European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

Address by Luxembourg Foreign Affairs Minister Lydie POLFER, on the occasion of the Round table « Dialogue against violence », organised by ECRI
Council of Europe, 21 March 2002

"Between the weak and the strong, it is the law that protects and the lack of laws that oppresses"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance deserves to be warmly congratulated for organising this Round Table marking the International Day against Racism. I have the special privilege and honour of having been invited to take the floor in my capacity as Foreign Affairs Minister of the member State soon to take over the Chair of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. I should like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Chair and members of ECRI for giving me this opportunity.

Before I start, I should like to thank the Deputy Secretary General for his very kind words about both myself and my country.

Mr KRÜGER, the Luxembourg delegation is very grateful to you for such early praise which is to be seen as words of encouragement. Insofar as such praise must be earned, we shall do our utmost over the coming months to show ourselves worthy of it.

In the words of Lamennais when under the July Monarchy,

"Between the weak and the strong, it is the law that protects and the lack of laws that oppresses",

but, starting with the Spirit of Laws, the idea behind this saying has been at the heart of all the major studies and political texts that have helped to develop a society based on democracy and solidarity where political undertakings are centred firmly on human beings.

In the context of the International Day against Racism, I should like to draw attention, following on from these founding texts, to the particular importance of Protocol No 12 to the European Convention in whose drafting ECRI played a key role. In imposing a general ban on all forms of discrimination, Protocol No 12 can be highly effective as a legal instrument protecting fundamental rights. We can but hope that it will enter into force as soon as possible.

Coming now to the theme of this morning's Round Table, I would like to start by highlighting and linking together three passages of the Political Declaration adopted by Ministers of Council of Europe member States at the concluding session of the European Conference against Racism in October 2000: Racism and racial discrimination are serious violations of human rights in the contemporary world and must be combated by all lawful means; Equal dignity of all human beings and the rule of law must be respected and equality of opportunity promoted; Actors of civil society and notably non-governmental organisations must contribute to combating racism and xenophobia.

The tragic events of 11 September and their equally tragic consequences are a reminder to the world of the vital importance of ensuring that national and international policies are based on the principles laid down in the founding texts I referred to earlier.

Accordingly, Luxembourg has decided that a key theme during its forthcoming term as Chair of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers will be the rule of law, or "good governance", as we also say nowadays.

In this context, we shall insist that the governments of the member States ensure that all individuals living in their country are guaranteed equal respect for their fundamental freedoms and basic rights in the absence of any discrimination.

Discrimination, in whatever form, is precisely one of the areas where the law must protect the weak. In a country governed by the rule of law and member of the Council of Europe, elimination of all forms of discrimination must be a permanent concern and requires the authorities not only to enact legislation but, above all, to make sure adopted texts are applied and to monitor their implementation at local and regional levels.

In all our countries, without exception, much remains to be done in this field. ECRI's motto "all different, all equal" is as relevant today as ever.

Over the years, the Council of Europe has developed instruments such as the European Court of Human Rights and ECRI to ensure that member States honour the undertakings they have chosen to enter into in the field we are concerned with this morning, and to accompany them and offer them advice. Structural reforms, budgetary appropriations and staffing levels have not always been able to keep pace with enlargement of what in addition to being the oldest is also the poorest of the European institutions. Further substantial efforts will be required in this area, given that, to quote the October 2000 Political Declaration, "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance threaten democratic societies and their fundamental values."

Following the events of 11 September, it is more important then ever to give human dignity a chance so that the sources of hatred are not allowed to develop. For that to happen, we must first see significant changes in the way the different components making up our societies traditionally see each other, not to mention important changes in their relations with each other. However, people cannot be made to change their attitudes. Progress in this area requires patient efforts conducted over a long period of time and an ongoing process of political education throughout society. Dialogue with and between the different actors of civil society will be one of the main ways of achieving this. Public authorities are duty-bound to promote this process, insofar as it should ultimately produce the human rights culture actually underlying all of the Council of Europe's main aims.

I should like take this opportunity to congratulate ECRI on having adopted an action programme at its plenary session yesterday which is centred precisely on its relations with civil society in its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination and combat xenophobia and intolerance. Luxembourg's voluntary budgetary contribution to which the Deputy Secretary referred just now should help launch this action programme.

Over the coming months and years, one of the Council of Europe's main aims will undoubtedly be to strengthen protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in its member States. Consequently, one of the main aims of the Luxembourg Chair will be to help take up this challenge, and we hope to be able to include this priority in a policy worthy of the Organisation's past achievements in both the human rights field generally and the particular field we are discussing in today's Round Table.
Thank you for your attention.