparatory process to reach a balanced and consensual outcome that accommodates all the concerns expressed by delegations. For the sake of victims of racism and racial discrimination all over the world, in developed and developing countries, we hope that they will implement the DDPA.

We express our appreciation to the Member States, the Chair of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) as well as the Chair of the Intersessional Working Group for their determined efforts throughout the process to work towards a successful conference.

We are pleased that we shall leave this historic global Review Conference with a strong reaffirmation that all peoples and individuals constitute one human family, united in our diversity. We strongly reject any doctrine of racial superiority.

Mr President,

In conclusion, I had the privilege to preside over the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance whose outcome is an embodiment of the aspirations of people all over the world. Many of us would not have been in this hall today, had we not struggled against and overcame slavery, colonialism, racism and apartheid. With the support of all the progressive people in the world, we can eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, oppression and gender discrimination wherever they still exist.

I thank you.

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