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Press Release – 02.09.2001

Walter Schwimmer in Durban: stronger international human rights law needed to fight racism

Strasbourg, 02.09.2001: Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer today called for stronger international human rights law to combat racism in all its forms.

Addressing the United Nations Conference against Racism, Mr Schwimmer expressed his concern that instead of being eradicated, the blight of racism seems to be resurfacing and worsening.

Racism persisted in forms varying from “ethnic cleansing” to banal manifestations of everyday discrimination, he said. “Aggressive nationalism, ethnocentrism and religious intolerance also persist, and lead, today as in the past, to massive violations of human rights in Europe and across the world”.

Traces of anti-Semitism persisted in political dialogue, extremist groups were disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda via the internet, while violence against immigrants, intolerance towards Islam or the rejection of Roma/Gypsies were all manifestations of racism, he told the conference.

But sadly there was not yet any really effective legislation to combat discrimination. It was essential to “reinforce international human rights law wherever we can”.

The Secretary General drew attention to the Council of Europe’s work in fighting discrimination, a task he described as “one of the Organisation’s primary raisons d’tre”: This included strengthening the European Convention on Human Rights via the adoption of Protocol N 12, which introduced a general prohibition on all forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination; the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities; the Convention on Cyber-crime, and the additional protocol making it a crime to spread racist propaganda; and work by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

“The Council of Europe places particular importance on prevention, focusing on education and awareness-raising initiatives that provide an alternative to the facile and spurious doctrines of racial hatred and discrimination,” he said At regional level, the Council will continue to participate in collective approaches, so that the World Conference’s recommendations will be rapidly and effectively implemented on a pan-European level, he concluded.