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EUROPEAN CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM
Ms Maria Miguel Sierra, General rapporteur, Forum for non-governmental organisations
Chairman, High Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Forum of NGOs I should like to thank the Council of Europe for allowing a number of representatives of European NGOs to take part in this conference.
I should also like to convey the disappointment of those unable to be here.
Two hundred and fifty representatives have met over two days, comparing notes and exchanging views in five workshops, and helping to draw up a report that sets out their main concerns. I should like now to put on record some of the demands and concerns that the Forum expressed.
In the face of mounting racism, antisemitism, islamophobia and religious intolerance in all its forms, and the sickening success of parties that preach and propagate racist and xenophobic ideologies, we believe that the international community’s countermeasures are inadequate and must be reviewed and improved.
The Forum for NGOs calls on all governments to condemn political parties that preach and propagate racist and xenophobic ideology and demands that they reject all types of collaboration with such parties.
We are concerned about the current forms and effects of globalisation and the policies of international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which worsen the economic and social situation in many countries and force their governments to adopt measures that are in breach of their human rights obligations.
We recognise and are concerned that third-country nationals in Europe suffer institutionalised discrimination. We condemn the laws and policies that create and perpetuate discrimination on the basis of nationality and we demand that governments amend them in order to ensure that third-country nationals enjoy full equality of rights with nationals, including the right to vote.
We condemn the role of European States in perpetuating, or indeed creating, intolerable conditions in the countries migrants and refugees come from and we demand that they end this complicity.
Europe must assume the burden of its history, acknowledge it and learn from it, most importantly with regard to its role in colonialism and slavery, the impact of which is still felt today and feeds racism, discrimination and xenophobia directed at ethnic minorities.
We urge European states to ensure that all individuals or groups who are the victims of racist acts have a right to reparation - in forms such as restitution, compensation, rehabilitation or satisfaction - and to protection against revictimisation. Here we would point to the work done by the Secretary General of the United Nations on the ethical duty of reparation in whatever form towards the victims of slavery and colonialism, and we call on European States to give this aspect of racial discrimination its proper weight in the programme of the World Conference against racism.
Lessons must also be learnt from the Holocaust, for which no European country can deny a measure of responsibility.
We would point out that any effort to combat racism and its various manifestations can only be effective within an overall framework of respect for the protection and achievement of all human rights - whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural - which are universal and indivisible.
We emphasise that everyone is equal before the law and must be entitled to equal protection under the law.
The following points recurred in the various workshop discussions:
NGOs, in particular those representing ethnic minorities, are willing to advise, assist and partner the authorities in combating racism. We are prepared to co-operate in designing, implementing and monitoring legislation, policies, practice and education and training programmes in whatever field.
Reference has been made to the European Union’s recent adoption of a directive aimed at applying the principle of equal treatment irrespective of ethnic or racial origin. It is important to point out that this directive is largely the fruit of efforts by anti-racism organisations. They have campaigned for many years in all the EU countries for legislation of this type to be adopted.
On 4 November 2000 in Rome, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, the 12th Protocol to the Convention will be opened for signature and we would urge all the Council of Europe member States to sign it as soon as possible.
In order to make their expertise available, NGOs need financial resources. We call on governments to step up the fight against racism by granting NGOs and organisations representing victims the funding they need to make their work effective.
We demand that funding be withheld or withdrawn from companies, institutions or public services which fail to observe the principle of non-discrimination or which manifest racism.
Evaluation and monitoring
All laws, policies and practice must be monitored and evaluated to measure their effectiveness and amend them if necessary.
We urge this conference of Council of Europe countries to put in place an action programme with a timetable, establish monitoring machinery and agree to hold a follow-up conference in two years’ time.
Particularly vulnerable groups
Attention must be paid to particularly vulnerable groups, such as women, children, elderly people, Roma, Sinti and Gypsies, and specific measures must be taken for them.
Fundamental rights are not an abstract or insubstantial concept; they must underpin all policy and guide all action taken.
They must be used as yardsticks not only in respect of situations outside Europe but also for measuring and comparing the circumstances of everyone within European States.
Immigration and asylum
I should like to share with you the main conclusions of our workshop on immigration and asylum - subjects which, although unavoidable in any discussion about combating racism, are not (and this I find puzzling) among the workshop topics for the conference.
The root causes of immigration are economic and social inequalities, unequal distribution of resources, war and conflict, and violations of human rights.
Immigration and asylum simply cannot be ignored in action on racism, for there are political parties that use them to justify racist stances and hate-mongering.
We would emphasise once again that human rights are universal and inherently possessed by everyone, irrespective of their origins or circumstances, including those who have no legal documentation.
Every person has the right to live in dignity and thus, if need be, to emigrate, settle in another country and seek work there. This means that all workers, whatever their origin or status, must be recognised as having the full range of social rights and the right to be protected from all forms of exploitation.
In accordance with the principle of human dignity, we demand that detention centres be abolished.
We also call on European countries to set up permanent machinery for regularising immigrants’ status.
We condemn admission policies based on selective criteria that reinforce discrimination and racism.
The title of the Forum for NGOs was “End Racism Now!” and an immediate end to racism is indeed what we want. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the patent reality that right across Europe, from north to south and east to west, parties that promote and incite hatred and racial discrimination are on the rise. Some are already in power and others could soon achieve power.
These sinister voices are no strangers to Europe, as history reminds us.
The Forum for NGOs expects governments to give a number of specific and immediate undertakings.
It expects them to act consistently and responsibly: consistently with the principles they claim to defend and responsibly by firmly and unequivocally opposing anything that conflicts with those principles.
This gathering has been described as representing democratic Europe. European countries should not be too quick to congratulate themselves: Europe may well be democratic but its democracy has many shortcomings and we are here to highlight those shortcomings and help to overcome them.
Some of you will smile and regard us as idealists, harmless fools or dreamers. Let me tell you that we know what we are talking about. We have seen the damage that racism, discrimination and hatred do. Ethnic minorities know the meaning of humiliation, suffering and indignity because they are inflicted on them day in, day out.
Action is needed now - there is no time to lose. There have been too many deaths already, too many families divided, too many children scarred and too many women and men hurt.
The organisations represented at the Forum and many others throughout Europe are already fighting to end this shameful state of affairs; what we want now is a clear signal from you.