European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)



Mr Albert Rohan, on behalf of the Chair-in-office of the OSCE Dr Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Austria

Mr President, Ladies and gentlemen,

OSCE and its 54 participating States are committed to the fight against racism and Intolerance. Many of the dramatic developments in the OSCE region during the past decade had their origin in the most despicable manifestations of hatred, intolerance and discrimination with regard to ethnic and religious groups. Right now we are witnessing the resurgence of Serbia from a dark period, a period of fanatic nationalism and ethnically motivated hatred, a disease which brought tragedy, human suffering and material loss to ail countries of the former Yugoslavia. This and other examples show that Europe still has a long way to go.

Many of the OSCEs participating States are confronted with the phenomena of racism, intolerance, xenophobia and ethnic tension, issues that must be addressed on both a national and transnational level. I should like to thank the Council of Europe as host of this important Conference for giving me the opportunity to outline the commitments of the OSCE participating States and OSCE institutions as well as the activities of the Austrian Chair in this regard, together with some of the passing challenges the OSCE is faced with today.

In the Helsinki document of 1992 the participating States of the OSCE committed themselves to "consider taking appropriate measures within their constitutional framework and in conformity with their international obligations to assure to everyone on their territory protection against discrimination on racial, ethnic and religious grounds, as well as to protect ail individuals including foreigners against acts of violence".

In November 1999 in Istanbul OSCE Heads of State and Government adopted the Charter for European Security in which they reaffirmed their commitment to counter violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms including manifestations of intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racism, chauvinism, xenophobia and antisemitism. The fight against these phenomena is part of the OSCE's comprehensive concept of security which encompasses not only military threats but precisely also the human security of which the respect for human rights, non-discrimination and tolerance form an essential part. In this context participating States underlined that the protection and promotion of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities were essential factors for democracy, peace, justice and stability within and between States. They pledged to take measures to promote tolerance and to build pluralistic societies where all, regardless of the ethnic origin, enjoy full equality of opportunity and they emphasised that questions relating to national minorities could only be satisfactorily resolved in a democratic political framework based on the rule of law.

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has undertaken tireless efforts to identify and seek early solutions to ethnic tension that might endanger peace, stability or friendly relations between the participating States. He has particularly focus on the areas of major concern such as minority education, the use of minority languages and the effective participation of national minorities in public life.

A particularly vulnerable group in this context are the Roma and Sinti and GŁnter Grass' eloquently talked about their plight. The High Commissioner on National Minorities just recently issued a report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE region in which he identified the combat against discrimination and racial violence as one of the key challenges. One important recommendation concerned the necessity of an adequate legislative framework and its effective implementation. The Austrian Chair-in-Office organised an expert conference in Vienna this September as a follow up to the report, thereby underlining the high priority the OSCE attaches to this pressing problem.

I should like to mention the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) in Warsaw, which takes the lead in programmes and projects with particular regard to the situation of Roma and Sinti.

Apart from the protection and promotion of national ethnic and religious minorities, steps have to be undertaken to prevent discrimination against refugees, displaced persons and migrants. Consequently, the OSCE Chair jointly with the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights organised a supplementary human dimension meeting on migration and internal displacement on the 25 September 2000. Participants at this meeting focused on specific measures to improve the situation of refugees, displaced persons and migrants, including the issue of discrimination. Refugees are often confronted with the loss of their fundamental human rights due to separation from their home country or region. Becoming a minority among a majority they are not seldom victims of xenophobia in addition to being deprived of their political rights. OSCE as a regional organisation is particularly called upon to address these aspects of refugee situations. As a first step the OSCE Chair has asked field operations to enhance co-operations with other international actors active in this field such as IOM and the UNHCR.

Let me also say a few words on the role of the media, which constitutes the cornerstone of any stable democratic society. They can play an important part in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination.

The OSCE, and in particular the OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media, undertake efforts actively to involve media in awareness raising and the fight against racism and intolerance.

However, media and new information technologies can also be misused for racist purposes. In this context, we have to follow the developments in the internet which unintentionally offers opportunities for antisemitic propaganda with a potentially wide reach.

The representative on the Freedom of the Media has made valuable efforts to combat hate speech, which may enhance divisions between ethnic groups and inflame ethnic hatred and intolerance. In this regard the misuse of the media in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a political tool to create ethnic divisions in society is an especially flagrant example. Indeed one of the great challenges to a comprehensive security in the OSCE region is how to cope with the latent danger of ethnically-motivated propaganda, and the instrumentilisation of the media for that purpose.

The OSCE Chair will support a joint conference of the OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media and the Council of Europe within the framework of the Stability Pact entitled "'Free Media in Southeast Europe: protection of journalists, prevention of conflict and reconciliation". This should be held in the Balkan region. The conference will focus on legislative aspects such as laws and regulations with regard to hate speech and the role of the media for the promotion of tolerance as well as media initiatives to promote better understanding among different segments of the population.

These past few days the ongoing developments in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have been in all of our minds. They are an encouraging step towards a more democratic and peaceful development in that region. The outburst of public rage and disapproval of the former regime by thousands of people demonstrating in the streets Belgrade are the ultimate expression of the peoples will towards a life of mutual respect. The OSCE as a regional organisation is more than ever challenged to support and promote this transformation process. Last week I visited Belgrade in order to pledge our full support to the new Yugoslav President Mr Kostunica. I also offered OSCE assistance to the new government in its efforts to establish the necessary institutional and legal framework for democracy.

Lord Russell-Johnston has referred to the problem of prisoners in Serbia and it is a positive development that upon the personal intervention of President Kostunica two British OSCE officials and their two Canadian friends have been released. I took up the question of the Albanian prisoners with President Kostunica. According to the Belgrade Human Rights Centre there are still 983 prisoners in Serb jails and I appealed to the President either to release them or, in some cases, to ensure a proper process. I pointed out to him that the resolution of these questions would have an enormously positive impact on Kosovo and on the question of the return of Serbs which we all want to secure. I very much hope that the President has understood the message.

No country can fully escape the occurrence of racism, chauvinism, xenophobia and antisemitism. Therefore all governments ought to be alert and prepare to combat such forms of intolerance through the necessary legislative framework and its effective implementation but also through the important tool of education.

Human rights education and awareness-raising can be effective to counter racist attitudes and violence. International assistance in this field is of particular significance and here again the OSCE and other international organisations such as the Council of Europe can play an important role. It is the firm belief of the OSCE that the combat against racism and intolerance is paramount in securing stability both within States and in international relations. It is instrumental to conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Policies of alienation, of discrimination, repression and forced assimilation often constitute the seeds for armed conflict.

Austria in her capacity as OSCE Chair stands ready to support all efforts to enhance tolerance and understanding in our region in close co-operation with OSCE institutions and field operations as well as all international actors dedicated to this objective.

In conclusion I would like to emphasize the importance of regional organisations and civil society in the combat of racism and intolerance. This role is well developed in our region. It should also be the message carried to South Africa’s Conference next year where this issue will be discussed on a global level.

With this in mind I should like to thank the organisers for the opportunity to address the Conference on behalf of the Chair-person-in-Office Ms Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who very much regrets that due to unavoidable commitments in Vienna she could not attend this meeting in person. She extends her best wishes for a constructive discussion, forward looking conclusion and a successful outcome of this important event.

Thank you very much.