[Human Rights] Durban Review Conference
Statement delivered by Amb. Christian Strohal Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN in Geneva, Durban Review Conference, Geneva, 22 April 2009
Madame High Commissioner,
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,
“No one is born a racist. Children learn racism as they grow up, from society around them” – this is how former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan put the challenge to the international community in Durban in 2001.
Racism and discrimination are indeed challenges that affect us all. They appear in different ways and in all parts of the world; they threaten our societies and sometimes even peace and security of entire nations. The international community has been taking a clear stand against racism and discrimination. The United Nations has demonstrated great determination not only in many statements and declarations, but also in developing, nearly half a century ago, a specific international legal instrument, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Also at this conference, representatives of many countries are expressing their resolve in the fight against racism, discrimination and hatred. However, the leader of one country abused this conference as a platform for the dissemination of views that are totally unacceptable. Such an attack on one country runs counter to the very objectives of this conference and must therefore be refuted, as already done by Foreign Minister Spindelegger. Austria rejects categorically any statement promoting intolerance and Anti-Semitism. There must be no place for incitement to hatred anywhere in the world, least of all at the UN.
Racism and discrimination remain a sad reality. Every day, and in all parts of the world, human beings are suffering as a result. Every day spirits are broken, minds are damaged and dignities are violated. The pain it inflicts on victims and the harm it generates for our societies require more efforts, strong leadership and commitment to action. Therefore, it is our obligation to protect those who find themselves in situations of vulnerability and inequality.
We are faced with this distressing situation despite the considerable efforts of many actors – governments, civil society and many international organizations. Austria expresses its full support and cooperation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as to other institutions such as CERD, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Commission against racism and intolerance (ECRI), ODIHR and its special representatives. As we know from our own experience, these independent mechanisms and institutions make an important contribution to advice and support governments in improving and strengthening their efforts to address racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance. Their work is indispensable.
We are here not to make divisive statements, but to assess and review the implementation of the commitments made eight years ago at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban. The adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA) in 2001 was an important step for the international fight against racism and the protection of victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. While progress has been made since, there is a continued need for committed implementation. We would have wished for this conference to assess in more detail concrete examples of good practice of measures and policies in different countries and regions in the implementation of the DDPA and thank those institutions and NGOs who do so in their side-events.
Austria has remained engaged, actively and constructively, throughout the whole preparatory process, including in its more difficult periods, as well as the conference itself. It is also for this reason that we appreciate the agreement found on the outcome document; it represents a good framework for future work in the fight against racism. Our particular gratitude in this regard goes to the chairman of the working group, Mr Yuri Boychenko, as well as to the High Commissioner and her team.
It is clear that the credibility of every country in calling for stronger international measures against racism is closely linked with the status of effective implementation of their own obligations and commitments. I fully subscribe to the statement made on behalf of the EU and its member states describing some of the key activities undertaken at EU level.
Austria is fully committed to the combat against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, nationally and internationally. The Austrian government, together with authorities at the regional and local level, has made concerted efforts in order to ensure an effective implementation of the DDPA. Let me just mention some of our measures taken in recent years.
One of our priorities is training of public officials, both at the federal and the regional level, working in ministries, the judiciary, or the police. Since 2002, the Ministry of Interior together with the Anti-Defamation League have been organizing compulsory training seminars for police officers regarding inter-cultural sensitization under the heading “A World of Difference”. Comprehensive annual training courses on intercultural police work are also offered on a voluntary basis.
A range of seminars on anti-discrimination and the effects of judicial decisions on asylum-seekers have been organized. In 2007, the Viennese police together with the city of Vienna have launched a pioneer project to encourage more persons with migrant backgrounds to apply for jobs with the police. This campaign “Vienna needs you” has received a highly positive response by migrant communities, and is likely to be extended to other parts of Austria.
Several Austrian regions (Länder) formulated and presented guiding models for integration (Integrationsleitbilder) during the period 2006 – 2008, dealing with the integration of migrants and the management of ethnic and cultural diversity. The Austrian government is now embarking on a comprehensive strategy on integration at national level.
Despite all these efforts and achievements, challenges persist in our country, including in public perceptions of diversity and its contribution to society. Authorities are determined to continue our path towards the full implementation of the DDPA.
In order to combat the phenomena of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance effectively it is important to address their root causes. While human diversity, be it cultural, religious or ethnic, contributes with richness to human society, these differences are also being abused to foster hatred and intolerance.
The Holocaust has shown us that this can lead to the destruction of whole communities. Austria feels a specific historical responsibility to apply the lessons of the past and we are committed to fight against Anti-Semitism and all other forms of intolerance. This principle has guided our chairmanship of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF) whose purpose is to place political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance, and research both nationally and internationally.
Like many other countries, Austria has a comprehensive framework of legal standards and institutions in the field of non-discrimination. However, the responsibility of States goes beyond providing a legal framework. They must make every effort to create conditions in order to dry out any breeding ground for intolerance and discrimination; heeding Kofi Annan’s words, this includes, in particular, education not only for tolerance, but for respect of the other.
The role of civil society and especially NGOs is of crucial importance and states should closely work together with these stakeholders in order to increase the effectiveness of the implementation of legislation and policy measures in practice.
It is my firm belief that this review conference will only be successful if it is able to address our real challenges in fighting racism and discrimination, as well as to identify concrete measures to be implemented by all governments, individually and collectively. We should do so here at this conference and in all our respective countries from the moment we leave this hall.
We all must commit ourselves to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance by joining our efforts together and make the world safe for diversity.
I thank you.