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Press Release – 20.03.2001

Racism is a grave violation of human rights says Walter Schwimmer

Strasbourg, 20.03.2001 – “Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic or national origin, religion, language or culture is a grave violation of human rights. All legal means must be used to combat it”, Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer declared, in a statement to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March).

"Immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are among the main targets of racist violence. People are refused jobs, housing or services because of their colour. Politicians too, sometimes turn to racism to win votes, using racist and xenophobic messages in their programmes and speeches”.

Mr Schwimmer added that attitudes were generally changing for the better, with politicians genuinely anxious to tackle the problem. A step forward was the anti-discrimination Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, opened for signature in Rome in November 2000, and signed so far by 26 of the Council’s 43 member states.

The Council of Europe itself had set up a racism monitoring body, ECRI, in 1993. Its independent members produce reports on individual countries, highlighting good and bad practices. In the light of these reports, some countries had changed their laws or set up training programmes.

"The Council of Europe is putting action against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance at the top of its priority list," said Mr Schwimmer. “We have already begun our work under the slogan “All different, all equal: from theory to practice” by co-ordinating European preparations for the “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”, which will take place in Durban (South Africa) from 31 August to 7 September 2001."