Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, South Africa, 1 September 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased and honoured to join you in Durban for this singularly important event. Over many decades, UNHCR protected and assisted hundreds of thousands of refugees from openly racist regimes in this very region. The fact that we are gathered together for this Conference in a democratic South Africa demonstrates the great distance we have travelled in just a few short years.
Colonialism and apartheid are over and the divisive and dangerous Cold War has also drawn to a close. Yet - even at the dawn of the 21st Century - our dreams of a more unified and inclusive world remain unrealised.
Globalisation does not deliver a more unified and inclusive world. On the contrary, it creates new rifts and fault lines within our common human family. We see more - not fewer - insidious insidious national, ethnic, religious, social and cultural distinctions being drawn between people and dividing them from each other.
As High Commissioner for Refugees, I have 22 million persons of concern to me. More than 20 million. How come?
More effective prevention is needed, one says. Yes, certainly. The leaders of failed states and warlords bear a great responsibility for civil wars. But it is also fair to say that many conflicts are nurtured by certain aspects of today's market-oriented global economy. Violence and civil wars are fuelled by weapons - products of market economies. When warlords need arms, it is not too difficult to obtain the necessary resources by illegally exporting diamonds, oil or other natural resources. Those who wage these dirty wars do so with impunity, often taking advantage of child soldiers and innocent civilians. Global organised crime - human smuggling in particular - is also on the rise and presents a particular threat. Therefore, no impunity. No impunity and an agenda for peace. Prevention does not start with diplomacy. It begins with respect. Respect for people. For all, with all their ethnic, religious, social and cultural diversities.
This Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will only make a difference to the world when it becomes a Conference on Respect - respect for all people in all their diversity.
Democracy is the key to ensuring that different peoples can live together in peace. Democracy is not just about elections. Real democracy makes it possible for different people to accept their differences and to accept to live together. Refugees are often excluded from our democracies. But as the High Commissioner for Refugees, I want to stress that history teaches us that refugees are perfectly capable of becoming good and valuable citizens. It is tempting for politicians to capitalise on primitive sentiments by blaming foreigners - "the others" - for all kinds of problems.
Globalisation did not overcome this tendency to use refugees as "scapegoats". Beware of those politicians who claim to pursue the public cause but simply exploit racial instincts. Let us talk about respect.
This Conference speaks about intolerance. This is important. But it is not enough. We need respect. Respect for each individual. Each human being has to count and is of precious value. Respect goes beyond tolerance. Respect is based upon an appreciation of each individual's dignity and worth. Respect means seeing and appreciating the value of diversity. A culture of respect is the precondition for democracy and for peace.
As High Commissioner for Refugees, I have 22 million persons of concern to me. What to do? Go for durable solutions. But what are durable solutions? First of all, every refugee dreams of going home again - repatriation. For others settling permanently in their country of asylum - local integration - is the best solution. A small number are able to restart their lives in new countries far from their homeland through resettlement.
All of these solutions have something in common: each is only attainable when there is respect - respect for the refugees going home; respect for the refugee as he or she is not a burden but instrumental in local development; respect for the refugee coming from far away because this refugee will be an enrichment to society.
This Conference speaks about the history of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Let us not talk about history. Let us talk about the present and the future. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I am privileged. I see the roots of the evil, of negative powers, but I also see the promising prospects for overcoming these. To overcome misery through respect. Respect is the creative force, the positive power. The power of positive thinking. Respect for each and everyone with all their diversity means peace and a future for each and everyone.